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America Our Land


Cougars Defy Extinction T


Despite the classification, the notoriously elusive big cats seem to be hanging around. BY DAVID ALLIOT


he u.s. fish and wildlife Service in February declared a regional subspecies of the American mountain lion


extinct. But the designation may be meaningless — it’s been a long time coming, some 80 years, and there is disagreement over whether it was even necessary to classify the Eastern cougar as a subspecies as many scientists do not distinguish it from its Western cousin. Subspecies designation was


based on minute differences in size and fur, depending on the big cats’ environment. The last sighting of the Eastern cougar (North American cougars are Puma concolor), which once roamed in most Eastern states, occurred in Maine in 1938, according to National Geographic, though their numbers began dwindling in the mid to late 1800s after European settlers began killing them off for the threat to livestock and for their fur. But over the past century, people


have been spotting cougars up and down the East Coast, according to the website Atlas Obscura, albeit in fewer numbers. Cougars once roamed all of North America. “(Their) countenance is a mixture of every thing that is fierce and savage,” the Boston Gazette reported in 1738, after one was captured and killed 80 miles west of the city. The perceived threat was palpable: “He is exceedingly ravenous and devours all sorts of creatures,” the Gazette warned. Community message boards from Higganum, Conn., to Hackettstown,


26 NEWSMAX | MAY 2018


ON THE MOVE Sporadic sightings of the shy cougar in the East may indicate Western cats on the move.


N.J., still bristle with reports of “wild cat[s] the size of a big dog” or “tawny- colored beasts in the southbound left lane of the highway.” So what, exactly, have they all been


seeing? The most likely explanation is that Western cougars have been migrating east and regaining the habitat of the Eastern species.


B


ut whether or not the cougar, or mountain lion, puma, or panther


— take your pick — is extinct depends largely on who you ask, though it’s true the Eastern population has van- ished. “There was never any real jus- tification for giving [them] that status in the first place,” Mark Elbroch, lead scientist for the puma program at the conservation group Panthera told National Geographic. If it comes down to a classification misnomer, as some scientists theorize, it’s soon to be corrected. That’s because the Western migraters could regain the habitat of the Eastern cougars. Then, conservation groups could speed the process by bringing Western cougars into Eastern states. For its part, the U.S. Fish and


Wildlife Service has acknowledged the issue, but stands by the extinct verdict. In an email exchange with Newsmax, Meagan Racey, public affairs specialist at the Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote: “Recent genetic analysis has raised doubts about the validity of the 15 described subspecies in North America. However, a complete taxonomic analysis, including consideration of morphology, ecology and behavior, in addition to genetics, has not been conducted.” The agency made clear the designation of the Eastern big cats would remain, and Western cougars would not be considered Eastern even if they make their way into Eastern states: “If Western cougars expand East they would not be considered Eastern cougars, as the Eastern cougar is officially extinct.” The decision was a long time


coming as Reuters reported the agency conducted an extensive review of the Eastern cougars from 2011 to 2015. Regardless of its classification,


however, Eastern states could soon be seeing a lot more of the elusive cougars in the years to come.


CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES/GETTY IMAGES


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