examiner.com – Harrisburg
History Examiner Short Shots: The Eastern Cougar and the Nittany Lion
Gerald Huesken Jr
This past week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar, considered by many puma biologists to be a distant cousin of the North American cougar, to be extinct, confirming a widely held belief among wildlife biologists and scientists that native populations of the big cat were wiped out by man almost century ago. Federal officials concluded, after a lengthy review, that there are no breeding populations of eastern cougars – also known as pumas, panthers, mountain lions and catamounts – in the eastern United States, hypothesizing that the population has probably been extinct since the 1930’s. Such a declaration by the Federal government paves the way for the eastern cougar to be removed from the US Endangered Species List, where it has been placed since 1973. Once widely dispersed throughout the eastern United States, the mountain lion was all but wiped out by the turn of the 20th Century. Cougars were killed in vast numbers, and states (including Pennsylvania) even held bounties for the hides of certain big cats. A decline in white-tailed deer population – the main prey of mountain lions – also helped to contribute to the species’ extirpation. Despite this recently ruling, the debate continues: is the eastern cougar really gone?