PORTLAND, Maine (CBS) — Federal wildlife officials said Tuesday they’re proposing to remove the eastern cougar from the endangered species list because the subspecies has likely been extinct for at least 70 years.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it came to the decision after reviewing data from researchers in the subspecies’ range.
“We recognize that people have seen cougars in the wild in the eastern U.S.,” said Martin Miller, the Service’s Northeast Region Chief of Endangered Species, in a statement. “Those cougars are not of the eastern cougar subspecies.”
More than 100 cougars have been reported in eastern North America since 1900, but officials say those are likely Florida panthers or cougars from another endangered subspecies that have escaped or been released from captivity.
“No states or provinces provided evidence of the existence of an eastern cougar population,” the service said.
Most eastern cougars disappeared in the 1800s at the hands of European immigrants, who killed them protect themselves and livestock. The eastern cougar’s main prey, the white-tailed deer, almost went extinct in the area.
Officials said the last record of an eastern cougar was believed to be in Maine in 1938.
The government’s proposal will be available for public review until August 17.