Eastern Cougar Sightings - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation
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Eastern Puma officially extinct, allows for mountain lion reintroduction. In the past years, they haven't been regularly spotted since, and Fish and Wildlife officials say there's no evidence of a sustained, breeding population in the area.
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The U. In a statement about the removal, U. Fish and Wildlife characterized eastern cougars as long extinct. Whether or not this can be really characterized as an extinction, he says, depends on how loosely you use that term. While cougar populations in this region have declined to the point of non-existence, it's more accurate to say only a certain population of the North American cougar species overall has vanished. The de-listing did not impact the subspecies of Florida panthers , a big cat considered to be one of the world's most endangered mammals. Both Robinson and Elbroch suggest that removing the Eastern cougars from the endangered species list could open up new conservation opportunities.
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As a whole, cougars across the U. According to conservation organization the Cougar Fund , all Western states except Texas have at least some protections for cougars.
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In most places, cougars can legally be hunted with a permit. In a statement about the de-listing, Robinson called on state governors to come up with local protections for the animals. There's no doubt that Western cougar populations are heading east. Once documented only west of the Rockies, Western cougars have been popping up in the Midwest, and some males have even been found closer to the East Coast. Male cougars are known to roam large distances in search of territory or mates, but when females are spotted in the East, it would be one sign of a rebounding population, says Elbroch.
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No current reintroduction plans are in place, except for Florida, where cougars from Texas have been introduced as a possible way to boost population numbers and diversity for the Florida panther subspecies. In a recently published paper , Elbroch found that cougars are what he calls subordinate predators in the ecosystem, meaning they're carnivores, but also face threats from larger predators like wolves and bears.
Currently, the IUCN lists North American cougars as a species of least concern overall, but notes that their population is declining.
The animals face significant threats from habitat loss and fragmentation, and some down-the-line impacts from hunters killing younger males. Robinson hopes to see more state-by-state conservation measures enacted to preserve the ecological balance these large predators provide. A decline in large predators is thought to be at least partially responsible for growing deer numbers. Deer carry ticks, and the growing threat of lyme disease has been a possible concern. Additionally, Robinson adds, he would like to see the species protected for its own sake.