(RNN) – The eastern puma is extinct.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed it from the federal endangered species list this week after a lengthy process.
The big cat used to roam most states east of the Mississippi River, from the Canadian border and as far south as South Carolina and parts of Tennessee.
Eastern pumas are also known as mountain lions. They were killed off throughout the 1700s and 1800s, as forests and prey disappeared, and European settlers killed them to protect their livestock and families, the Fish and Wildlife Service says.
The last one documented was killed in Maine in 1938.
Wildlife management officials and scientists spent a long time debating whether to declare the subspecies extinct.
While confirmed cougars sightings have occurred recently in the wild in the East, there is currently no scientific or physical evidence documenting the continued existence of a population of wild eastern cougars. The cougars examined in the Northeast in the past 70 years are likely released or escaped captives. Some cats had a South American genetic profile. Some may be animals that dispersed into the region from western populations. Confirmed cougar sightings have increased in the Midwest and Great Lakes states in recent years – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Fish and Wildlife service conducted a review of the eastern cougar in 2011. Four years later, the agency recommended it be removed from the endangered and threatened species list.
There is “no evidence of the existence of either an extant reproducing population or any individuals of the eastern puma subspecies. it's also highly unlikely that an eastern puma population could remain undetected since last confirmed sighting in 1938.” https://t.co/QtsgcvGe9n
— Ruth Glendinning (@GuRuth) January 24, 2018
Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity hope the move paves the way for introducing the western mountain lion to the areas where its eastern cousin used to roam.
“We need large carnivores like cougars to keep the wild food web healthy, so we hope eastern and midwestern states will reintroduce them,” said Michael Robinson with the CBD. “Cougars would curb deer overpopulation and tick-borne diseases that threaten human health.”
The big cats are doing some of the work themselves.
Western pumas are working their way across the country and have shown up as far east as Connecticut.
What a terrible loss for our planet. The “ghost cat.”...U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar) to be extinct and removed it from the endangered species list. pic.twitter.com/AX6muqUZA1
— Terrence Daniels (@Terrence_STR) January 24, 2018
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