As of this week, the eastern cougar is officially extinct, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There hasn’t been a sighting of the big cat, that once used to roam throughout New England, in the last 80 years. There were two main causes: the cougars were hunted due to their threat to livestock, and the predators ran out of deer, which was their primary prey.
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This news, sad though it is, has been a long time coming. The big cats, once native to New England, were last verifiably observed back in 1938. The Service first concluded that the species was extinct back in 2011, and then proposed removing its protected status in 2015. This latest step, taken after extensive scientific review and public comment, completes the eastern cougar’s long journey into the night.
The cats also ran out of their primary prey, deer, which were themselves hunted into near-extinction. “White-tailed deer were nearly eradicated from the eastern U.S. in the late 1800s,” Service biologist Mark McCollough told me in 2011. “The few cougars that survived [after that] would have had very little food to support them.”