On Tuesday, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the eastern cougar from the endangered species list, the AP reports. The reason? The species has likely been extinct for 70 years.
The big cat was listed as endangered in 1973, but had not been removed because of recent sightings of cougars in the Northeast. However, wildlife biologists now believe that the cats sighted are migrating western mountain lions, Florida panthers or captive animals that were released into the wild.
The last records of eastern cougars are believed to be in Maine in 1938 and in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1932.
The AP report goes on to say that “Western mountain lions have been expanding their range. In 2011, a solitary young male cougar traveled about 2,000 miles from South Dakota through Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York before being killed on a Connecticut highway.
The forests of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York have ideal cougar habitat, should the western cougars continue to expand eastward, officials say.”
The eastern cougars used to have a range over 21 states from Missouri to Michigan to Maine to the Carolinas.