The majestic large cats historically roamed every state of the US east of the Mississippi River.
But in the latest devastating news from the animal kingdom, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the animals extinct on Sunday, removing the Eastern puma from the list of endangered species for the last time.
The Eastern puma’s plight has been ongoing for over a century, and by 1900 they had all but vanished due to systematic hunting and trapping. In fact, Mark Elbroch, the lead scientist for the puma program at the big cats conservation group Panthera, said the cats have been ‘long extinct’.
The the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opened an extensive review into the status of the eastern cougar back in 2011.
The forests and coastal marsh predators were only declared endangered in 1973, even though no sightings of the wild cats had been documented for three decades.
The last of their kind on record was killed by a hunter in Maine in 1938.
In 2015, federal wildlife biologists concluded pumas elsewhere in the Eastern United States were beyond recovery, and thus no longer warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The cats are the genetic cousin of mountain lions, which still inhabit much of the Western United States, and are related to a small, imperilled population of Florida panthers found only in the Everglades.
They measure up to 8 feet long from head to tail and can weigh as much as 140 pounds (63.5 kg). These beautiful creatures were once the most widely distributed land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.
Then humans happened, and due to an extermination campaign and systematic habitat destruction, the cats are now extinct. Some were trapped and killed for their fur while others were culled to prevent the cats from interfering with livestock.
But marking the Eastern puma as extinct might not mean the end, according to some biologists, and the new status could mean more possibilities for conservation, with the help of the abundant cousins.
Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said:
”We need large carnivores like cougars, which would curb deer overpopulation and tick-borne diseases that threaten human health, so we hope Eastern and Midwestern states will reintroduce them.”
Meanwhile, the protection of all animals, including livestock, is sparking huge debate across the globe, with vegan movements and lifestyle choices becoming ever more popular.
Source: National Geographic