For decades, many have believed the eastern cougar to be extinct. Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made it official.
During a recent study, the agency found no evidence to support the existence of the eastern cougar, a subspecies that once roamed from Maine to Georgia and parts of the Midwest. As a result, the agency will recommend the eastern cougar be removed from the endangered species list, where it has been listed since 1973.
The decision does not affect the status of the Florida panther, another subspecies of cougar that's listed as endangered.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the status review as required under the Endangered Species Act. Leading the investigation was biologist Mark McCollough, who spent the last five years combing through historical records, scientific reports and reported sightings to piece together the story of the eastern cougar's demise over the past 200 years.
"I took the job thinking it would be relatively simple and straightforward," McCollough said. "Little did I know what I was getting into."