The Eastern Cougar: Extinction or Myth

Despite wild and popular myth pertaining to sightings of this impressive feline in our region, the surprising fact is that the Eastern Cougar (Puma concolor cougar) has not been seen in the Adirondacks – provably – since the late 1800s.  This species is so endangered in the Northeast in fact that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as recently as 2006 declared the Eastern Cougar regionally extinct.

Why should we care about the decline of such an infamous predatory cat?  Says the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, “The cougar’s extermination in the East imperils the habitat of animals such as the endangered Karner Blue butterfly and the declining New England cottontail rabbit because of over-browsing by superabundant white-tailed deer.”

The foundation goes on to say that all the way from Maine to Wisconsin and as far south as the Smoky Mountains, rare plants and wildlife habitats are at risk from uncontrolled deer herbivory, which threatens forest regeneration.

Another popular myth surrounding this creature has to do with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.  According to the DEC, myths abound on the Internet that the agency has routinely released cougars into the wilds of upstate New York in an attempt to quell the exploding deer population.  Says the DEC, “This is not true. The DEC has never released cougars, despite what you may hear to the contrary.”

The cougar is known by many names no doubt we’ve all heard before, including puma, mountain lion, catamount, and panther. Next to the jaguar, it is the largest North American cat.  The animals range in weight from between 80 to 225 pounds, and average between 5 and 9 feet in length.  As with many species in nature, males are larger than females. Cougars have long, slender bodies and small, broad, round heads. Ears are short, erect and rounded.  Their fur is usually tan in color during the summer months with a tendency to turn grayish in the winter.  They are marked with distinctive black fur on the tips of their tails and behind the ears.

Though this majestic creature was, indeed, once part of the fabric of the Adirondack wild kingdom, it has seen a tragic decline over the last century.  So much so it is listed as “Extirpated” in New York State.  The basic – and sad – point being, despite rumors to the contrary, you’re not likely to run into this cat on your next hiking trip.

Dispite all the negative talk surrounding the Eastern Cougar, we would like to be optimistic.  In this vast wilderness we call The Adirondacks, like that of the Amazon Jungle, there are many discoveries that have remained hidden for centuries or more, and maybe, just maybe, the Eastern Cougar has a small footprint in a remote area of the Adirondacks where they have managed to elude detection, documentation and with great hope, escape extinction.

Cougar Sighting Videos

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Additional Eastern Cougar Resources, Links and Discussions:


5 responses to “The Eastern Cougar: Extinction or Myth”

  1. Sixteen years ago I had 2 mountain lions run across the road in front of me. I was going to a Broadalbin/Galway basketball night game. The location was Ridge Rd. in Broadalbin. The leading cat was larger than the following one.

  2. Well they are definitely in NH, though rare and scarce. An acquaintance of ours from work caught one last year on his trail camera; it wasn’t until then that Fish and Game admitted their presence (and of course passed it off as having been a domesticated pet). I myself almost hit one in the Great North Woods (Pittsburg, NH), about 15 miles from the Canadian border. Contrary to what the Fish and Game tried to convince me of seeing, I know my cats, since I used to care specifically for them at a zoo. There’s a vast wilderness out there that cannot possibly be completely explored, and they are stealth, so anything is possible…

    • Just last week I heard of two different trail cameras that caught pictures of a cougar. One was in Bakers Mills, NY, and the other was in Minerva, NY.