Eastern U.S. cougar declared extinct 80 years after last sighting

Eastern cougars that once prowled North America from Michigan to South Carolina were officially declared extinct and removed from the U.S. endangered species list on Monday, eight decades after the last confirmed sighting of the wild feline predator.

The large cats, also known as mountain lions, pumas or panthers, historically roamed every state east of the Mississippi River but by 1900 had all but vanished due to systematic hunting and trapping, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency opened an extensive review in 2011 into the status of the eastern cougar, a genetic cousin of the mountain lions that still inhabit much of the Western United States and of a small, imperiled population of Florida panthers found only in the Everglades.

In 2015, federal wildlife biologists concluded that pumas elsewhere in the Eastern United States were beyond recovery, and thus no longer warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The plan to de-list them became final on Monday.

Eastern cougars, preying mostly on white-tailed deer in forests and coastal marshes, were declared endangered in 1973, even though no sightings had been documented for three decades. The last of their kind on record was killed by a hunter in Maine in 1938.

RELATED: Animals that went extinct in last 100 years 

9 PHOTOS
Animals that went extinct in last 100 years
See Gallery
Animals that went extinct in last 100 years

Baiji dolphin

Year declared extinct: 2007

Photo: Getty

Thylacine, also known as 'Tasmanian wolf' or 'Tasmanian tiger'

Year declared extinct: 1986

Photo: Getty

Pinta tortoise

Year declared extinct: 2012

Photo: Getty

Golden toad

Year declared extinct: 1989

Photo: Getty

Caribbean monk seal

Year declared extinct: 2008

(Photo public domain via Wikipedia)

Caspian tiger

Year declared extinct: 1958 or 1970

(Photo public domain via Wikipedia)

Formosan clouded leopard

Year declared extinct: 2013

(Photo public domain via Wikipedia)

Pyrenean ibex 

Year declared extinct: 2000

(Photo public domain via Wikipedia)

Toolache wallaby

Year declared extinct: 1937 or 1970's

(Photo public domain via Wikipedia)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Sightings since then turned out to be wayward visitors from the West. For example, a lone male mountain lion was killed on a Connecticut highway in 2011 after traveling thousands of miles (kilometers) from South Dakota through Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Cougars, which measure up to 8 feet (2.44 meters) long from head to tail and can weigh as much as 140 pounds (63.5 kg), were once the most widely distributed land mammal in the Western Hemisphere, before extermination campaigns and habitat destruction saw them eliminated from roughly two-thirds of their original range.

Conservation groups said removal of the Eastern puma from the endangered species list clears the way for states like New York -- where the Adirondack Mountains contain prime cougar habitat -- to re-establish a mountain lion presence with animals imported from burgeoning populations in the West.

"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," Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

RELATED: Foods that could go extinct due to climate change

7 PHOTOS
Foods that could go extinct due to climate change
See Gallery
Foods that could go extinct due to climate change

Avocados

There are many reasons why avocados are more expensive now than ever before, including a farmers' strike. But the biggest threats to avocados are rooted in environmental issues linked to climate change: hot weather and droughts have caused problems everywhere from California to Australia. Avocados are weather-sensitive and slow growing — making them especially susceptible to the effects of climate change. 

(Photo credit should read RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Coffee

In September, a report from the nonprofit Climate Institute concluded that the area around the world fit for coffee production would decrease by 50% due to climate change. In addition to dealing with drought, climate change has made coffee crops more vulnerable to diseases like coffee rust, which have wiped out more than a billion dollars in crops. 

(Photo by Taylor Weidman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Beer

Warmer and more extreme weather is hurting hops production in the US, reports ClimateWatch Magazine. 

And droughts could mean less tasty drinks. Some brewers fear that a shortage of river water may force them to brew with groundwater — a change that the head brewer at Lagunitas said "would be like brewing with Alka-Seltzer," according to NPR. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

Oysters

Right now, climate change is actually helping oysters, as they grow faster in warmer waters. However, warmer waters also make oysters more susceptible to oyster drills, reports Seeker, citing a recent study in Functional Ecology

Drills are snails that attack and eat oysters. They're already a multi-million dollar problem for the oyster industry that could get worse thanks to warming water temperatures.

(Photo via Getty Images)

Maple syrup

Climate change is already shifting maple syrup tapping season and impacting the quality of syrup, according to Climate Central. Southern producers fear that eventually, areas like Virginia won't get cold enough for maple syrup production, even during the chilliest time of the year. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

Chocolate

Indonesia and Ghana, which have historically had ideal climates for growing cocoa beans, are already seeing decreased yields of cocoa. Chocolate companies, like Mars, have hired meteorologists to study the impact of changing weather patterns and attempt to reduce damage. 

"If climate conditions in these growing areas begin to change over time, it may influence both the supply and quality available of an ingredient that we use in our products," Katie Johnson, a senior manager on the commercial applied research team, told Business Insider in September. "Anticipating what the climate will be like 10, 20, or even 100 years from now is difficult, though the better we can understand what the different climate scenarios and risks to our supply chain are, the more prepared we can be in the future."

(Photo by Charlotte Lake / Alamy)

Lobsters

If ocean waters increase more than five degrees, baby lobsters may not be able to survive, according to research by the University of Maine Darling Marine Center and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the Guardian reported. 

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that the Gulf of Maine will reach that temperature by 2100. In other words, Maine's lobsters could go from a more than $330 million business to extinct in 84 years. 

(Photo via Getty Images)

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story