Daily News staff
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
The Florida panther may not be the only big cat roaming the wilderness of the eastern United States.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will begin reviewing evidence to determine whether the eastern cougar is really extinct.
The eastern cougar is believed to have ranged from Maine to South Carolina and as far west as Michigan and Tennessee. Early American settlers killed countless off deer, bison and other prey, virtually wiping out the eastern cougar by the beginning of the 20th century.
Verified cougar reports include a road-killed kitten in Kentucky in 1997, a cougar killed and another captured in West Virginia in 1976, scat from Massachusetts in 1997, and more. Videos, photos and other evidence of cougars also exist.
Scientists suspect many of the sightings are actually cougars that escaped from captivity.
The Florida panther, a cousin of the eastern cougar, isn't doing much better. There are between 80 and 100 panthers left, making the species one of the most endangered on the planet. South Florida is the panther's last bastion.