The Eastern Puma was officially declared extinct and while many mourn the loss of the animal, some scientists are looking to the future with hope.
The majestic large cats – also known as cougars, mountain lions or panthers – historically roamed every state of the US, east of the Mississippi River.
Yet in the latest news from the animal kingdom, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the animal extinct on January 22 2018, removing the Eastern puma from the list of endangered species for the last time.
It might seem bleak, but it’s not surprising. The Eastern puma’s plight has been ongoing for over a century and by 1900, they’d all but vanished due to systematic hunting and trapping.
In fact, Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, told UNILAD the subspecies had been long extinct, adding they were placed on the endangered list in 1973 only because conservationists presumed some might have survived in the wild.
Robinson explained how this was allowed to happen, as Eastern pumas were only identified as a subspecies ‘in an era preceding the development of genetic science’.
However, marking the Eastern puma as extinct might not mean the end 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, told UNILAD:
Now, we know the last native pumas in the range described as that of the eastern puma were killed in the 1930s. Genetic evidence also indicates eastern pumas were not a distinct subspecies even when they existed; instead, they were genetically very similar to cougars in the US West – which are still relatively abundant and widespread.
The recent delisting due to extinction of the eastern puma signals the inapplicability of the Endangered Species Act and hence the end of federal authority over potential recovery of pumas in the eastern US, except for Florida panthers which are still on the endangered list.
He explained the Endangered Species Act is a federal law intended to save and recover species, as well as subspecies and distinct populations ‘from the peril of extinction’ and to ‘conserve the ecosystems of which they are a part’.
Concluding, Robinson remains hopeful, telling UNILAD:
The evidence eastern pumas were pretty much the same animal as cougars alive today in the West provides a biological basis for reintroducing cougars from the West.
Hence, we propose states work together to initiate reintroduction.
The US 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 eight 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.
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.
Elisa Allen, Director of PETA, told UNILAD:
It’s unforgivable humans have hunted yet another animal to extinction – but unless the world curbs its meat consumption, the list of extinct species will only continue to grow.
A report from the World Wildlife Fund revealed 60 per cent of global biodiversity loss is attributable to meat consumption – as vulnerable environments, such as the Amazon rainforest, are decimated to be used as grazing land for animals or cropland to feed them.
UNILAD investigated how humans are responsible for untold animal killing:
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Whether you agree with animal rights movements or not, the extinction of the Eastern puma is a sure sign something needs to change and we, as humans, must do more to protect other species.
As Robinson proposed, there’s hope for conservation efforts yet.