The eastern cougar was declared to be extinct in 2011, by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. Federal officials believe that the cougars found in Eastern North America today are descendants of South American cougars that escaped captivity after being brought to North America. There are some people who believe that these cougars are a member of the eastern cougar family.
In the year 1792, a member of the Royal Physical Society and Royal Society of Surgeons, named Robert Kerr, was the first to label the eastern North American cougars that were found, north of Florida, the name, Felis. In 1851, John Audobon was under the assumption that both the cougar species in North America and South America were indistinguishable.
In 1929, Nelson and Goldman placed the eastern cougar in the subspecies, Felis concolor cougar. In 1946, Goldman described 15 subspecies of cougars in North America including the eastern cougar. The description of the eastern subspecies was based on the examination of 8 of the existing 26 historic species.
A 1981 taxonomy (the practice of classifying species) extended the range of the eastern puma into Nova Scotia, and the Florida panther was found as far north as South Carolina and southwestern Tennessee. In 2000, it was suggested that all North American species of cougars be placed in the same species due to genetic similarities. There is still debate over whether the eastern species are a separate species of cougar or not. Most experts tend to lean toward the idea that they were indeed a separate group of cougars.
The wildlife experts, in as many as 21 states strongly believe that the eastern cougar is extinct. Canada's national government has taken no stand on this as of yet. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service looked at all the available data and research and in 2011 they came to the conclusion that the eastern cougar is extinct and has been since the 1930's. They recommended that the eastern cougar be removed from the endangered species list. They based this on the findings of S.P. Young and E.A. Goldman from 1946. The wildlife agency acknowledges that there have occasionally been cougars found in the eastern parts of North America. They believe that these examples are however, simply a few of the Northern cougars that have wandered away from their normal range.
There have been as many as 10,000 sightings of cougars in the eastern United States since the 1930's. This has led some experts to strongly argue that the species is still around. For now the official findings stand.