After more than 40 years on the Endangered Species List, the elusive Eastern Cougar has been declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Cougars, also called mountain lions, pumas, panthers, or the colloquial southern term “painters” have made their mark with many creeks, mountains, ridges and roads throughout the state bearing their name.
The Eastern Cougar once flourished in the South but populations declined rapidly in the 1800s due to loss of habitat, as well as being hunted by European settlers in order to protect their livestock and a parallel decline in populations of their major prey species, the white-tailed deer. The last sightings of the Eastern Cougar were in 1980. Although there have been recent confirmed cougar sightings or their tracks in the region, officials say those were most likely western mountain lions that have migrated.
The chances of encountering a Cougar of any kind are very slim. The cats are so secretive that even in parts of the American West where they are still quite common, many people live their entire lives without seeing one. Cougars are not generally considered to be dangerous to humans. Although there have been attacks on people, they are rare. A cougar is unlikely to attack unless it is cornered or a female cat perceives a threat to her kitten.
While many people still believe there are “painters” roaming in the Smoky Mountains, they have now joined the Carolina Parakeet on the list of Extinct Species.