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For Immediate Release, March 2, 2011

Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360

Eastern Cougar Declared Officially Extinct;
Florida Panther Still Has a Chance If Reintroduced to Okefenokee

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today declared the eastern cougar, a subspecies of the puma or mountain lion, extinct following a status review that could not authenticate any records of the animal since the last confirmed individual was killed in 1938 in Maine. Only one other subspecies of puma from the eastern United States — the Florida panther — survives. Florida panthers once ranged throughout the Southeast, but are now besieged by sprawl in a single, remnant population in South Florida.

“Official confirmation of the eastern cougar’s extinction is a belated warning that our ecosystems are out of whack, as many a backyard gardener finds out when confronted with damage by voracious deer,” said Michael Robinson, with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But we still have a chance to recover the Florida panther by saving habitat in its current range and reintroducing the animal to its historic range. If we can do that, we’ll help restore nature’s balance at the same time.”

On Feb. 10, 2011, the Center petitioned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reintroduce Florida panthers to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding lands in south Georgia and north Florida. Reintroduction is called for in the 2008 Florida panther recovery plan, but the Fish and Wildlife Service is stalling in carrying it out. Three studies — one based on GIS computer mapping and two involving Texas pumas that were introduced into the wild as surrogates for Florida panthers, then removed after years of careful monitoring — identified the Okefenokee refuge and surrounding lands as suitable for reintroduction.

Reintroduction of Florida panthers would also help curb feral hog consumption of sensitive native plants. The hogs are nonnative and eat the saplings of longleaf pines that were planted on the refuge to help restore a forest that has been reduced to just 3 percent of its original range. Panthers prey on hogs, and would therefore help to restore a forest ecosystem upon which many other endangered animals rely.

“It is still not too late for the Florida panther,” said Robinson. “To save the panther in its existing range, the Interior Department must designate critical habitat. To recover the panther and bring back the vanishing longleaf pine forest where panthers used to roam, reintroduction to the greater Okefenokee ecosystem is essential.”

Today also marks the two-year anniversary of the killing of the last known wild American jaguar, Macho B, who was euthanized on March 2, 2009, after a bungled snaring operation by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

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