The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the eastern cougar subspecies (known as both Felis concolor couguar and Puma concolor couguar) officially extinct and removed it from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife. Cougars are also known as mountain lions, pumas and panthers.
In 2011, the USFWS began reviewing the eastern cougar’s status under the Endangered Species Act and, in 2015, found no evidence that the cat still existed. The delisting of the eastern cougar from the USFWS endangered species list will become official on Feb. 22.
The big cat, once present in every state east of the Mississippi River, hasn’t been seen in the wild in more than 80 years.
This doesn’t mean the end of big cats in the eastern part of the country, however. According to Outside, pockets of other members of the species have begun to thrive in the midwestern U.S. and are slowly pushing east, past the Mississippi.
In fact, the Center for Biological Diversity, seeing a bright spot in the depressing headline, praised the delisting of the eastern cougar as a way for states to introduce western cougars, like the one pictured above, into new habitats.
“We need large carnivores like cougars to keep the wild food web healthy, so we hope eastern and midwestern states will reintroduce them,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Cougars would curb deer overpopulation and tick-borne diseases that threaten human health.”