The cougar Felis concolor -- also known as the puma, catamount, panther, and mountain lion -- once roamed much of North America. Now the cougar is an endangered species. There are probably less then fifty of the Florida Panther subspecies (Felis concolor coryi) left in the wild. The western subspecies still holds it own. The Eastern Cougar Felis concolor cougar is generally considered extinct. The last recognized specimen was captured in Maine in 1938 and died a few years later.
People continue to report cougars in the Eastern United States. While these cats may be Eastern Cougars, they may also be evidence that the Western Cougar's range has increased. Some sightings prove to be cases of mistaken identity with bobcats, dogs, or other animals the real subjects. Some Western Cougars are kept (illegally) as pets and escape or are released by their owners back into the wild in the Eastern United States. Such escapees may account for many of the better sightings.
A small but persistent fraction of sightings in the Eastern United States are of black cats. While black panthers are encountered very rarely in Central and South America, none has ever been reliably reported from the United States or Canada. Cougar coats can turn dark brown as cold weather approaches. These cougars may appear black in dim light and wet conditions. Other reports of black cougars may reflect observations of jaguars. Black jaguars (Panthera onca) do exist. A few jaguars -- themselves highly endangered -- still appear in the United States in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and possibly California and Louisiana. These may all be Mexican immigrants rather than representatives of a native U. S. breeding population. The jaguar is larger and far more heavily built than the cougar and is consequently quite different in appearance. Many people are not familiar enough with either cat to know the difference. Black jaguars which have escaped from captivity could account for some reports of black cougars. Escaped black leopards (Panthera pardus) offer another candidate for black cougar reports.
Reports of smaller black cats may represent sightings of the blackish or brownish grey jaguarundi (Felis yagouaroundi), also known as the eyra. Jaguarundis can also sport a reddish coat. The jaguarundi looks a bit like a large weasel because it is long and slender with a wedge-shaped head. The jaguarundi reaches lengths of about 1.3 m, heights of 30 cm, and weights up to about 9 kg. The range of the Jaguarundis currently encompasses northern Arizona in the United States to northern Argentina.
See the Cats section of my cryptozoology links page for more sites offering information about the Eastern Cougar.
Canada issued this stamp depicting the Eastern Cougar to help fund wildlife protection.
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Last modified by pib on July 6, 2003.