The eastern cougar no longer needs to be on a list of protected animals because it was killed off more than 70 years ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Service says. The agency now proposes shifting the subspecies from the endangered list to the extinct list, LiveScience reports. The FWS, which consulted experts in 21 states and several eastern Canadian provinces and pored over more than 100 reports dating to 1900, says the proposal to change the cougar's status will be available for public comment until August 17. The last eastern cougar on record was killed in Maine in 1938, and while there have definitely been cougars spotted in the East since then, the FWS determined they were either Florida panthers or western cougars that escaped from zoos or wandered east—like one that was shot in Kentucky last fall.
A spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity tells the AP that the extinction of the eastern cougar should be a "somber moment to think about what the land under our feet used to be like, and what roamed here." What happened between then and now? The FWS explains that the bulk of the population is thought to have been killed off in the 19th century, as immigrants cleared large forests and killed the animal out of fears it would attack growing livestock populations; at the same time, the cougar's chief prey, the white-tailed deer, was largely wiped out. Of course, the AP notes that some researchers believe the eastern cougars may not have been a distinct subspecies at all. (And then there's this "extinct" bird, which recently sang to researchers.)