The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the eastern cougar to be extinct.
This confirms a widely held belief among wildlife biologists that native populations of the big cat were wiped out by man a century ago.
After a lengthy review, federal officials concluded there are no breeding populations of cougars – also known as pumas, panthers, mountain lions and catamounts – in the eastern United States. Researchers believe the eastern cougar subspecies has probably been extinct since the 1930s.
The wildlife service said Wednesday it confirmed 108 sightings between 1900 and 2010, but that these animals either escaped or were released from captivity, or migrated from western states to the Midwest.
The biologist that led the study said:
"The Fish and Wildlife Service fully believes that some people have seen cougars, and that was an important part of the review that we did. We went on to evaluate where these animals would be coming from."
A breeding population of eastern cougars would almost certainly have left evidence of its existence, he said. Cats would have been hit by cars or caught in traps, left tracks in the snow or turned up on any of the hundreds of thousands of trail cameras that dot Eastern forests.
This declaration means the eastern cougar to be removed from the endangered species list, where it was placed in 1973.
What was called "ghost cat" is now just that.
[Image via AP Images.]