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Bruce Wright, New Brunswick wildlife biologist and author, with what is believed to be the last eastern puma. The puma was trapped by Rosarie Morin of St. Zacharie, Quebec in Somerset County, Maine in 1938. Mounted specimen resides in the New Brunswick Museum in St. John, New Brunswick. (Image: Northeastern Wildlife Station)A species of large cat not seen in the U.S. in 77 years is now officially extinct, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Eastern Cougar (Felis concolor couguar) has been on the endangered species list for decades – but should now be considered to be completely killed off, the federal agency said this month.

“We recognize that people have seen cougars in the wild in the eastern U.S. Those cougars are not of the eastern cougar subspecies,” said Martin Miller, the Northeast Region Chief of Endangered Species for Fish and Wildlife.

If cougars are seen in the eastern half of North America, they are either Florida panthers or dispersing cougars from the west that have either been relocated or escaped from captivity, the Service said.

The last confirmed sightings of the eastern cougar were in 1938, in Maine, and 1932 in New Brunswick. The subspecies was added to the national endangered list in 1973, but no confirmed sightings have been made in more than 40 years, the agency said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed its formal review of the cougar in 2011 – examined scientific studies, and also asked for information from 21 states and the eastern Canadian provinces. The ultimate conclusion was that the cougar no longer existed.

Most of the cougars were killed off by European immigrants to protect themselves and their livestock, the federal authorities believe. For decades, white-tailed deer, one of the cougar’s prime food sources, were also in scarce supply – though deer are now plentiful though much of the eastern U.S.

Wild cougars out West have been expanding their territory eastward, mostly into the Midwest. However, cougars occasionally make it farther west – a young male traveled 2,000 miles east from South Dakota to Connecticut before being killed on a highway in 2011.

But unconfirmed sightings of cougars – also known as mountain lions and pumas – have abounded in places as far east as New Jersey.

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