The Eastern puma. Ghost cat. Catamount. Painter. Panther. Mountain lion. Cougar. The many names given the nation's largest cat convey the mystery surrounding this solitary carnivore.
Some scientists say it's extinct. But the question to ask is did it ever exist in the first place. This big cat that is said to resemble a mountain lion supposedly lived in northeastern U.S. and Canada. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife declared it extinct in 2012, almost eighty years after the last one was sighted.
This secretive feline first started dwindling when white-tailed deer, its primary prey, were nearly eliminated in the late 1800s. By the time the last known eastern puma was shot and killed in Maine in 1938, locals had already labeled this species the "Ghost Cat."
The contrary belief says the Eastern puma never went extinct, because it never existed in the first place. The previously recognized North American cougar subspecies may have just been one species, they say. Regardless, the Eastern puma will no longer appear on the endangered species list because, whether non-existent or extinct, it doesn't exist now.
Go East, Young Cougars
Elbroch said with the vacancies created in the east, the Western cougar populations started migrating there. Originally documented only west of the Rockies, Western cougars have been seen popping up in the Midwest, and some males have even been found closer to the East Coast. Male cougars are known to roam long distances in search for females in the East. If they start mating there, there should be sightings that document this movement.
Wakanda Forever . . .
For those who are sad or grieving about the loss of a big cat, which may or may not ever existed, there is an option for you. You can travel to a land that never existed. It's the fictional world of Wakanda in the movie the Black Panther. Or is it real? This year , The U.S. Department of Agriculture listed Wakanda as a free-trade partner - despite the fact it's a fictional country. (but that's fodder for a political story we won't cover here.)
While you might not find pumas in Wakanda, the movie has been inspiring moviegoers to adopt black cats.
Ironically, black cats use to be the least wanted pet, due to their association with bad luck. Subsequently, they stay in American animal shelters longer than any other cat. However, with the premiere of the movie in 2018, black cats have consistently become the preferred cat for adoptions. And fortunately, these mini-Pumas definitely do exist [in quantity] and will never go extinct, or be ghosted — with the bonus — you can take them home!
Primary Source: Smithsonian Magazine