Say Goodbye to the Eastern Cougar

CougarA recent proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare the eastern cougar extinct takes on a special significance at Penn State, where the Nittany Lion has been the University’s mascot since 1904. Many wildlife biologists believe that native populations of the big cat were wiped out a century ago.

Over the years Gary San Julian, professor of wildlife resources, has fielded many inquiries about the eastern cougar’s status in recent decades. As one of two Penn State Extension wildlife specialists, San Julian has dutifully followed up every cougar report he has received over the years, looking for scientific evidence. It has never been there.

“Without some proof, the mountain lions here remain a rural legend,” he said. “We never have had one killed by a collision with a vehicle or shot, nor have we even seen a confirmed track, DNA-verified scat, or an indisputable photograph or video. We need to see proof.”

“We sort of give up the wild tradition and history of a place when we lose something like this,” he said. “People like to think that they’re still out there. I have no solid evidence that there’s a reproducing population, so I agree with federal researchers: the eastern cougar is extinct.”

The Nittany Lion lives on; the eastern cougar does not. 

“In a way, the declaration of extinction marks the end of an age.”