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#30: Eastern Cougars? How to Know if a Species is Really There

This week’s episode is inspired by photos posted to a Facebook group. A user posted these photos of part of a deer carcass high in a tree. They asked what animal would cause this? I watched the responses pour in and I knew what they would be. 

Cougar. Mountain lion. Puma. These are different names for the same species (Puma concolor) and I knew people would say with certainty that this big cat did this.

Deer carcass in a tree. Many people thought this was from eastern cougars.
Deer carcass in a tree. Many people thought this was from eastern cougars.
Our research and other scientists' research shows there are no Eastern cougars.
Our research and other scientists' research shows there are no Eastern cougars.

But I knew it was not. In fact, I posted that there are NO eastern cougars. But I knew I would get a lot of opposition. I did.

In this episode, I talk about how I can be so certain. How scientists in general can be certain of this subspecies absence from such a large are. And also explain what people think they are seeing. 

Even if you aren’t familiar with the story of cougars in the east, you’ll learn about the evidence (or lack thereof) that scientists use for detecting larger terrestrial mammals.  

Specifically, I go over:

  • Where cougars currently live and in the US, where they are starting to expand their range
  • When eastern cougars were last detected
  • Why the presence of individuals does not necessarily mean a population exists
  • My research experience working in the eastern US in relation to cougars, specifically North Carolina and the description of large-scale studies on mammals
  • Examples of large mammals with very low population sizes that are still detected by scientists
  • The different methods scientists use to determine absence for large, terrestrial mammals
  • Where verified cougar detections are found in the US
  • What people are likely seeing when they say they see a cougar
  • Explanations of real and verified cougar detections in the eastern US
  • Where you can submit wild cat photos to have experts determine the species
Mountain lion
Photo of a cougar in the western US captured on an eMammal camera trap.

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Resources and Sources Mentioned in Eastern Cougars

Video with more info on cougars:

Interview with Kyle Burgess on recent cougar viral video:

My thoughts on the media’s take of the cougar viral video:

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