The Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) has been listed as endangered
since 1967. Once at home from eastern Texas and the lower Mississippi River
Valley through the southeastern states, only about 6O adult
panthers remain in the United States, all hidden in
undeveloped patches of Florida.
The ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) has been listed as endangered in the United
States since 1972 and is also endangered in Mexico. Its historic range took
in Arizona and Texas, south to Central and South America. Ocelots once
prowled the dense, chaparral thickets of southern and eastern Texas and the Gulf
Coast. Today they are found in a few small areas in southern Texas and
are extirpated in Arizona.
A new report from the National Wildlife Federation notes that not
only panthers and ocelots but all wildcats are vanishing from the
United States, Mexico and Canada. Left behind are natural
ecosystems that are "imbalanced and vulnerable."
The imbalances that remain when these top predators disappear are overpopulation
and declines among other species that share their habitat, says Elizabeth
Murdock, chief author of the report.
The eastern cougar, also called the puma (Felis concolor cougar), has been
all but eliminated from the eastern United States and Canada and is
presumed extinct, the National Wildlife Federation says.
Cougars once ranged from eastern Canada southward into Tennessee and South
Carolina, where their range merged with that of the Florida panther. "The
remaining population of this species is extremely small; exact numbers are
unknown," the Fish and Wildlife Service reports.
The loss of cougars and other felines in the eastern United States has
likely contributed to exploding numbers of white-tailed deer, Murdock
says, resulting in everything from vegetation depletion to traffic
accidents. Elimination of dominant carnivores can also lead to large
populations of small and mid-size carnivores such as raccoons, opossums
The ocelot has been listed as endangered in the United States since 1972. The wildcat is also endangered in Mexico.
"Conserving North America's cats is integral to protecting the continent's
wildlife heritage and to saving many of the pristine wild places they call
home," Murdock says.
Canada lynx are now rare in the southern parts of their historic range,
although they still survive in western Canada. Even bobcats, which still
range across most of the United States, have suffered local declines and
extirpations in some areas.
The largest species of cat native to the Western Hemisphere, the jaguar
(Panthera onca), was listed as endangered in the United States in 1997. It
is also listed as endangered in Mexico and Central and South America.
Only a few jaguars are surviving in the United States. "The presence of the species in the United States is
believed to be dependent on the status of the jaguar in northern Mexico.
Documented observations are as recent as 1996. Critical habitat was found
to not be prudent and therefore is not being designated," the Fish and
Wildlife Service noted in its final rule declaring the species endangered.
Habitat loss is the single greatest factor in their decline, but American
wildcats have died as a result of predator control programs and traps set to serve the fur trade, Murdock notes.
"Roads pose a significant threat to wild cats because they not only place
individual cats at risk, but they isolate cats into fragments of habitat,
which can lead to inbreeding and territorial competition between cats," she
The wildcat report, part of the National Wildlife Federation's Keep the Wild Alive
campaign, grew out of an international workshop sponsored by the federation
in February 2000. It concludes that conservation of the few areas where
wildcats remain is vital to keep them from extinction.
In some cases, such as that of the Canada lynx in Colorado, reintroducing
cats to former habitat is crucial to their recovery. Successful
reintroductions will depend on adequate
public education and conservation efforts. Because much cat habitat in the
U.S., Canada and Mexico is privately owned, addressing the needs and
concerns of private landowners is essential to successful conservation of
endangered cats, the federation emphasizes.
Murdock says it is important to incorporate habitat and wildlife corridor
protection into development and transportation plans. This should include
wildlife culverts, bridges and underpasses on new and existing roads,
and no road alignments should be planned that directly threaten cat
populations, she warns.
The federation is working toward cross-border protection and habitat
conservation for cats through national legislation, collaborative research
and cooperative international efforts.