Eastern cougars still exist, Ontario ministry insists


U.S. claim of species' extinction disputed


Ontario is still home to eastern cougars, the Ministry of Natural Resources maintains, despite Wednesday's announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claiming the species is extinct.

Jolanta Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the ministry, said staff had yet to capture a photo of the animals despite having cameras placed around Ontario for several years.

However, she added, they have found other signs.

"What we do have, conclusively, is evidence that they exist in Ontario," Kowalski said.

On Wednesday, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that evidence from around the U.S. and Canada showed the species was extinct. This could result in the eastern cougar being removed from the endangered species list, since extinct animals are not eligible for protection.

There has long been a debate over whether the species still exists. The last confirmed eastern cougar was killed by a Quebec trapper in Maine in 1938. The last known cougar in Ontario was killed in 1884. Despite regular claimed sightings since, none has been substantiated.

Kowalski added that any cougars still in Ontario may not be native. Instead, she said, they could be escaped zoo animals or pets or may have migrated from the western parts of North America, where cougars are still common.

In its research, the ministry has found what its experts say are cougar prints, as well as feces with cougar DNA.

According to the ministry, most sightings are actually other animals, such as bobcats, lynx or even large house cats.

Kowalski said Rick Rosette, the lead scientist for cougar research, was scheduled to re-examine tape from ministry cameras in the next couple of months.

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