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The mystery of the eastern cougar

The Labrador duck is long gone and the wild Vancouver Island marmot is struggling to bounce back, but the whooping crane, the swift fox and the bison are actually making comebacks. With more than 30 species already gone and over 400 species of plants and animals at risk, Canada is starting to get serious about protecting its endangered species. Let's hope it's not too late.

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Does the eastern cougar really exist? Did it ever exist? These are questions that wildlife scientists grapple with as they track this elusive animal. Hundreds of unofficial sightings of this stealthy cat have helped build a mythology around its presence in eastern Canada. While the "evidence" is very compelling, biologists have yet to find any scientific proof that it exists. CBC reporter Cynthia Kent talks to the experts.
• Scientific study is an important first step in the classification and subsequent protection of endangered species in Canada. In 1978 the eastern cougar was designated as endangered, only to be re-designated as "data deficient" in 1998 due to an absence of scientific proof.
• There is now some doubt about the existence of a distinct eastern subspecies -- a lack of evidence suggests that perhaps there is simply an eastern population of the more common cougar species found in the west.

• The cougar, a.k.a. panther, puma, mountain lion, catamount, deer tiger, American lion, carcajou or wildcat, has been called the "cat of many names" as it has at least 40 common names.
• Cougars have the most extensive range of any land mammal in the western hemisphere, extending from the Yukon to Patagonia, Argentina.
• In Canada, cougars are generally found in British Columbia, Alberta and sometimes the Yukon. Sightings have been reported in Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

• Sightings in eastern Canada cannot be accepted as evidence as there is a large margin for error. Dogs, deer, coyotes, foxes and feral cats have been mistaken for cougars and some sightings are suspected to be cougars that have escaped captivity or strayed from their range.
• The last confirmed sighting of a cougar in eastern Canada was in 1938, and no one has ever successfully photographed one in the wild.

• While no concrete evidence has been found in eastern Canada, a cougar was shot on a farm near Winnipeg on Christmas Eve of 1973. CBC Radio reporter Bernard Bloom speaks to experts about the lore and legend of the cougar in Manitoba.
• Samples of hair collected in the Gaspé area of Quebec in 2002 were confirmed as coming from a cougar. Scientists hope to one day be able to identify subspecies based on DNA samples.
Medium: Television
Program: Canada Now
Broadcast Date: Jan. 23, 2002
Guest(s): Andrew Boyne, Mike Brobble, Mark Elderkin, Gerry Parker
Reporter: Cynthia Kent
Duration: 5:30

Last updated: September 10, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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