April 19, 2013

Extinctions are Part of Life

I read this article about the Eastern Cougar, now declared extinct, with sadness. It’s part of being human that we want to protect those in need, those weaker than us. The fact that we hunted this animal to extinction almost 300 years ago–as we did the American buffalo–doesn’t make it any more palatable.

The truth is, this happens all the time. Species are only viable when they can survive and thrive in their environ. When they no longer can, they die. The lifespan of the average species is only about 2 million years. Man tweaked that model by changing his environment, emigrating until we reached every corner of the world. Few species do that. Notably, insects do this with impunity, evolving a new species that fits the changed environment.

Most extinct species, we don’t notice. They were here and then gone and we move on. Some (buffalo, gorillas, apes), we try to stop the inevitable. The most notable to me are the Great Apes. They have been hunted and stalked until they now only survive in limited portions of the the planet, in limited numbers. They are as close to human as we can get without the technologic advances that allowed man to survive against greater odds. Tools, problem-solving skills, specialization. Yes, primates accomplish those traits thought to be unique to man and are evolving to do them better, but will they make it before they, too, become extinct.

Here’s the story on the Eastern Cougar. It’s sad, so don’t read it before you’re making an upbeat presentation.

An eastern cougar pouncing.
By Robert Savannah

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has officially declared the eastern cougar extinct, 79 years after the last one was reported in the wild in the United States.

The eastern cougar is a subspecies of the cougar, which includes the Florida panther and the western cougar. There are multiple subspecies, though exactly how many is debated among biologists. All are called by several names depending on the area, including puma, panther, mountain lion, catamount, cougar and painter.

The eastern cougar’s historic range extended from Maine south to Georgia, west into eastern Missouri and eastern Illinois, and north to Michigan and Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick, Canada.

Eastern cougars were killed off by European immigrants protecting both themselves and their livestock. States offered bounties to encourage killing them. The last official records of eastern cougars are believed to be in Maine in 1938 and New Brunswick in Canada in 1932.

It’s true that cougars are still sighted within the eastern cougar’s historic range, but the Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed that all of them are either western cougars or cougars from South America kept as pets and released into the wild, says Meagan Racey, with the Service’s Hadley, Mass. office. It’s known that western cougars are migrating towards the Midwest, Racey says.

The Service published an eastern cougar recovery plan in 1982 but the Service now wants to delist the subspecies, because it no longer exists.

While some had claimed that ‘ghost cats’ still lived in the cougars’ historic range, extensive efforts by Fish and Wildlife found none left.

“Even small populations of cougars, such as those in Florida and North and South Dakota, leave substantial physical evidence (tracks, photographs, scat, hair, genetic samples, road mortalities, cougars shot or caught in traps),” the agency said in a Q&A on its web site. “Service biologists assembled 108 records dating from 1900 to 2010 with a high level of confirmation that the described animals were cougars. After careful examination, the biologists concluded all reported cougars were animals that escaped or were released from captivity or that dispersed from the western United States.”

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Follow me.