Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eastern Cougars

Cougars, also known as panthers and mountain lions, along with wolves, were the top predators throughout the forests of eastern North America. The European settlers that began arriving in the late 1500s were familiar with wolves but had no knowledge of cougars, because cougars live only in the New World. At first, settlers thought cougars were African lions or leopards (the black phase of which is called panther). Only gradually, over a period of about a century, did Americans realize that the cougar was a distinct species. Cougar folklore combined European ideas about predators with Native American knowledge, inextricably mixing psychological fantasy with biological fact. Not until about the mid-twentieth century were scientific methods used to study cougars and determine their true nature.

Because cougars are powerful predators, settlers feared for their own safety and for their livestock. Cougars were hunted with dogs until they were believed extirpated in the eastern United States and Canada by about 1900. Widespread deforestation across the East in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the market hunting of deer herds almost to extinction during that same time span, also contributed to the decline of cougars.

For more on the eastern cougar: Click Here.

On a personal note, my great-great grandfather, who lived in Letcher County, Kentucky, was known as "Panther Jim" Maggard due the large number of cougars, or panthers as they actually called them at the time, he killed, one when armed only with a knife and another which he held off all night long by throwing rocks at it until help arrived.

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