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Before the Europeans settled the area east of the Mississippi River, the eastern puma (Puma concolor) roamed throughout this vast expanse. Listed as an endangered species for many years by the federal government, the eastern puma is now believed extinct. However, unverified sightings of this now almost mythic cat continue in its ancestral range.
Hunting and Eating
The eastern puma primarily consumes deer. Killing an average-sized deer each week feeds the average puma. This large cat also hunts and kills smaller mammals and domestic livestock -- one reason farmers and hunters were eager to eradicate the puma. Each puma hunts in his own territory. He marks the boundary of his range with feces and urine. While a male puma's hunting range might include those of female pumas, it does not include that of another male. As nocturnal creatures, pumas hunt their prey at night.
Male pumas live on their own once they leave their mothers. They might spend a short amount of time with other young males who have recently left the nest, but once they reach sexual maturity they live a solitary lifestyle. Other than annual mating rituals, they don't bother with others of their species. Female pumas are also solitary except for mating, but do spend a great deal of time raising their cubs.
Male pumas reach sexual maturity at age 3, while females experience their initial heat cycle at about the age of 2.5 years. Puma females in heat behave in a way similar to domestic felines. They yowl and rub against objects. Their estrous cycle, which can occur any time during the year, lasts approximately nine days. In North America, the puma primarily becomes pregnant in early to late winter, giving birth to cubs in the spring after a three-month gestation. The average litter consists of three or four offspring. While the cubs are weaned after about 6 weeks, they stay with their mother for over a year. While males breed annually, females only do so every two years.
Are They Gone?
When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that the eastern puma was extinct in 2011, the New York Times' headline read, "Eastern Cougar is Declared Extinct, With an Asterisk." That asterisk results from the possibility there is no real difference between the eastern puma, or cougar, and the western variety. The article reported that cougars living in the West were beginning to head east, following in the footsteps of the coyote. That animal was once extirpated in the east, but has now rebounded.
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