I was saddened to read this week that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has declared the catamount – eastern panther – extinct. I always felt a flutter of excitement whenever I would hear of a possible sighting of this elusive big cat – so elusive in fact, it earned the nickname “ghost cat.” I have always held out hope that someone, someday would once and for all be able to show for a certainty that the big cats are out there.

Well they are, and as with all things governmental, this is not a simple story.

The eastern panther, not to be confused with the Florida panther, a slightly different species, was placed in the endangered species list in 1973. In its report outlining the reasons for declaring the catamount extinct, the wildlife service speculates that the eastern panther may have been extinct since the 1930s.

They readily concede that there have been plenty of reliable sightings of panther-like cats from Maryland to New England. Their explanation is that these are not eastern panthers, but a similar species that have either escaped from captivity or have otherwise made their way east from elsewhere. Their argument is that there is no evidence of a breeding population of eastern panthers.

That makes some sense at first glance.

But consider this.

There are dozens of reported sightings every year throughout the northeast. If a big cat – a dangerous animal – escapes from a zoo or a circus, one would think this might be big news. I can’t offhand think of reading about such an escape where such an animal was not fairly quickly recovered.

That would leave private owners, who don’t want to publicize the fact that their oversized kitty is gone. But would that account for all the sightings that have been recorded? Personally, I can be made to believe in ghosts.

Here are two links for information on both sides: