Though mountain lions once roamed the hills and forests of Ohio, persecution at the hands of humans has driven them locally extinct in the state.
Fear and misinformation were the main forces driving this extirpation.
There have been no confirmations of wild mountain lions in modern times
despite many alleged reports. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, lists the mountain lion as "extirpated."
If we support mountain lion-friendly legislation, open space conservation, and preserve corridors connecting potential habitat, we could reverse this situation and bring mountain lions back home to Ohio.
Some undoubted free-ranging former captives have been documented. On Sept. 21, 2003, a mountain lion attacked a dog and later lunged at Brian Conway, who was riding a four-wheeler at St. Clairsville, Belmont County. Conway returned and killed the lion. It had been declawed. Conway retained the carcass.
On May 28, 2010, the sheriff of Brown County, SE of Cincinnati, reported that a Mount Orab resident bought a cougar at a flea market. The owner planned to get rid of it because it had become "too aggressive," but it had escaped about a month earlier. It had reported by residents on May 26th and 27th, but deputies had been able to find it.
August 8, 2010: A cougar that escaped from its pen in Danville was found and returned on August 6th. The 70-lb, 10-year-old cat, named Tasha, had escaped from a hole in the roof of its pen. After Tasha was returned, she was moved to an animal rescue facility.
August 29, 2010: The Toledo Blade reported the governor was considering signing an executive order banning private ownership of potentially dangerous animals after a 400-lb black bear fatally mauled a 24-year-old caretaker in a private wild-animal menagerie at Columbia Station, southwest of Cleveland. "In Ohio alone, 'we have so many cougars that we don't know what to do with them,' asserts Tim Harrison, director of the Dayton-based Outreach for Animals. Many of these "pets" end up dumped, have escaped, or otherwise were released by their negligent or careless owners." The order was signed in January 2011.
The Zanesville Incident, October 19, 2011: Terry Thompson, owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm, had been cited numerous times for neglecting his animals. He was probably mentally disturbed. He allegedly set free 56 of his exotic animals, including bears, African lions, tigers, mountain lions and wolves and others. He then committed suicide. Law enforcement officers hunted down and killed the freed animals for the sake of public safety. The world viewed the incident with horror (Wikipedia). It led states which had previously allowed private individuals to keep potentially dangerous animals to ban the practice. Born Free USA keeps an up-to-date list of state regulations relating to private possession of exotic animals, including potentially dangerous native animals such as mountain lions.
On March 2nd, 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the eastern cougar to be extinct. Mountain lions used to roam the entire country, coast to coast, and the eastern cougar subspecies (Puma concolor couguar) occupied the northeast region. By the 1850s, hunting pressure had made mountain lions rare in the eastern two thirds of the continent. Mountain lions were functionally extinct in the Midwest by 1860, the mid-Atlantic states by 1882, in the south coastal states by 1886, in central Appalachia by 1900, and in New England by 1906, and Ohio specifically by 1845.
In 1973, Congress passes the Endangered Species Act, designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a 'consequence of economic growth and development untendered by adequate concern and conservation.' Eastern cougars were among the first species listed as a federally endangered subspecies under the Act.
Though cougars have been functionally extinct for over a century, the USFWS continues to receive reports of sightings. They have not been able to confirm any of these cats were the eastern cougar subspecies, rather they believe these individuals have been released pets or lions dispersing from the western population.
With the appropriate protections to the species and their habitat, perhaps we could recover our lost mountain lions, and they could once again wander the land in which they formerly lived.