[I wrote the first draft of this poem on March 7, 2011, upon reading the news from the US Fish and Wildlife Service that the eastern cougar had been declared extinct. I’ve revised it off and on since then. This isn’t the final word–genetic evidence suggests that the Eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar) was one variety of the North American cougar species. Yet, I felt a sense of personal loss–not as an ecologist, but as an ordinary citizen of my planet.]
Fearsome catamount of legend–
I heard today that you are gone.
Not the resounding blow of natural selection,
Nor a clash with a more worthy competitor–
An ending more befitting of a graceful and deadly beast.
Your predator’s skill made you vulnerable to human fears.
Hunted, then starved–your fortunes tied to white-tailed deer
Now overrun in the East without you there.
Habitat loss sealed your fate.
Not with finality, but with lingering doubts of your survival.
Murmurings grown louder over time
Fruitless surveys building the evidence of doubt
Outweighing finally the chance sightings, ever fewer,
Which sounded more and more
Like the stuff of myths and wishful thinking.
Some will say that your role as an apex predator
Negates your loss. Others will scorn the dollars poured into your recovery,
Citing legions of unloved species who have neither your charm nor your fury.
And yet, how can we be numb to the loss of the mighty ghost cat,
Known for its elusive beauty?
How many of us will feel the pang of a species lost?
And how many more must we yet lose
For us to feel the chill of our own fragility
Through the threadbare places
In the fabric of our humanity?
The green fire that Leopold saw in the eyes of a dying wolf
Has faded for the eastern cougar.
Another piece of wilderness extinguished
In the banality of pen on paper,
The final echo of a species lost.