There are two leopard species in Russia. Population of one of them, the Far Eastern Leopard, is less than 50 animals. WWF Russia takes part in conservation of this large cat. Meanwhile, population of the second species, Persian Leopard, is so low in our country that it can be counted in simple number. WWF endeavors to return the cat to the Russian Caucasus.
Experts from WWF and the Russian Academy of Sciences came up with the Persian Leopard Reintroduction Program, a challenging long-term and costly project. First, it is necessary to prepare the territory where Persian Leopards will live, viz. to increase population of ungulates which are the prime prey for leopard, and to enhance protection of the territory against poaching.
There is no way to introduce adult leopards grown in zoos into the wild because they lack necessary preying skills and are not afraid of human. Therefore, it is necessary to bring some animals for breeding to the Caucasus. Training of their offspring before introducing into the wild will take another several years. One of the most important conditions on this stage is to minimize contact of the young cats with human.
WWF Russia launched the project in 2007 in cooperation with the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, and with support from the Sochi National Park, Caucasus Nature Reserve, A.N.Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, All-Russian Institute for Nature Protection, and the Moscow Zoo. Two years later, the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Center was built in the Sochi National Park and two male leopards were brought there from Turkmenistan. In April 2010 two female leopards were brought from Iran, and in October 2012 a pair of leopards – from the Lisbon Zoo.
Two kittens were delivered by each of the two pairs in 2013. Another four little leopards were born in summer 2014. As of today, a pair of young leopards are ready to be released into the wild after learning necessary preying skills in the special enclosures of the Center. However, it's only the first step towards restoration of the Persian Leopard population in the Russian Caucasus.
A long way lies ahead, it is necessary to bring new animals from Europe in the late February 2015, prepare a site for adult and new-born leopards, and release young animals into the wild. Donate to take part in this unique project.
How Did Leopard Disappear from the Caucasus?
Once leopard was a wide spread species in the Caucasus highlands. Traditionally leopard symbolized courage and strength, and some nations chose it as their spirit animal. Coats of arms of both North and South Ossetias picture the animal today.
Conflict between man and leopard grew tense on the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries making the spotted predator outlaw. It was permitted to hunt and kill leopard in any season using any means, including poison baits. Additionally, populations of ungulates, the main prey of leopard, became scarce too.
The last leopards' refuge, well-protected mountainous woodland the Grand Ducal Kuban Hunting, was lost after the Revolution. Existing Caucasus Nature Reserve was established in 1924, but massive poaching continued throughout the 20s and 30s not to mention the war years.
By the 1950s leopard was seen in the Caucasus sporadically only. As of today, Persian Leopards seldom enter the Russian Caucasus through Transcaucasian republics from the Northern Iran.
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