Once leopard was a wide spread species in the Caucasus highlands.
Conflict between man and leopard grew tense on the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries making «the mighty panther» 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.
How Can We Bring Leopard Back to the Caucasus?
The only way to bring leopard back to Russian Caucasus is reintroduction.
In biology, reintroduction means restoration of population of once extinct species in a certain territory. Reintroduction of leopard is a challenging task for many years. We need to prepare territory for leopards by increasing population of ungulates, and enhancing protection against poaching. Leopards scientifically selected for breeding and reintroduction must survive travel to the Caucasus. Training of their offspring before introducing into the wild will take another several years: kittens need to learn how to survive in the wild nature.
What Have We Done to Bring Leopard Back to the Caucasus?
By 2007 WWF came up with a six-year project of leopard reintroduction in Russian Caucasus. Funds were needed for fulfillment of the project. Luckily, two Russian companies, Rosa Khutor Mountain Resort and Vimpelcom (Beeline trademark) chose to help WWF. Construction works were partly financed by the Ministry of Nature Resources.
In September 2009, the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Center was built 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 were delivered from the Lisbon Zoo.
First litter of two kittens was obtained in the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Center in July 2013, and another two followed in August.
In 2014 Fisht, Viktoria, and Akhun were mastering their hunting skills. The fourth kitten, Grom, lived in a separate enclosure. Its mother Chery was very young and thus abandoned it. The Center staff had to take care of it. On November 6 three more kittens were born in the Center.
So far experts continue pair selection, nurse new-born kittens, and prepare young leopards to release into the wild.
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