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Central Asian Leopard

The role of the Central Asian leopard in the mountain systems of the Caucasus

How did the leopard disappear from the Russian Caucasus?

There was a time when leopards were widespread in the Caucasus and occupied almost all mountainous areas.

In the late XIX — early XX century, the conflict between humans and leopards became more acute, and the «mighty leopard» was outlawed. It was allowed to kill this animal at any time of the year and by any means, including loops and poisoned baits. The ungulates that the leopard feeds on have also been destroyed.

After the Revolution, the last refuge of the leopard, the securely protected mountain area «Great Kuban Hunting Land», has been destroyed. In 1924, the Caucasus Nature Reserve has been established on these lands, but mass poaching continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s, not to mention the time of the war.

By the 1950s only isolated leopard individuals have survived in the Caucasus. Today, only occasionally leopards come across the Transcaucasian republics from Northern Iran to the Russian Caucasus.

© Daniel Manganelli
© Daniel Manganelli
© Daniel Manganelli

How to return the leopard to the Caucasus?

Reintroduction is the only way to bring back leopards to the Russian Caucasus.

When speaking of reintroduction, biologists refer to the re-creation of a completely extinct population in a given territory. Leopard reintroduction is an extensive and difficult work. It is necessary to prepare the territory for the release of leopards into nature: to increase the number of ungulates, and to strengthen protection from poachers. It is necessary to receive offsprings from the selected pairs of Central Asian leopards in captivity, and most importantly, to prepare these kittens for an independent life in a natural environment. Only those young leopards which can successfully hunt and avoid humans can be released into the nature.

What has already been done for the return of leopards to the Caucasus?

Together with scientists from the A. N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Science (IPEE RAS), WWF Russia experts have developed the Leopard Restoration Program in the Caucasus in 2005. In 2007, the program has been approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of Russia.

It was necessary to find means for the implementation of this project. Fortunately two Russian companies — the ski resort «Rosa Khutor» and «Vimpelcom» («Beeline» trademark) have decided to help WWF and began financing the construction of the Caucasus Leopard Recovery Center in Sochi National Park.

In 2008, after the inclusion of the Program for the restoration of the Central Asian leopard in the program of measures for the environmental support of the XXII Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014, the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia has joined the financing of construction works.

In September 2009, two male leopards from Turkmenistan were brought to the Caucasus Leopard Recovery Center. In April 2010, two females from Iran have been brought, and in October 2012, a pair of leopards from the Lisbon Zoo.

In July 2013, first kittens appeared at the Center: a male and a female were born from the Lisbon couple; and in August two more leopards were born from the Turkmen male and the Iranian female.

Overall 14 kittens were born in the Center from 2013 to 2017.

The first release of leopards into nature took place in July 2016: three year old leopards Akhun and Victoria and two-year-old Killy have been released on the territory of the Caucasus Nature Reserve.

Permanent monitoring of released leopards has been organized. Its data confirms that leopards feel good: they hunt successfully, avoid humans and reclaim territory.

The program is being implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology of the Russian Federation with the participation of the Sochi National Park, the Caucasus Nature Reserve, IPEE RAS, the Moscow Zoo, ANO «Center for Caucasus Nature» and WWF Russia, as well as with the support of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the European Association of Zoos and aquariums (EAZA).