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Two Persian leopards released into the wild of North Ossetia

27 july 2018
Two Persian leopards, a female named Volna (Wave) and male named Elbrus, have been released today in the Alaniya National Park, located in the Irafsky District of North Ossetia. The leopards were brought to Ossetia from Sochi via helicopter. This release is a part of the first ever attempt of leopard reintroduction for bringing an extinct animal back into the wild in the region, where the Persian leopard is a national symbol.
The leopards were born two years ago in the Centre for Breeding and Reintroduction of the Leopard in Sochi National Park, which was founded in 2009 with WWF-Russia’s active involvement and support. The female leopard, Volna was born from the Iranian female leopard, Cherry and male leopard, Alous from Turkmenistan; while the male leopard, Elbrus, was born from a couple who came from the Lisbon zoo. They were successfully tested for their hunting skills and ability to avoid human contact before been released in the Alaniya National Park.

The pre-release preparation for leopard re-introduction was led by the Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) and RusHydro, a hydropower electric generation company and implemented under the aegis of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Republic Alania, North Ossetia. As part of the program, a thorough research was conducted and necessary environmental measures taken to ensure a smooth transition for the leopards into the wild. A large-scale environmental education program was also conducted to sensitize the local population towards wildlife. The animals have been fitted with satellite tracking collars provided by WWF-Russia, to allow the scientists at IEE to monitor their movement and observe their behavior during the course of their adaptation to life in the wild. The release of the Persian leopards in North Ossetia also opens mating opportunities for these leopards with other wild leopards in the territory of the Republic.

“We are glad that new regions are joining the program of leopard reintroduction in Caucasus – says Igor Chestin, WWF Russia’s CEO. Our cooperation with North Ossetia on the project began two years ago and we hope it to be a success. We see how excited and inspired are the people of that region about the return of the leopard that is also a national symbol here. We hope for the gentle attitude towards those animals to continue in the future and that the mountains of Alania become a hospitable home for Volna and Elbrus.

The release of the leopards was marked by a grand opening of the sculptural composition "Return of leopards to the Caucasus" in Vladikavkaz and followed by the celebration in the centre of the city.
Daniel Manganelli \ WWF
About the Leopard Re-Introduction Program 
The first three Persian leopards - Ahun, Killi and Victoria, were released on July 15, 2016 in the Caucasus biosphere reserve. Until the mid-20th century, the Persian leopard was widely distributed over the mountainous areas across the Caucasus. However, by 1950s, its population dramatically declined, and in many areas it had become entirely extinct through human activities.

In 2005, experts from WWF-Russia and the Russian Academy of Science developed an ambitious long-term program of reintroduction (restoration) of the leopard in the Caucasus. In 2007, this program was adopted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, and since 2009 President Vladimir Putin has been personally supporting the Program.

Prior to the release, a one and half year research program was conducted in the region, observing and collating data from video cameras of the hydroelectric power stations and Border Guards Service, that proved that wild leopards still enter Ossetia’s territory from the countries of South Caucasus.

The Program is implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation with the participation of the Sochi National Park, Caucasus (Kavkazsky) State Nature Biosphere Reserve, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Moscow Zoo and WWF-Russia, and supported by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). In North Ossetia the rehabilitation program is funded by RusHydro.

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