WWF RUSSIA SUGGESTS JULY 15 AS THE PERSIAN LEOPARD DAY
On the very same day a year ago—July 15, 2016—for the first time in the world, three Persian Leopards, Akhun, Killy, and Victoria, were released into the wilderness of the Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve to become the progenitors of the species’ new population in Russia. Data collected by the WWF’s monitoring team during this year prove that the leopards have settled in the wild: they prey successfully and avoid contact with humans. To put it simple, the leopards have found their place in the ecosystem of the Western Caucasus.
The main goal of the expedition is to track the leopards’ habitats, install new camera traps, and collect data fr om the existing ones. The leopards were equipped with GPS tracking collars on their release, but the collars are expected to drop off after a year of operation, which is quite soon. When it happens, the monitoring team will be left with only two options for tracking the wild cats’ activity: field observations and camera trap images. WWF’s Expedition will travel the following route: Tretya Rota Lodge – Yatyrgvarta Mountain – Alous Mountain – Sinyaya River – Medvezhie Vorota Pass – Sinyaya River – Umpyr Lodge – Tretya Rota Lodge. The route passes through the areas wh ere the leopards are seen most frequently.
Rangers of the Caucasian Nature Bosphere Reserve have done tremendous job since the release of the big cats. WWF Russia organized, equipped, and provided continuous support to the leopard monitoring team. The team includes expert zoologists from the Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Science (RAS), Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve, and Institute of Ecology of Mountain Territories of the Kabardino-Balkar Scientific Center (KBSC) of RAS. The field group incessantly monitors the roaming leopards: the rangers have paced about 1,300 km in pursue of the leopards’ movements over the year.
Additionally, the WWF Russia provided trainings on the nature protection efficiency for state inspectors of the protected areas (PAs) in the Caucasian ecoregion. Much effort was applied and a number of meetings held to persuade locals to view the big cats friendlier. Currently, the possibility of leopards release and PA network expansion in Dagestan is being examined. Recently, the predator monitoring network in the North Ossetia has been expanded.
“The anniversary of the Persian Leopard release into the wilderness is a big day in the history of this unique international project for the species reintroduction in the Caucasus. Hopefully, from now on we shall celebrate the Persian Leopard Day on this day every year”, – Igor Chestin, Director of WWF Russia told. “I believe the best present the Russian Government could make to our project is to fulfill the promises given in preparation to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, about inclusion of the Sochi Sanctuary into the Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve, expansion of the Western Caucasus World Heritage Site, and banning the expansion of ski resorts into the protected areas. It is the only possible way to secure conservation of the territories much needed for restoration of the leopard”.
Up until the mid-20th century the Persian Leopard was a wide spread species in the Caucasus Mountains. However, the population saw rapid decline and even extinction in many areas in the 1950s.
The Programme for the Persian Leopard Reintroduction in the Caucasus is being implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia in cooperation with the Sochi National Park, Caucasian Nature Biosphere Reserve, A. N. Severtsov Institute (IPEE RAS), Moscow Zoo, WWF-Russia, and the Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization (ANO) Center for Nature of Caucasus, with support from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). The Programme is financially supported by EXNESS, ROSAN, Panasonic, Roza Khutor, Amway, VympelCom, VTB Bank, and Oleg Deripaska’s Volnoe Delo, a charitable foundation for social innovations. In addition, the Programme was supported by about 1,000 supporters of the WWF Russia.