TRACKING COLLARS WERE INSTALLED ON FIVE PERSIAN LEOPARDS
On July, 22 five satellite
trackers were installed on leopards at the Leopard Reintroduction Center in the
Sochi National Park. This is a great event
not only for the Center but also the leopards. It is a free pass to the wild
for the young predators. Before getting such a collar, each leopard passed a
thorough test and passed exams. Currently, 3 females and 2 males are prepared
for release into the wild. They are Agura, Aibga, Kodor (their parents are
Alous and Cherry), as well as Laba and Baksan (their parents are Zadig and
Andrea). Surprisingly, all 5 graduates were born on the same day – June 3 2018.
How does it work?
First, the animals are immobilized by injecting special veterinary drugs with rifle dart syringes. After that, scientists quickly collect all the necessary information about the leopards: weight, size and other data, check the claws, fangs, take blood and hairs for analysis, photograph spots pattern on the hair coats. All this data is necessary to make sure that the animals are healthy and create the so-called "leopard passport". Thanks to these passports, in the future, conservationists and scientists can accurately identify the animal by its traces or images from camera traps.
What are the exams for?
The final exams were held from July, 3 to July, 19. During this time, the experts from the A.N.Severtsov Insitute of Ecology and Evolution with colleagues from the Institute of Ecology of Mountain Territories, WWF-Russia and the Moscow zoo observed the behaviour of the animals. Before being released into the wild, it is necessary to check the ability of young leopards to hunt, check their psychological stability, and make sure that the animals avoid humans and livestock. This is important, both for the safety of the animals and for the local people and their property. Minimization of conflicts between humans and leopards is one of the key topics in the Persian leopard reintroduction Program in the Caucasus.
"Four leopards passed the exams with top marks, - explains Anna Yachmennikova - the expert of the assessment group, - Ph. D. Biology, senior researcher of the A. N. Severtsov Insitute of Ecology and Evolution. - the female Aibga, in our opinion, could provoke conflicts, since she does not avoid humans. The final decision on this leopard will be made by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation."
Why do they need collars?
WWF-Russia with the financial support of VTB Bank purchased satellite collars to get regular information about where the animals are, how it moves, and, most importantly, the thacking gives information about a successful hunt. As a rule, after big-game hunting, the leopard does not go far and stays near prey for a long time. "If we are receiving a signal about 48 hours or more from the very one location, it indicates that the leopard has successfully hunted and it is nearby that place, - explains Valeriy Shmunk, Director of Russian Caucasus Ecoregional Office WWF-Russia. - After the predator goes on, the monitoring group is headed to the identified locations (the place where signals from the collar have been received within 48 hours)) to get a lot of useful information : tracks, prey species, , their body size, and the leopard droppings analysis gives information about the status and health of the spotted cats and their food, etc.”
Despite its bulky look, the collar weighs less than 3% of the leopard's body weight and, according to research, does not interfere with the animal's daily life and hunting.
Now the animals will have 2-3
weeks to get used to collars. At this time, members of the Working group on the
implementation of the Leopard Reintroduction Program in the Caucasus will
determine the exact dates and places of the release of individual leopards. "For today, we can say that one of the
releases will be held in the Caucasus Reserve, and the second – in North
Ossetia-Alania. To determine the exact locations of release sites, the family
relationships between newly animals and those who already live in the wild will
be taken into account to minimize inbreeding,"- explains Natalia Dronova, Senior Coordinator of
WWF-Russia's species conservation projects. Currently, the Caucasus Reserve is
home to male Akhun (release of 2016) and Artek (release of 2018), and North
Ossetia has successfully mastered Volna (release of 2018).
By the 1950s, only a few leopards were preserved in the Caucasus. And in the 1960s, the Persian leopard was completely exterminated in the Russian Caucasus. In 2005, experts from WWF-Russia and the A. N. Severtsov Insitute of Ecology and Evolution developed a program for the Persian leopard reintroduction in the Caucasus.
The Persian leopard reintroduction program is implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation with the participation of the Sochi National Park, Caucasus Reserve, the A. N. Severtsov Insitute of Ecology and Evolution, Moscow zoo, the Institute of Ecology of Mountain Territories and WWF-Russia, as well as with the assistance of the International Union for Сonservation of Nature (IUCN) and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).