The Persian Leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor) , also known as the Caucasian Leopard, is the largest of leopard subspecies. The large portion of the wild population lives in the forests of Iran, followed by Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Azerbeijan, Russia, Pakistan and Turkey. 

ABOUT

Leopards are arboreal animals, and their spotted rosette coats aids in remaining undetected between the leaves. Its’ long tail is an evolutive characteristic in tree dwellers, like the leopard. This characteristic guarantees that they never lose balance while up high in the trees or chasing a prey.

Picture: Animalspot.net

Source: National Geographic

The Caucausian Leopard is listed as Endagered by the IUCN, with a total wild population of less than 1000 animals.

THREATS

The population decline in the Caucasus began after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the second half of the 19th century. The region between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea was controlled by the Russian Empire and was turned into royal hunting grounds. At the same time, the imperial authorities encouraged the population to kill leopards by proclaiming leopards as pests and by offering rewards for their skins. Nowadays, poaching is still a huge threat to the Persian Leopard population. Trophy-hunting, trafficking and spontaneous encounters threaten the leopard population chances for survival outside protected areas appear very slim. 

Infrastructure development, habitat destruction and human disturbance caused severe fragmentation, leading to the division of habitat into smaller and geographically isolated fragments. The ever-increasing disintegration of habitat leads to the isolation of small subpopulations, which low intraspecific genetic diversity is a huge threat to the species survival. Persian leopards geographically distant groups are comprised by no more that 100 individuals. Since the 18th century, the Persian Leopard lost 84% of its range.

SAVING THE PERSIAN LEOPARD: CONSERVATION EFFORTS

When research showed that the Persian leopard population in the Caucusus could not thrive without human intervention, action was taken to avoid extinction at all costs. In 2007, the Russia’s Center for Reintroduction of the Leopard in the Caucasus was launched. This project’s purpose is to bring the predator back to the Caucasus Mountains, inside the Sochi National Park. A long-term breeding and reintroduction program was developed with the support and participation of WWF, IUCN, EAZA, the Russian government, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution and Moscow Zoo. The breeding program comprised of four wild caught leopards brought from Turkmenistan and Iran. The difficulty to get the animals to breed lead to a need to turn the plan around. In 2012, a Persian leopard couple from Lisbon Zoo was transferred to the Sochi Conservation Center. In 2013, two cubs were born – something that hadn’t happened in Russia in over 50 years. By 2016, a total of 14 kittens were born in the center.

Picture: Persian Leopard at Lisbon Zoo (Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa)

When research showed that the Persian leopard population in the Caucusus could not thrive without human intervention, action was taken to avoid extinction at all costs. In 2007, the Russia’s Center for Reintroduction of the Leopard in the Caucasus was launched. This project’s purpose is to bring the predator back to the Caucasus Mountains, inside the Sochi National Park. A long-term breeding and reintroduction program was developed with the support and participation of WWF, IUCN, EAZA, the Russian government, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution and Moscow Zoo. The breeding program comprised of four wild caught leopards brought from Turkmenistan and Iran. The difficulty to get the animals to breed lead to a need to turn the plan around. In 2012, a Persian leopard couple from Lisbon Zoo was transferred to the Sochi Conservation Center. In 2013, two cubs were born – something that hadn’t happened in Russia in over 50 years. By 2016, a total of 14 kittens were born in the center..

The program continues to be evaluated and there is ongoing analysis and research too improve population survival. The future wild population will be founded by individuals brought from the he EAZA Persian leopard EEP into Breeding Centre in Sochi National Park, as well as other facilities currently being developed. Both the EAZA Felid Taxon Advisory Group and Persian leopard EEP assist in the care and management of leopards prior to their release, by providing knowledge and skills to the professionals in their care. The IUCN Cat Specialist Group provides valuable expertise to the training of soon-to-be released animals, helping them get hunting and survival skills. The release program and continuous monitoring of reintroduced animals is also aided by the IUCN. With the participation of specialist individuals and renowned institutions, it’s possible to cover all the domains necessary to make this project a successful and exemplary one.

 

Furthermore, the Persian Leopard National Action Plan in Iran started in 2014 and was officially endorsed in 2016. Several innovative programs have been developed and are expected to improve the survivael prospect to the Persian leopard population in Iran. These include systematic monitoring of individuals, awareness raising and the preparation of guidelines and technical books. Efforts to save the Persian Leopard in Iran have been made through the creation of several other projects in this country.

Persian Leopard being collared in Iran. Picture: Ptes
Picture: Wild Persian Leopards

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