Foot-amputated leopards in the Caucasus
A brief statement of WWF-Caucasus Programme Office and IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group on the status of the leopard conservation in the Caucasus
The Persian (Caucasus) Leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor, Pocock, 1927 = P. p. cis-caucasica, Satunin, 1914) is a globally threatened subspecies classified as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN. Once widespread throughout the Caucasus, the Persian leopard today is the rarest mammal in the region, holding out in a few small and isolated subpopulations, and the species is both red-listed in all Caucasus countries and recognised as a focal species for conservation for the entire Caucasus Ecoregion:
Already for 15 years, WWF in partnership with IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group actively assists responsible Governmental Organisations in the conservation of this flagship animal. In this period, populations of the main prey species of the leopard, such as Bezoar Goat or Mouflon, have increased by at least 15%. Leopard records have also increased, with more than 230 camera-trap photos and 30 videos of leopards have been obtained during last years in the Nakhchyvan Autonomous Republic and Tallish Mountains of Azerbaijan, as well as in southern Armenia, allowing for the identification of several territorial leopards.
Despite these conservation successes, recent leopard records from camera traps point to a highly worrisome phenomena: since autumn 2015, our camera-traps have several times depicted two injured, foot-amputated leopard individuals, who – according to our records - were absolutely healthy before. The causes of these damages are still unclear. Given the extremely low number of Persian leopards in the region we clearly feel our responsibility and obligation to urgently call for deeper research and comprehensive assessments of leopard mutilations.
An effective mitigation of this threat is becoming even much more important considering very recent and very good news passed by colleagues from Nakhchyvan, where the earlier identified female leopard was photographed with two well-advanced cubs. The same female with her two cubs was also observed in southern Armenia in December 2015. The discovery of young leopards in the Zangezur Mountains demonstrates that the protection of wildlife has improved in this region and that leopards can live and reproduce again. Thanks to the conservation efforts, the leopard has again a chance to survive and recover in the south-eastern Lesser Caucasus of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran.
We will take new efforts to save the leopard in the Caucasus. The WWF Caucasus Programme (supported by WWF Switzerland and WWF Germany in partnership with Humboldt University Berlin) and the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group (supported by the Foundation Segré) will together tackle the challenging issues that in situ and ex situ leopard conservation in the Caucasus currently is facing. These new opportunities - in combination with existing governmental will and effort – revives our motivation and confidence to continue and intensify work towards survival of the Caucasus leopard and other wildlife species in a long-term perspective.