Tbilisi, Georgia - WWF's Caucasus Programme recently launched a project to secure protection for the Caucasus leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasica, also called the Nearer Asian leopard) — the most critically endangered species in the Caucasus ecoregion.
The Caucasus leopard was thought to have disappeared from the Caucasus region in the 1960s, and the absence of surveys until the end of 20th century did not allow an accurate evaluation of these extremely secretive, cautious, and highly mobile large cats. Investigations conducted as part of the WWF Caucasus project — “Leopard Conservation in the Caucasus Ecoregion” — show that 20–23 leopards survive in the Lesser Caucasus Mountain Chain and Talysh Mountains of south Caucasus. This includes 5–8 leopards in Armenia, 10–12 in Azerbaijan, and 2–3 in the Armenia-Nakhichevan border area. The number of leopards in the conflict zone of the district of Karabakh is estimated to be 5–7, from not completely reliable data provided by hunters.
The long-term goal of the project is to conserve the Caucasus leopard in its historical range. This will be achieved by establishing direct protection of the leopard and prey species through strengthening management of existing protected areas; improving the protected areas network in south Caucasus, including establishment of new protected areas; establishing anti-poaching units; implementing damage compensation programmes for local farmers; and developing education and awareness programmes.
The three-year project incorporates a number of governmental and non-governmental partners as well as experts from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia.The conservation significance of sites associated with the leopard has already been assessed, and urgent measures for strengthening protection of these areas have been identified and submitted to the relevant ministries for approval.
Likewise, a monitoring programme for leopard populations in south Armenia has been launched alongside a study for extension of protected territory in the Talysh Mountains (Azerbaijan) and increasing the protection status of Ordubad Sanctuary in the Nakhichevan autonomous region of Azerbaijan.
Initial studies have also been conducted to look at the establishment of new protected areas in Armenia. Surveys have also been undertaken to determine the condition of leopard populations in the north-western and central Greater Caucasus.
Documents have been prepared for the establishment of anti-poaching units in Armenia and Azerbaijan. In addition, curricula and publications on leopard conservation have been prepared for local schools and small grant programmes in Armenia and Azerbaijan.
WWF Caucasus hopes that the project will secure effective protection of valuable leopard habitat, including important migratory routes; reduce poaching; and help leopard populations start to recover.
For more information:
WWF Caucasus Programme Office
Tel: +995 32 33 01 54/55