After extinction of the Caspian tiger (Panthera tigris virgata) in the Caucasus in 1932, the leopard was the next large carnivore to face the same fate. There had been no reliable scientific data about the existence of this charismatic big cat in our region since the 1970s. In Soviet times the leopard was declared a pest and hunters were encouraged to kill all carnivores that damaged livestock. But due to the drastic decline in the leopard population it was declared a protected species in 1967 and was included in the first edition of the Red Book in 1989. The economic and energy crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a drastic decline in the leopard’s prey populations – large herbivores – and habitat loss, especially forests.
WWF started its program for leopard conservation in the Caucasus in 2002. During field surveys, evidence of the presence of leopards was found in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Talish Mountains. Later, the leopard was recorded also in the arid landscapes around Mingachevir Water Reservoir. Immediate measures were taken to stop the decrease in the leopard and large herbivore populations through supporting PAs, wide public awareness etc.
The first leopard was captured by photo trap in the Hyrcan Forest in 2007.
Intensive monitoring of the leopard population and other associated species was established in both the Hyrcan Forest (Talish Mountains) and Zangezur (Nakhchivan), using camera traps. In the past year, 85 photos and 15 videos have been taken of three different leopards in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and eight photos and one video of two leopards in the Talish Mountains.
At the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 the leopards were photographed in pairs so we are looking forward to seeing their cubs in summer or autumn when they follow their mother for a photo session or two.
As well as leopards, thousands of photos of bezoar goats have been taken by trap cameras in Nakhchivan. Other species photographed include porcupines, hares, foxes, jackals, wolves, bears, raccoons, badgers, beach and pine martens, wildcats, jungle cats, lynxes, wild boars, roe deer, red deer, mouflon, and some bird species (snowcocks, partridges, blackbirds, buzzards etc.).
All this success has been possible thanks to the coordinated work of the WWF team and the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan.
In 2007 the Regional Strategy on Leopard Conservation in the Caucasus was developed by WWF in cooperation with the IUCN Cat Specialists Group and local governments. This year is the last year of the National Action Plan for Leopard Conservation in Azerbaijan, approved by the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources in 2009. A New Action Plan will be developed for the next five years. The size of PAs in leopard habitats during the program period has more than quadrupled. According to the camera trap monitoring, the number of prey species for the leopard is also increasing.
Caucasian Leopards in Azerbaijan
Leopard couple, Nakhchivan, Zangazur NP
Field team in Nakhchivan
Leopard camp for schoolchildren
Leopard Shinkhan in Hirkan NP