Red deer (Cervus elaphus) is a species that has been hunted by man since the Stone Age. Dozens of red deer petroglyphs can be found in the Paleolithic human settlement in Gobustan (see photo).The red deer’s historical range covered the whole of Azerbaijan – the slopes of the Greater and Lesser Caucasus, the Talish Mountains, and Central Kura-Aras Plain. The deer were found even in Absheron and Gobustan which today are semi-deserts and appear unsuitable for deer. Red deer had disappeared from the Lesser Caucasus by the 20th century, while the last red deer in the Talish Mountains was killed in 1922. In 1961 seven deer were re-introduced in Goy-Gol Reserve (Lesser Caucasus) and before the military conflict with Armenia their number reached 270 animals. Today a more or less viable population of red deer is distributed on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus, mainly in Zagatala and Ilisu reserves. This population also suffered after the collapse of the Soviet Union from illegal hunting and habitat loss.
WWF started its project to restore the red deer in the Caucasus in 2003. The first counting of deer populations in Balakan, Zagatala and Gakh administrative districts of Azerbaijan in autumn 2003 gave us a figure of fewer than 500 individuals.
Immediate steps were taken in Zagatala reserve: it was supported in the development of infrastructure (a ranger station and shelters), provided with means of transportation (off-road vehicle, horses etc.) and field, optic, and office equipment to enable staff to patrol and monitor the species.