MOSCOW, February 15. /TASS./ Persian leopards may be released in Russia’s North Caucasus Republic of Dagestan in two or three years, as soon as territories to reintroduce them are duly prepared, the WWF Russia press service said.
The effort will be carried out in an attempt to lay foundation for new Persian leopard population in Russia after they became nearly extinct in the wild in North Caucasus.
"Works to prepare the territory may take two or three years. In spring, as part of the VTB-financed project to preserve big cats in Russia, experts will conduct field research in Dagestan to determine best locations for releasing Persian leopards and prepare recommendations to increase the population of hoofed animals in the area," the press service said in a statement.
After experts evaluate the degree of preparedness of those territories in mountainous areas of Dagestan, first leopards from a special center near Sochi, established to breed and prepare leopards for a life in the wild, will be released to those areas.
"Local residents need to understand that leopards pose no threat to them. A leopard is a very secretive animal and will never attack first. When noticing a human, the animal is always trying to leave unnoticed. This is confirmed by our experience regarding leopards that were released into Russia’s Caucasus (Kavkazsky) State Nature Biosphere Reserve," WWF Russia director Igor Chestin said.
Until the middle of the 20th century, Persian leopards were common in the Caucasus. But by 1950, their population had dramatically decreased, and was entirely extinct in some areas due to human activities.
In 2004-2005 there were only 10-15 Persian leopards living in the wild in Russia. In 2005, experts from WWF-Russia and the Russian Academy of Sciences came forward with a long-term plan to reintroduce Persian leopards in the Caucasus. The program has been supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin since 2009.
In 2009, a leopard reintroduction center opened at a nature reserve near the Black Sea resort city of Sochi with support from WWF.
Initially, the Center hosted two males from Turkmenistan and two females from Iran. Later, a leopard pair was brought from the Lisbon Zoo and had their first litter in 2013. By 2016, a total of 14 kittens were born.
Three of them were released into the wild in the Caucasus (Kavkazsky) State Nature Biosphere Reserve in July 2016.