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Leopard caught snatching hens in Abkhazia to be released into wild after rehabilitation

November 17, 20:12 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Until the middle of the 20th century, Persian leopards were common in the Caucasus

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© Sergei Savostianov/TASS

MOSCOW, November 17. /TASS/. Leopard Victoria who was caught in Abkhazia on Thursday will be released into the wild again in a wildlife sanctuary in Russia’s Northern Caucasus after a short rehabilitation at the Persian leopard reintroduction center near Sochi, the press service of the Russian ministry of natural resources said on Friday.

Victoria is one of the three Persian leopards that were released into the wild in July 2016.

"After the animal was identified, the Abkhazian authorities returned her to the leopard reintroduction center at the Sochi national park. After a short period of rehabilitation, Victoria will be equipped with a satellite collar and released into the Caucasian wildlife sanctuary," the ministry said.

On Thursday, the leopard that had been sneaking into an Abkhazian village to snatch hens for about a week got caught in an improvised trap made by the locals. They put a live hen into a cage to lure the leopard into the trap. The leopard was not injured. Specialists from the Caucasian nature reserve and the Moscow Zoo were commissioned to the site to identify the wild animal.

The distance from the place of the leopard’s latest location in mid-June 2017 to the Abkhazian village where she was caught is about 100 kilometers. This fact proved experts’ opinion that leopards need spacious habitats.

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 enjoying support 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.

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