Since 2010, WLT has been working with local partner, Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC), in the South Caucasus, which is known to be the stronghold of the Caucasian Leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor).
With the support of WLT and IUCN Netherlands, FPWC established the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge (1,084 acres) next to the 60,000 acre Khosrov National Reserve.
FPWC's team of rangers has successfully reduced illegal hunting in the region and is carrying out vital conservation work to create suitable habitat conditions where this top predator can thrive.
Leopard presence confirmed
In early 2013 staff of the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem ran a series of genetic tests on samples of fur and faeces found in an area managed for conservation by FPWC. In February 2013, the zoo confirmed that the samples are indeed from a rare Caucasian Leopard.
Now that Caucasian Leopard - the largest subspecies of leopard - has been recorded in the vicinity it is essential to step up conservation efforts.
In September 2012, WLT launched a Special Appeal to raise funds to strengthen FPWC’s research and monitoring of the Caucasian Leopard in the wild, while helping to further reduce illegal hunting, develop new habitat protection measures and raise environmental awareness.
The leopard’s distribution in Armenia ranges over 2,586 km2; starting from Khosrov National Reserve, passing through Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, going down to the border of Nakhichevan (an exclave of Azerbaijan) and then down to the border with Iran.
However, this population of leopard is down to the very last few individuals. Until evidence of the leopard's existence was confirmed in February 2013, more than a decade had passed since the last confirmed sighting of the Caucasian Leopard within the region of the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge.
Populations of Caucasian Leopard have been devastated by uncontrolled hunting and the destruction of their natural habitat, a serious threat to all wildlife across the country.
FPWC's conservation work has increased habitat protection and successfully reduced illegal hunting in the area. This has resulted in increased wildlife in the refuge; in particular a sub-species of threatened wild goat, the Bezoar Ibex, can now be seen in large numbers.
Predator-prey relationships are so interdependent that data on prey availability can be used to reliably predict predator densities and abundance.
By successfully increasing populations of Bezoar Ibex in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, FPWC have already started the vital conservation work that could see the Caucasian Leopard thrive again in the region.
But more funding is urgently needed to enable FPWC to:
- intensify research and monitoring of the Caucasian Leopard in the wild
- investigate further land protection
- step up efforts to eliminate illegal hunting
- put in place educational and community programmes to raise environmental awareness.
Funds are needed to enable WLT to support FPWC in a range of conservation initiatives including:
- Protecting a 2,718 acre (1,100 ha) leopard corridor: this land, alongside the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, needs to be saved urgently. With funding it will be possible to negotiate a lease on the land.
- Monitoring the Caucasian Leopard in the region: research carried out by rangers, scientific researchers and university students, will include mapping the leopard’s territory through geographic information systems (GIS) to enhance the limited data already recorded.
- Reducing illegal hunting and poaching: strengthening FPWC’s team of rangers and providing much needed equipment, including a truck, tent and winter clothing will boost protection measures in the reserve.
- Implementing strict environmental policies: supporting the employment of an Environmental Officer, hired from the local community, will ensure environmental standards are maintained.
- Installing camera-traps: remote cameras in strategic positions in and around the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge provide researchers and conservationists with vital information on the behaviour and range of rare species. They also successfully reduce illegal hunting, as hunters keep away if there is the threat of being caught on camera.
- Raising awareness and developing education campaigns: working with local communities influences public opinion on the hunting and poaching of wild animals. Trophy hunting is a serious issue throughout Armenia. Killing rare species is a way of raising a person's social standing and trophies fetch a high price on the black market.
In Armenia, people and leopards have co-existed for over 11,000 years and up until the mid-20th century leopards were relatively common in the country's mountains.
Today, it is estimated that there are fewer than 15 Caucasian Leopards left in Armenia; their populations have been devastated by uncontrolled hunting and poaching, disturbance and degradation of habitat caused by livestock grazing, plant gathering, deforestation and human-induced wild fires.
The leopard’s stronghold within the country is the rugged and cliffy terrain of Khosrov State Reserve and the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, located south-east of the capital Yerevan on the south-western slopes of the Geghama mountains.
The Caucasus covers an area of over 500,000 sq km between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, and includes parts of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran and Turkey.
An area of great ecological importance, the Caucasus is included in the list of biodiversity hotspots; one of the 25 regions which together cover only 1.4 per cent of the Earth's land surface but contain nearly half of all plant species and a third of all terrestrial vertebrate species. All are under increasing pressure from human activities.
The region has a high level of endemism, meaning many of the species that live here are found nowhere else on Earth. The Caucasus’ wildlife includes Caucasian Leopards, Brown Bears, Grey Wolves, Caspian Red Deer, Bezoar Goats and vultures.
WLT has been helping support conservation in Armenia’s Caucasus region since 2010 by funding protection of the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge through our partner FPWC. We urgently need to increase the scope of this conservation activity to save and protect enough habitat for the survival of the Caucasian Leopard in Armenia.
- WLT Project Briefs »
- More about the Caucasian Leopard in Discover & Learn »
- More about the Bezoar Goat in Discover & Learn »
- Video footage of Bezoar goats in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge taken by camera-traps donated by WLT »
- Endangered Caucasian Leopard - big cat is present in Armenia: read the full press release »