A den of Endangered Wild Cat with kittens is one of the many recent sightings of the impressive animals in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge in Armenia
Rangers in the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge in Armenia have reported an array of species sightings – from wolves that are preying on a healthy population of Bezoar Goat, to a family of Caucasian Wild Cat, and signs of Brown Bears living in the reserve.
The increased number of rangers patrolling the reserve, with support from the World Land Trust (WLT), is successfully tackling illegal hunting and logging in the area – allowing these species to thrive.
Each day and through some of the night, the rangers patrol the reserve and surrounding territory either by car or on horseback, filling in daily reports on their wildlife sightings and noting anything unusual.
Rangers wildlife report:
“One very remarkable sighting was of a Caucasian Wild Cat (Felis silvestris caucasica), an Endangered subspecies in Armenia, that was spotted just 500 meters away from the rangers’ station in the evening of November 5. This has not been the only sighting of the animal in the reserve; in late spring head ranger Manuk Manukyan found the den of a Wild Cat with two small kittens.
“It seems that the reserve is home to a couple of these beautiful (usually solitary) animals who are seeking company during their mating season in late winter. The area offers an ideal habitat for these small predators as there is an abundance of prey in the area, such as hares, mice, lizards and birds.
Predator and prey populations
“We have noticed that several herds of Bezoar, a native subspecies of wild goat, are often gathering in an area of the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge called Qeshishdagh/Red Stone. This place is sheltered, so even in winter it offers food, such as grass, twigs, leaves, berries, wild nuts and bark. Last year, Bezoars were not often seen here as the area was regularly visited by poachers, but now the number of goats varies from three to 13 individuals. This spectacular animal, with horns nearly as long as its body, only exists in the Caucasus region and overhunting is causing a dramatic decline in numbers.
“On November 27, a very large herd of Bezoars (23 individuals) was sighted close to the rangers’ station – this proves that the animals are no longer frightened by the presence of humans, seemingly due to the decrease in hunting in the area. The mating season for the Bezoars has just started and we often see huge male individuals fighting for the females.
“We saw two wolves near the Qeshishdagh/Red Stone area on October 3, the same place that the Bezoars are seen regularly, and it can be presumed that the wolves come here to hunt.
Successfully tackling illegal logging
“On November 1, we identified foot prints of a bear in an area of the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge called Kharaba. On the same day, we spotted two poachers who had intruded into the reserve by car; the hunters soon fled when they noticed we had spotted them.
“This time of year the threat posed by loggers who try to cut down the Juniper Trees is a serious problem for us. It is very sad to say that this is not done to burn the wood for heating, but instead to sell the Junipers as Christmas Trees. In one week alone, from December 12 to 19, we stopped 15 people who entered the Buffer Zone to log Christmas Trees. One tree can be sold for about 60,000 AMD (70 Euro), which is a lot of money for the nearby villagers.
“In general, illegal logging is a huge problem in the whole Armenia, which is a country stricken by deforestation. The Juniper Trees in the Buffer Zone are often several hundred years old. As the species grows very slowly, a logged Juniper is pretty much irreplaceable.
“The Junipers are an indispensable part of the mountainous habitat and very important for wildlife, providing a nesting place, shelter and food. This is particularly important for Grey Partridges that in winter feed on Juniper berries and Black Vultures that use Junipers as nesting places. So during the whole Christmas and New Year season we have to stay very alert to protect these precious trees.”
Without the hard work and dedication of the rangers, our partners in Armenia could not protect the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge and all its wildlife from hunters and illegal loggers. Help support these rangers by donating to the Keepers of the Wild appeal.