Leopard presence confirmed in Caucasus Wildlife Refuge SEARCH NEWS

Caucasian leopard bares its fangs. © Vasiliy Koval / Shutterstock.com

The efforts of conservationists working to preserve habitat for the endangered Caucasian Leopard in Armenia have been boosted by confirmation of the leopard’s presence.

Staff of the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens in Jerusalem have run a series of genetic tests on samples of fur and faeces found in an area managed for conservation by Armenian NGO, Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC). In the past few days, the zoo has confirmed that the samples are indeed from a rare Caucasian Leopard.

The news from Jerusalem Zoo confirms what FPWC field experts have believed but so far have been unable to prove.

Ruben Khachatryan, Director of Yerevan Zoo and founder of FPWC, describes the scientific proof as highly important: “It demonstrates beyond any doubt that this majestic but unfortunately highly endangered predator still dwells in Armenia and that our efforts to protect its habitat are not in vain.”

Protecting habitat for endangered species

World Land Trust (WLT) has been supporting FPWC’s conservation work since 2010.

Of the genetic test results Mary Tibbett, WLT’s Conservation Programmes Officer, said: “This finding is a great boost to conservation efforts in Armenia. Although possibly reduced to as few as 15 animals in Armenia, the Caucasian Leopard subspecies is resilient and we believe it can be saved. But if it is to prosper in the wild, we need to see better research and monitoring, improved protection for habitat, and tougher action against hunters and poachers. If we do not take steps now, it may be too late.

“The results of the genetic tests demonstrate beyond any doubt that this majestic but unfortunately highly endangered predator still dwells in Armenia and that our efforts to protect its habitat are not in vain.” 
(Ruben Khachatryan, Director of Yerevan Zoo and founder of FPWC)

“FPWC are doing a tremendous job in this challenging environment and I encourage WLT supporters to help secure the future of this magnificent creature by donating to our Caucasian Leopard Special Appeal, which is running until the end of April.”

The Caucasian Leopard is the largest sub species of leopard. It ranges across several different countries including Iran, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Georgia. In recent years, their population has been devastated by uncontrolled hunting and habitat destruction.

Conservation co-operation crosses borders

“Leopards don’t know borders,” explains Ruben. “Their migration routes cover not only a corridor through Armenia but also reach out in particular to Iran and Azerbaijan. Much more field exploration is necessary to map and understand this regional leopard corridor.”

FPWC is working to strengthen regional cross-border cooperation in order to form a leopard coalition uniting relevant NGOs and governmental institutions in all countries of the South Caucasus.

According to Ruben: “The involvement of international partners such as World Land Trust and IUCN NL is of vital importance for this process in the South Caucasus as they can foster cross-border dialogue and cooperation even where official contacts are difficult.”

WLT has recently funded the extension of FPWC’s Caucasus Wildlife Refuge, and the employment of rangers to protect the site.

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