Recent Caucasian leopard tracks in Armenia give new hope to conservationists working in the Caucasus. Villagers in the Shvanidzor and Syunik province as well as borders guards along the Armenian-Iranian border have confirmed leopard sightings in the last few months. The last known photograph of a leopard in Armenia was taken by WWF in 2007, these recent sightings give us hope that the leopard is making a return.
The Caucasian or Persian leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor), is one of the most endangered species living in the Caucasus. This leopard subspecies can be found in the South Caucasus countries, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Some experts estimate there are less than 1300 leopards left in wild. According to Alexander Malkhasyan from WWF Armenia, who has been working on leopard monitoring and conservation for more than 10 years, Armenia probably has less than five individuals.
The leopard’s main threats are poaching, depletion of their prey base, human disturbance such as presence of military and training of troops in border areas, habitat loss due to deforestation, fire, agricultural expansion, overgrazing, and infrastructure development.
The Caucasian leopard’s territory in Armenia reaches from mountainous regions in the south starting with Khosrov National Reserve to Shikahogh State Reserve, Zangezur Sanctuary and Arevik National Park where they prey on Bezoar goats, wild boars, crested porcupine and Armenian mouflon, all of which are also threatened by poaching, illnesses and human activities. CNF is currently supporting these parks, covering essential operating costs and essential equipment. These new sightings give us hope that our support is paying off and that the leopard is on its way back to Europe.