Caucasian Leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor) © NACRES, Georgia

Caucasian Leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor) © NACRES, Georgia

Flora Fauna and Threats

Biodiversity under Threat

Poacher in Caucasus
The biodiversity of the Caucasus is being lost at an alarming rate. Nearly half the lands in the ecoregion have been transformed by human activities. The plains, foothills and subalpine belts have suffered the heaviest impact. Most natural old growth forests have been fragmented into small sections, divided by areas of commercial forest, agricultural and developed lands. Only a quarter of the overall Caucasus region remains in reasonable condition and less than 12 percent of the original vegetation, including forests, can be considered pristine.

The major threats to biodiversity in the ecoregion are: illegal logging, fuel wood harvesting and the timber trade; overgrazing; poaching and the illegal wildlife trade; overfishing; infrastructure development; and pollution of rivers and wetlands. These threats lead to habitat degradation, decline of species population and disruption of ecological processes—all contributing to the overall loss of biodiversity.

Well managed protected areas are key to stopping biodiversity loss in the ecoregion. Learn more about the importance of protected areas in the Caucasus and the world →

The Ecoregional Conservation Plan (ECP) is a comprehensive strategy and action plan for conserving the biodiversity of the Caucasus ecoregion. Below is a list of Priority Species and biomes as listed by the ECP.

Priority Species

Caucasian Leopard

Caucasian Leopard

The leopard (Panthera pardus saxicolor) is the rarest species in the ecoregion. Widespread  throughout the Caucasus a century ago it is now restricted to the Zangezur Range in Armenia and the Talish Mountains in Azerbaijan.  Less than 100 still roam the Caucasus Ecoregion: including approximately 50 in Northern Iran, 15 in Azerbaijan, 10 in the North Caucasus regions of Russia, 7 in Armenia, and perhaps a few in Georgia. © Fotolia.com
West/East Caucasian Turs

West/East Caucasian Turs

The two Caucasian turs (Capra caucasica and Capra cylindricornis) are endemic to the Greater Caucasus Range, where they inhabit a very narrow range in the high mountains from 2,000 to 4,000 m above sea level. Recent data suggests that there are around 3,500 to 4,000 West Caucasian turs and about 25,000 East Caucasian turs remaining. © Agency of Protected Areas
Caucasian Red Deer

Caucasian Red Deer

The Caucasian subspecies of red deer (Cervus elaphus maral) is one of the most endangered species in the South Caucasus. In Georgia two isolated populations of fewer than 90 deer remain in the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, and about 150 deer are left in the Lagodekhi Strict Nature Reserve. Less than 600 red deer are left in Azerbaijan. © WWF Russia, S. Trepet
European bison

European bison

The European bison (Bison bonasus) is the largest herbivore in Europe. Historically it was distributed throughout the Caucasus and western, central and south-eastern Europe. The Caucasus population became extinct by 1927. The species was reintroduced to the Northern Caucasus but it is once again under threat—there are just over 70 bison in two nature reserves in the Russian Caucasus. © WWF - A. Heidelberg
Goitered gazelle

Goitered gazelle

The goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa) is found in steppe and semi-desert habitats. A hundred years ago, 60,000 gazelles roamed the steppe, but by 1961 only 130 animals were left. Conservation measures helped save the population from extinction and gazelle numbers in the Shirvan protected areas have grown to more than 5,000 today. Recent measures have been taken to reintroduce the animal to Ag Gol National Park in Azerbaijan and Vashlovani protected areas in Georgia. © H. Muller    
Brown Bear

Brown Bear

The brown bear (Ursus arctos) generally occupies mountain forests, but also occurs in high mountain meadows and open plains woodlands. Less than 3,000 individuals remain in the Caucasus ecoregion, warranting protection measures. There are four subspecies of brown bear in the ecoregion, of which two subspecies (U. a. syriacus and U. a. lasistanicus) are endangered and in need of immediate protection. © Wikimedia Commons, B. Boehne
Striped Hyena

Striped Hyena

The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is on the verge of extinction in the Caucasus. They live in plains ecosystems, including arid habitats and floodplain forests. The animal used to be widespread in the eastern Caucasus up to Tbilisi. today, only a few hyenas remain within a very small range in the south-eastern Caucasus plains (southern Armenia, Azerbaijan and a small area of Georgia). © Wikimedia Commons, M. Bayer
Caucasian Chamois

Caucasian Chamois

The Caucasian chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra caucasica) is one of the more remarkable mountain ungulates. Although data on chamois numbers are scarce, it is thought that approximately 3,500 chamois remain in the Kavkazsky Strict Nature Reserve in Russia, and a much smaller population resides in the Lesser Caucasus Mountain Chain within Georgia and Turkey. © S. Eriashvili
Bezoar Goat

Bezoar Goat

The bezoar goat (Capra aegagrus), or wild goat, is found only in the eastern part of the Greater Caucasus Range and the southern portion of the Lesser Caucasus Mountain Chain.  Around 1,000 bezoar goats live in Dagestan and about 3,000 in Armenia (Khosrov Strict Nature Reserve, southern Armenia) and the bordering part of Nakhchyvan (Azerbaijan). Small populations live in Georgia on the border with Dagestan. © WWF Armenia, A. Malkhasyan
Gmelin’s Mouflon

Gmelin’s Mouflon

The rare Gmelin’s or Armenian mouflon (Ovis ammon gmelinii) is an endemic subspecies of wild sheep. An agile rock climber, the mouflon prefers the dry open slopes in the mountain steppe zones. Today there are no more than several hundred animals left in southern Armenia and in the Nakhchyvan Autonomous Republic in Azerbaijan. © H. Ghazaryan
Imperial Eagle

Imperial Eagle

The imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) is predominantly a lowland species, but has been pushed to higher altitudes by human pressures. The eagle is found primarily in the south-eastern part of the ecoregion. The total global population is estimated at 363 to 604 pairs. In Europe the eagle has suffered a rapid decline in recent decades, and the species is now extremely rare or extinct in many areas. © WWF Caucasus Program Office
Caucasian Black Grouse

Caucasian Black Grouse

The Caucasian black grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewiczi) inhabits areas above timberline in the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountains, usually at an elevation from 1,500 to 3,300 m above sea level. The presence of shrub vegetation to provide shelter for the bird is critical. In the Greater Caucasus, the population numbers several tens of thousands, but distribution is patchier in the Lesser Caucasus, where the number of birds is much lower. © WWF Caucasus Program Office
Cinereous vulture

Cinereous vulture

Cinereous vultures (Aegypius monachus), or Eurasian black vultures, feed on carrion and nest in loosely knit groups. They prefer areas with pine, juniper and oak. Their distribution extends from Spain in the west to Mongolia and Russia in the east. The overall range and abundance of the bird has declined as a result of habitat loss and alterations to its nesting habitat.      © Wikimedia Commons
White-headed duck

White-headed duck

The white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) has a wide range—from Spain to Mongolia. Within the Caucasus Ecoregion, significant populations of white-headed ducks breed primarily in Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Armenia. The white-headed duck is a globally threatened species—bird counts have indicated that the population has undergone a very rapid decline of as much as 60% in the last decade. © Wikimedia Commons
Marbled Duck

Marbled Duck

The marbled duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris) has a scattered distribution in the western Mediterranean, the eastern Mediterranean and western and southern Asia. The species sporadically occurs in Georgia, but is more common in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran. Over 50% of the duck’s suitable habitat may have been destroyed during the 20th century, leading to population decline.   © Wikimedia Commons
Caucasian Salamander

Caucasian Salamander

The Caucasian salamander (Mertensiella caucasica) is endemic to the western Lesser Caucasus Mountain range.  24 local populations are known across Georgia to Turkey. One local population usually consists of several hundred individuals. Geographic populations from the watershed of the Kura River and rivers in the Black Sea Basin show fixed genetic differences, and are likely different species which have been isolated for more than five million years. © Agency of Protected Areas
Sturgeon

Sturgeon

The Caspian and Azov seas are unique in the world in their diversity of species of sturgeon fish (Huso and Acipenser spp.). The seven species of sturgeon considered focal species are: Russian sturgeon (A. gueldenstaedtii), Persian sturgeon (A. persicus), bastard sturgeon (A. nudiventris), sterlet (A. ruthenus), star sturgeon (A. stellatus), Atlantic (Baltic) sturgeon (A. sturio), and beluga (H. huso). © WWF