Saturday 31 May 2014

The Elusive Caucasian Leopard

Other names for this subspecies of leopard are: Central Asian leopard, North Persian leopard, Persian leopard and West Asian leopard.  Quite an array of names and talking about names, the scientific name of this species of wild cat is in a confused state apparently but this is what it is currently listed as: Panthera pardus ssp. saxicolor. This subspecies is the largest of all the leopards.

The IUCN Red List states that the total population across all countries where it exists is an estimated 871-1290.  Let's remind ourselves that these are estimates and I'm surprised that the figures have not been rounded up or down.

Caucasian Leopard in Armenia. Camera trap video screenshot

I was reading an article in The Times newspaper today about the Caucasian leopard.  It is written by Simon Barnes. He went to Armenia to investigate the state of play of this elusive large wild cat subspecies in Armenia, which is one of the countries within its distribution.  The other countries and areas, as I understand it are: Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Iran and the Middle East.

Of those countries, this subspecies of leopard is most populous in Iran (550-850).

In Armenia the numbers are much lower.  John Barnes states that Armenia is in Europe although it is not a member of the European Union.  On that basis, we can state that we have a leopard living in Europe which sounds a bit odd.

Armenia is a tough, hard place. Apparently it is quite a barren, rugged yet very beautiful place (the video supports that). Quite unlike the rainforests or the Serengeti.  But the leopard is well known to be highly adaptable and has an enormous distribution from Africa in the east all the way to the Far East of Russia; quite extraordinary.  As I remember, it has the largest distribution of any wild cat species. A testament to its adaptability despite being the fourth-largest wild cat.

Armenia is a hard place for the leopard to make a living.  In summer, in daytime the temperature is between 30 and 40°C but it drops to minus 30 in the winter.

The Caucasian leopard is described by John Barnes as the Euro-leopard and the flagship wildlife species in Europe.  I agree.

The population size of the Caucasian leopard in Armenia is so low that it is difficult to tell whether it exists or not in that country.  You almost have to take it on trust.  The Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC) in Armenia manage the Caucasus Wildlife Refuge in which the Caucasian leopard lives as part of its range in that country, as I understand it.

They set up camera traps (motion activated cameras usually strapped to trees or rocks along important trails where the leopard is likely to pass). You can see the results of that effort in the video above.

John Barnes reports that one of this organisation's camera trap videos shows a 3 legged leopard.  He presumably means a leopard that has 4 legs but has lost the use of one of his legs.  The video above does not show a 3 legged leopard.

John Barnes states that there aren't much more than a dozen leopards in all Armenia. They ramble over massive areas. Armenia appears to be a good place for the leopard because they need a lot of space and to be left alone. They travel widely and visit most parts of their ranges regularly.  In north-eastern Namibia male leopards' home ranges covered areas of 210-1164 km².  Awesome.  You can see how living in a cage can cause difficulties for this fabulous wild cat species.

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