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 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 20:20 GMT
Battle on to save Caucasus big cat
Caucasus leopard (Photo WWF)
There are between 20 and 23 Caucasus leopards left
A rare species of leopard found only in remote areas of the southern Caucasus Mountains faces extinction, the World Wildlife Fund warns.

Announcing action to protect the big cat, the WWF said numbers of the Caucasus leopard are estimated to have fallen to as few as 20 animals.

LEOPARD NUMBERS
Armenia 5-8
Azerbaijan 10-12
Armenia/Nakhichevan 2-3
Karabakh 5-7
The species is threatened by poachers who kill the animals and sell their highly-prized skins on the black market.

The Caucasus leopard was thought to have disappeared in the 1960s.

But recent surveys show the animal still exists in the ex-Soviet republics of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Hunting continues

The WWF has launched a $250,000- (euro 231,000-) scheme to safeguard the animals.

"According to recent data, between one and two animals are killed each year," said Kakha Tolordava, spokesman for the organisation's Georgia office.

Changes in the Caucasus since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 have contributed to the decline in the animal's number, according to the WWF.

State-run wildlife protection schemes have closed down due to lack of funding.

Meanwhile local people have begun to hunt wild goats, deer and boar - the leopard's main prey - to supplement their small incomes.

With their natural food source dwindling, the leopards have been forced to prey on flocks of domestic sheep and goats near human settlements, which has put them at risk of being shot, said the WWF.

Military zone

The war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the 1990s further restricted the leopard's movements.

It turned the border between the two countries - which is also one of the animal's main migration routes - into a sealed-off military zone.

The WWF aims to:

  • educate local people about the threat to the leopard
  • help governments re-establish nature reserves
  • train border guards
  • pay for and equip anti-poaching patrols

According to Mr Tolordava, national governments have promised to help the WWF.

But, he added, "they are too poor to contribute financially".

See also:

12 Sep 01 | Science/Nature
03 Jan 02 | England
03 Aug 01 | UK
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