Saturday, June 02, 2007

Caucasus groups join forces to protect the leopard

By Sandro Moitsrapishvili

A Strategic Planning Workshop on Leopard Conservation in the Caucasus has been running in Tbilisi between May 30 and today. The event, which was organized by WWF Caucasus and the IUCN Cat Specialists Group, has brought together around 40 participants from governmental organizations, national NGOs and the scientific community of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey, as well as representatives of international conservation organizations.

The main goal of the workshop has been the development of a draft regional strategy for leopard conservation in the Caucasus, which will provide guidance for the conservation of the cat on the eco-regional level. Based on a stocktaking of current knowledge about the biology, status and conservation options of both the Leopard and its prey species, the strategy will define general conservation goals for the cat, common procedures for its protection, opportunities for international cooperation and necessary activities. It will be followed by national action plans, which will spell out what needs to be done in each country in order to conserve this enigmatic predator.

The Leopard is a charismatic but critically endangered species of the Caucasus. It was believed to have disappeared from the region in the 1960s, but current research - often using high-tech equipment like automatic cameras - proves that about 40 individuals still live in remote Caucasian forests. Although highly secretive, they are threatened from poaching, reduction in prey numbers, and destruction of habitat due to illegal logging and conversion to pasture. The Leopard is included in the Red Data Book of Rare and Endangered Species in all countries of the region, as well as in the global IUCN Red List.

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