Thursday, December 10, 2009

Russia seeks Iran's help to bring back leopard

(AFP) – 2 days ago

MOSCOW — Russia on Tuesday asked Iran if it would be prepared to supply rare Persian leopards as part of a Russian project to reintroduce the big cat to its Caucasus region.

In an unusual example of the strong cooperation between the two countries, Russia's Deputy Ecology Minister Igor Maidanov held talks on the issue with Iranian ambassador Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi, the environment minister said.

Turkmenistan has already given Russia two male leopards which are being held in a reserve outside Russia's southern city of Sochi but the environment ministry said two females were needed to revive a wild population.

"In connection with this... talks are being held with Turkmenistan and Iran over giving female leopards," Maidanov said in a statement.

The statement said that the Iranian side had "expressed its readiness" to discuss the Russian reintroduction programme.

The leopard project has been championed by Russia's powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ahead of its hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympic games in Sochi.

Despite his reputation as a tough-guy policymaker, Putin has lost no chance to show he has a soft spot for animals and personally welcomed the two Turkmen leopards in Sochi.

Iran is one of the last holdouts of the leopards -- commonly known as the Persian leopard -- that once roamed throughout the forests and mountains of the Caucasus and Central Asian regions.

There are also even smaller populations in Armenia, Georgia and Turkmenistan. Russia has a severely endangered population of Amur leopards in its Far East region but it is a different sub species to the Persian leopard.

Persian leopards disappeared from Russia's Caucasus at the beginning of the last century although they still play a significant role in the folklore of the mainly Muslim regions of the northern Caucasus.

Despite the nuclear crisis, Russia has the strongest ties with Iran of any major power. Animal diplomacy is nothing new, with China in particular known for giving giant pandas as a sign of friendship.


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