Iran agrees to give Russia wild leopards
(AFP) – 2 days ago
MOSCOW — Iran has promised to donate two wild leopards to Russia, officials said Sunday, bringing closer the aim of settling the rare animals near the 2014 Winter Olympics host city of Sochi.
The reintroduction of the Persian leopard -- extinct in Russia's Caucasus region since the start of the last century -- is being championed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ahead of the games.
"There is an agreement with the government of Iran... Initially two female (leopards) will be given. They will be delivered in the spring," the head of the Sochi National Park, Nikolai Penkovsky, told the Interfax news agency
The inititaive to reintroduce the leopard is part of a drive to promote the mountainous region around Sochi, marking the western edge of the Caucasus mountains, as an area of natural beauty and diversity.
The agreement with Iran follows a visit to Tehran by Russian Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev for talks with the head of the Iranian environmental protection agency, Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh.
Iran's ISNA news agency also said the meeting had secured a pledge from Iran to give two leopards to Russia.
Turkmenistan has already given Russia two male leopards which are being held in a reserve outside Sochi.
Penkovsky said that for the reintroduction programme to have an effect, three females and three males would be required.
Many environmentalists have bitterly criticised plans for the 2014 Games, for which much infrastructure for the ski events has to be built from scratch.
The Russian branch of WWF this month accused the government of inflicting "huge damage" on the environment and said its future cooperation with the project was now in question.
Iran is one of the last holdouts of the leopards, commonly known as the Persian leopard, although there are 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.
Despite his reputation as a tough-guy policymaker, Putin has been happy to display a soft spot for animals and personally welcomed the two Turkmen leopards in Sochi.
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