Africa in Azerbaijan: The Leopards of the Caucuses

The Goitered gazelle of Azerbaijan

Having moved from Namibia to Azerbaijan last year, I was struck by similarities between the Etosha pan [one of the great African game reserves] and the Shirvan National Park, a couple of hours drive South of Baku.

Both feature wide, flat landscapes of grey, dusty soil, leading to large bodies of salty water. Both are surrounded by scrubby trees  and both are home to species of antelope. In the case of the Etosha pan, Springbok and in Shirvan, the Goitered gazelle. Indeed, at a distance the one species could easily be

Springbok of Namibia

taken for the other. Today, I discovered another surprising similarity. Both Azerbaijan and Namibia are home to native species of leopard.

Whilst Africa was estimated to be home to perhaps 250,000 leopards in 2007, the Caucasus have a population of between 900 and 1,300. Azerbaijan however, can boast no more than a dozen animals with a few living in wonderful Talysh mountains [that border Iran and a few more in North of the country within in Ilisu State Reserve, on the southern slopes of Major Caucasus. The leopards of Azerbaijan are large, weighing up to 60 kg and can standing at up to 75 cm tall at the shoulder.

A Caucasian Leopard

Until the beginning of 2oth century, leopards were widely distributed in the Caucasus. They were though seem dangerous vermin and were hunted throughout they year with wire traps and poisoned bait. Today the population has declined to a genetically dangerous level.

World Wildlife Fund plans to develop a new, northern core populations of the leopard, which, together with the southern population (located in Iran) they hope will ensure its sustainable existence in the Caucasus within 10-15 years. See: http://www.care2.com/news/member/100041282/1487170

As with bears and wolves, leopards are are still seen as dangerous predators and regarded as a nuisance and sometimes killed when discovered living near people.

According to a report presented at the 2010 Convention on Conservation of European Wildlife and natural Habitats in Tbilisi, “Azerbaijan has started to do opportunistic surveys in various known or expected leopard areas in the south and northwest of the country. The efforts have confirmed the presence of leopards, but the exact distribution, the number of specimens and the travel routes are not know. The capacity
for a systematic surveillance is lacking. Azerbaijan’s ministry of environment has developed a National Action Plan for the conservation of the leopard (Ministerial Decree N 514/U from 14.09.2009).

No scheme for compensation of livestock attacks by leopard has been established, because this task. http://www.lcie.org/Docs/Regions/Turkey/COE_LCs_in_Caucasus.pdf

Let us hope that sufficient data can be produced and the necessary safeguards put in place before the Azerbaijani leopard becomes a mythical animal of the past…

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About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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