Press Release: Leopard Conservation Given Spotlight It Deserves With Establishment of Critical International Agreement
Baku, Azerbaijan – New strides for the future of the Caucasian (or Persian) leopard were made last week with the establishment of a conservation agreement between Panthera, the world’s leading wild cat conservation organization, and the International Dialogue for Environmental Action (IDEA) of Azerbaijan.
Hosted and convened by IDEA in Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku, with representatives of the Azerbaijan Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources in attendance, Panthera’s Chairman, Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan, and the Founder of IDEA, Mrs. Leyla Aliyeva, signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) last week on how these two prominent organizations will work together on behalf of this endangered big cat. Through this agreement, Panthera and IDEA have committed to assess the state and range of Azerbaijan’s leopards and most importantly, work to develop conservation plans for this critically endangered population. Panthera will also assist in training Azerbaijan’s scientists in research and conservation methodologies focused on saving the Caucasian leopard.
"We are delighted to have entered into this strategic cooperation agreement with Panthera, the world's leading wild cat conservation organization", said Mrs. Leyla Aliyeva, IDEA's founder. "Panthera has the expertise we need to carry out our program of preserving the Caucasian leopard and its eco-system, an especially iconic symbol of Azerbaijan's cultural and natural heritage."
IDEA is Azerbaijan’s leading national proponent of environmental and conservation education and awareness initiatives. IDEA’s efforts also aim to foster conservation action among the country’s citizens, with a particular focus on the youth and next generation of Azerbaijan’s conservationists.
"We welcome Azerbaijan's initiative in seeking to protect and expand its leopard population," said Dr. Thomas Kaplan, Panthera's Chairman. "Having just launched the conservation world's first global program for leopard conservation, Project Pardus, we look forward to working with IDEA to make our shared ambition of saving this iconic species become a reality."
Scientists estimate that a small but vital population of 12 or fewer Caucasian leopards remains in Azerbaijan. As the first, urgent step under this new international collaboration, 20 PantheraCams - remote-triggered cameras developed by Panthera - will be deployed to delineate where leopards still occur in Azerbaijan and estimate their remaining numbers.
Panthera’s Chairman, Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan, and Founder of IDEA, Mrs. Leyla Aliyeva, sign a joint Caucasian leopard conservation agreement in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Classified as ‘Endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Caucasian leopard is estimated to number fewer than 1,000 individuals across the Middle East and Asia, with up to 25 cats in the northwestern Caucasian region where Iran abuts Azerbaijan. The leopard is heavily threatened by poachers who target this cat for its exotic skin and body parts, which are sold through the illegal wildlife market. Loss of habitat and fragmentation particularly in the South Caucasus region is another major threat along with conflict with local herders due to livestock depredation and overhunting of the leopard’s prey by local villagers.
Sitting at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, Azerbaijan is one of just a handful of countries that still supports a population of the Caucasian leopard and is therefore critical to the long-term survival of this wild cat. In conserving the Caucasian leopard, Azerbaijan is not only helping to preserve the species and the country’s diverse ecosystems, but is also conserving the ancient and historic cultural heritage of its country and people.
Panthera joined a cadre of international wild cat scientists, environmental NGOs, and stakeholders at IDEA’s Caucasus Cat Summit in Baku recently to help plan the long-term preservation of the Caucasian leopard and Azerbaijan’s other unique wildlife.
Read more about Panthera’s recently launched Leopard Program, Project Pardus.