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Conservation of the Leopard in Armenia

© WWF Armenia

Armenia as a habitat of the Caucasian Leopard

The Armenian Highland is a habitat of the endangered species of the Persian or the Caucasian Leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana). The Caucasian Leopard had been quite commonly spread in Armenia. However, over years, hunting this animal had become so extensive that the Leopard was registered in the Red Data Book of the Armenian SSR in 1987.

Presently, the king of Armenian mountains, the Caucasian Leopard, is included in the Red Data Book of Armenia (2010) and on the IUCN Red List with the status of the «critically endangered» and «endangered» species, respectively. In Armenia, the number of these animals ranges up to 10 individuals. 

© WWF Armenia, Davit Ayvazyan

To survive and to propagate itself, the Leopard need to have safe biological environment, free and safe migration corridors to move on and, undoubtedly, sufficient nutritive base. These are the conditions that WWF Armenia is striving to improve.

What steps have been undertaken to restore the population of Leopard in Armenia?

By 2002, when the WWF and the Ministry of Nature Protection (present-day Ministry of Environment) of Armenia had launched jointly the leopard conservation project in Armenia, as few as one or two leopards could be met in the country. The project was funded and has been supported until today by WWF Switzerland and WWF Germany.

At the initial stage of the project, great support had been rendered by international expert Victor Loukarevsky, who was the first to investigate potential habitats for the leopard in Armenia working in cooperation with local specialists Alexander Malkhasyan, Igor Khorozyan and Karen Manvelyan. That study laid the basis for further enhancement of the conservation regime at the existing protected areas (PA) and establishment of new ones.

The goals set in the Leopard Conservation Project are to:
  • Reduce illegal actions beyond the protected areas and establish compensation mechanisms to mitigate the conflict between humans and the leopard and to apply those mechanisms in typical cases;
  • Enhance capacities at the protected areas in Southern Armenia;
  • Involve the target rural communities in additional community development activities;
  • Facilitate continuous monitoring of the leopard and its prey species within target regions, as well as prepare the map of migration corridors for the leopard and implement this corridor;
  • Improve public awareness about conservation of the leopard.
Considering the fact that leopard cannot be protected in the limits of one country only, WWF jointly with IUCN launched development of the regional leopard conservation strategy in 2006, involving region experts and representatives of national authorities.

The strategy served the basis to develop the Leopard Conservation Action Plan for Armenia, which provided for a series of actions, inclusive of establishment of new PAs, ecological corridors, and other measures.

As early as in 2006, the WWF undertook new projects to establish PAs in the south of Armenia with the funding from the CEPF, Norwegian government and WWF Germany. Owing to those projects, the Arevik National Park (34,401.8 ha) and the Zangezur State Sanctuary (17,369 ha) were established by the governmental decree in 2009. Later in 2013, within the frameworks of the UNDP/GEF and WWF projects, the Khustup State Sanctuary (6,945 ha) was established and the Zangezur State Sanctuary was expanded (25,871ha).

To improve the efficiency of the Leopard Conservation, the WWF renders continuous support to the protected areas by providing equipment, creating or repairing the infrastructure systems, providing off-road vehicles, fuel, as well as other equipment required for the monitoring and conservation activities.

With all these efforts, human factor remains predominantly important for conservation of an animal species. Hence, cooperation with target communities is also considered to be of crucial importance, and is constantly pursued through interaction with population of the communities placed in areas that could be significant in terms of conservation and migration of the leopard.  In this context, small-scale community projects have been realized in some of the communities of Ararat, Vayots Dzor and Syunik regions. 

Specifically, the realized community-related measures included provision of agricultural machinery to 7 communities, repair and construction of drinking water infrastructure at 18 communities, installation of street lighting system at 8 communities, construction of a playground for children in the settlement of Karchevan, solar power station installed in the school of the settlement of Nrnadzor and other actions.

Within the framework of the Leopard Conservation Project, WWF has been cooperating for years with the Environmental Protection and Mining Inspection Body of Armenia, and under the umbrella of that cooperation, WWF provided off-road-vehicles, drones, telescopic tools, cameras and other logistical support to the marz-level branches of the said administrative body in Syunik, Vayots Dzor and Gegharkunik. Presently, the marz-level inspectors fight against poaching in close cooperation with the Leopard Caretakers.

Leopard Caretakers’ Network was founded in 2016. Within the framework of this initiative, about 20 caretakers have been implementing monitoring of wildlife, including the Leopard and its prey species, field studies, installation of camera traps and other activities at 5 settlements included in the area of Vayots Dzor and Syunik. Apart from this, measures aimed at increased public awareness and improved education level have been underway, along with periodically held courses for the youth of the target communities.

On the other hand, trainings, theoretical and practical courses are regularly organized for the caretakers; besides, they were provided also with the equipment required for field monitoring.

In the PAs of Southern Armenia and in the areas beyond their limits, WWF implements monitoring of animals: more than 100 camera traps were installed to collect information about species living in the surveyed area. Periodic field surveys and observations are realized to update the evidence on the number of leopard’s prey species; field practice for students and other actions are performed within the framework of cooperation with the YSU and the Humboldt University of Berlin.

To ensure the continuity of the measures listed above and to develop the results recorded so far, WWF developed the 2020-2030 Leopard Conservation National Action Plan jointly with partner organizations.

According to the Plan, the following measures are envisaged:
  • Study and monitoring of the number of Leopards and its prey, and the status of their habitats;
  • Establishment of the PA Management System (Econet) to provide for unthreatened existence of Leopards and its prey species;
  • Provision for efficient work of all stakeholders involved in the activities on conservation of the Leopard and its prey species and their habitats;
  • Assistance to the Leopard Conservation Projects via local population;
  • Development and realization of the awareness raising strategy, and the program of actions and ecological education related to the conservation of the Leopard;
  • Provision for international cooperation and coordinated efforts in the realm of leopard conservation within transboundary areas.

In the long run, we attach importance also to eco-education and improvement of the public awareness amongst the young generation.

With this purpose, jointly with the Arpa Protected Landscape, AYB School, and Areni and Khachik communities, the initiative of Junior Rangers' Program has been launched for the first time, aiming to involve pupils in the activities related to wildlife monitoring.

© WWF Armenia

Neo the Leopard

The coordinated and professional work toward increasing the populations and maintaining the habitats of both the Leopard, which had been brought to the brink of extinction, and its prey species, such as the Bezoar Goat, Armenian Mouflon and other species, has enabled attaining tangible results.  

Since December 2018, young male Leopard named Neo has set its basic residence at the Khosrov Forest State Reserve, and in 2019 inspectors of the ARPA Protected Landscape observed the Leopard in Armenia for the first time and shot it on camera. In the recent years, apparent presence of the animal in our country is the outcome of many years of hard and dedicated work.

We published and disseminated more than 5000 copies of brochure about the Caucasian Leopard.

The website www.leopard.am was established that would present the Project and its current events.

Many films and video materials were prepared, applying AR/VR solutions; competitions, field trips and camps were organized all with the ultimate goal of increasing the level of awareness among the population.

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