Once virtually extinct in Russia, the Persian leopard is showing signs of a comeback in the region. Restoring a population takes time so each sighting of a leopard in the wild stirs excitement. Last month, a satellite collar on a Persian leopard known as Artek showed the leopard in a single location for 154 hours—the longest amount of time observed in satellite monitoring of Persian leopards. The immense amount of time in one location can signify a successful hunt and is a strong sign that the animal is adapting to the wild since his release into the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve in 2018. Earlier in the fall of 2018, Artek appeared on the radar for 27 hours. Park rangers later found the leopard’s scat and were able to confirm the presence of hairs that likely came from a chamois.
At the same time in the fall of 2019, just over 62 miles away, another leopard was spotted, likely Artek’s brother, Akhun. “One of the locals saw a leopard on the roadway near Guzeriple. As the driver said, the leopard without a collar disappeared into the forest when it heard brakes sound," Sergey Trepet, research officer the Caucasian biosphere reserve, member of WWF-Russia monitoring group said. Akhun was released in the Caucasian Reserve on July 15, 2016.
After his release in July 2016, Akhun’s satellite collar was dropped. Since then, his movements have been observed using camera traps in the forest. While Akhun’s paw prints were potentially spotted in January of 2019, he was last caught on camera in the fall of 2016.
Though common in the Caucuses through the middle of the 20th century, Persian leopard populations dropped dramatically by 1950 due to human activities. In 2005, experts from WWF-Russia and the Russian Academy of Science developed a long-term program to reintroduce Persian leopards in the Caucasus. Leopards released into the wild through the program wear satellite collars so program staffers can track their behavior after release.