The Mirpuri Foundation is delighted to announce a toast success in the Lisbon Zoo program to bolster Persian Leopard numbers in the Caucasus, with the news that three new cubs have been born at the zoo.

The Foundation has close links with the program after sponsoring a series of expeditions to the Caucasus, entitled “Through the Eyes of the Leopard”. It is hoped the three male cubs will mate and help establish a healthy, genetically diverse, self-sustaining population, in a species that has suffered a significant decline in numbers over the last century and is classed as a highly endangered species by the IUCN.

The three young leopards were born at dawn on the 23rd May, and cameras in their living areas allowed zoo staff to follow the mother’s late pregnancy, as well as the early development of the young cubs. José Dias Ferreira, coordinator of the European breeding program for the Persian Leopard says the cubs are all in good health and have been enjoying exploring their new home, with their mother Elin.

One of the cubs has already been named Kiamaky, a name chosen by Paulo Mirpuri, the President of the Mirpuri Foundation. The newborn is named after a protected mountain area in Iran, where leopards once roamed in numbers, and to represent the importance of preserving habitats in order to preserve the species.

The other two cubs will be named by the zoo after a public vote. Among the names being voted on are, Zangezur and Talish, also mountain ranges in the Caucasus region, where leopards once thrived, as well as Noah, in honour of a Persian leopard that became symbolic of conservation efforts between 2004-2009, as he roamed extensively between Georgia and Azerbaijan. One other name being mooted is Khaleghi, after Amir Hossein Khaleghi, a conservationist, who was arrested and charged with spying while working with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a respected NGO in Tehran.

The Persian Leopard is a leopard subspecies found in Turkey and the Caucasus, parts of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. It is named on the IUCN Red List as a highly endangered species with as few as 870 animals thought to exist in the wild. The cubs were born as part of the Mirpuri Foundation partnership with the Sochi Center, at Lisbon Zoo. Though it is currently unclear what will happen to the three new cubs, the program aims to create a self-sustaining Persian leopard population in the wild, which means a population of at least 50 leopards in the Northern Caucasus.

A number of the rare big cats have been introduced to the region in recent years. In June and November 2018, young leopards were transferred back to the Alaniya National Park in North Ossetia, as well as the Caucasian State Nature Biosphere reserve, is located on the southern and Northern slopes of the Western Caucasus, in the Russian Federation.

Armed conflicts and political instability in the region have hindered conservation work and increased risk to the species that live there. Fragmentation of their territory, trophy hunting and the illegal fur trade are just some of the some of the reasons that led to the rapid decline of the leopard population in the Caucasus. The project for the recovery of these animals began in 2005 and remains fully active.

Aurel Heidelberg, Caucasus Programme Officer for the WWF in Germany said “Today, more than 10 years after the start of conservation work we can say that we have been particularly successful. “In some areas where there was no evidence of leopards we know there are animals now living and cubs being born. The data proves that the conservation approach we are implementing in the area is working.”

The Mirpuri Foundation has previously funded, through its ‘Through the Eyes of the Leopard’ program three expeditions to photograph the Persian Leopard, its natural habitat in the Caucasus and the communities around.