Snow leopards are endangered in Russia but Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is pulling a media stunt for his own gratification that has endangered the life of one these rare cats and sends all the wrong messages to his fellow countrymen and women. As part of the Sochi Olympics hype he is going to ‘set free’ Mongol, a snow leopard captured last week.
Mongol has been living in the Sayano-Shushensky nature reserve area but a week ago was captured and collared ostensibly for research purposes. Instead of immediately releasing the animal, which is what happens in true research, Mongol has been moved and kept caged to the time that he can be ‘released’ by Putin. This controvenes many international wildlife laws that Russia is a signatory to.
The snow leopard is the main symbol for the Sochi Olympics and Putin is quoted as saying, “This image tells us that Russia is very diverse. Russia is beautiful for its diversity, and the fact that one of the symbols of the Olympics has become an animal that we are reviving, and which was destroyed by humans in 50s of the last century, suggests that Russia is becoming different,” the Prime Minister said.
“Russia cares for nature, cares about its resources, restoring it for future generations, this is a sign of modern Russia, he said.”
Aleksandr Bondarev, director of WWF’s Altai-Sayan program said “It is illegal and dangerous for the animal – the animal is under constant stress, and the possible results of that stress on his life are unknown. Moreover, we do not understand why the snow leopard has been held for 5 days. Usually the process of fitting a collar takes no more than an hour,” he said.
Capturing snow leopards for research is strictly regulated. WWF specialist Natalya Dronova said “the time period and means of capture of animals are determined in accordance with the goals of capture and should not cause harm to natural populations of these species and their habitats.” “Collaring assumes that the snow leopard is caught, fitted with the collar, and released. Anything else, including transporting a Red Book (endangered) species animal, should be specifically mentioned in the permit. Releasing a collared individual in a location other than where it was captured is forbidden on principle – it contradicts logic. After all, the animal is being collared in order to learn how it behaves in its natural surroundings,” she said.
It is very disappointing to see a so-called world leader using an endangered animal in such a circus. Sadly it tells us a lot about the future of this beautiful species in Russia.