New fact of Persian Leopard observation in Kazakhstan was confirmed in May 2020 due to camera-trap video taken in Ustyurt Biosphere Nature Reserve. You can find here the short video about Leopard in the reserve:
The Leopard – Panthera pardus – is included on the IUCN international red list as a vulnerable species (VU) . The Persian Leopard – P. p. saxicolor or P.p. ciscaucasica is a Central-Asian subspecies. It is even more rare and globally endangered (EN). The range of this species covers the Caucasus Mountains (eastern Turkey, southern Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia). It is also found in Iraq, northern Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Until recent, the Persian Leopard did not occur in Kazakhstan. It was known from southern Turkmenistan, mostly from Kopetdag and Badkhyz Mountains. Besides, it was found in southern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. But to the end of XX century, the leopard was almost extinct in both these countries. The distance from Kopetdag Nature Reserve in Turkmenistan to Usyurt Nature Reserve in Kazakhstan is 600 km, and from Badkhyz Nature Reserve to Usyurt Nature Reserve is around 1,000 km (976 km). Leopards needed to cross deserts and populated areas that to reach Kazakhstan. It is surprising that it could happen relatively recently – during last decades.
First reports about findings and observation of Persian Leopard in Kazakhstan looked anecdotical. Time to time shepherds and people living in remote areas reported about observation of large spotted cat, which they called “kaplon” (the name of large cats, like, for example, cheetah). The leopard was not even included in the list of Kazakhstan fauna. However, in 2007 and 2015, the presence of leopard in Kazakhstan was confirmed by skins of two large cats. Shepherds shot the first leopard in the Mangystau region and showed its skin. Another leopard was captured in a trap set for wolves and also killed. More recently, during fall 2018, an alive leopard was fixed on a camera-trap set in the Ustyurt State Nature Reserve in the framework of the project for feeding scavengers (vultures), conducted with the support of the Rufford Foundation.
The leopard is not even officially included in the list of of the fauna of vertebrate animals in Kazakhstan. Accordingly, this species is not listed in the Red Book of Republic, which provides legal protection status for rare, vulnerable and endangered species. The last findings allow to make the necessary amendments in Kazakhstan that will provide both legislative and territorial protection of the leopard in the country.
Not only leopard, but the presence of other interesting fauna was confirmed due to projects, organized last years, and camera-traps placed in the valleys of Ustyurt. Other interesting animals, found there, are the grey wolf, Central-Asian caracal, goitered gazelle and many others, adapted to severe conditions of life in arid environment.
Mr. Zhaskayrat Nurmukhambetov, Deputy Director of the Ustyurt State Nature Reserve and coordinator of the project on feeding of scavengers can provide additional information about this finding.
Studies of fauna in remote corners of Central Asia should be continued and more likely that more secrets of wildlife adaptation and resilience will be discovered in the future.