On the night of March 18-19, on the way to Sakhalin, Vladimir Putin made a stop in Khakassia. Mr Putin wanted to see how researchers were studying the snow leopard and to find out how effectively the money allocated to the related programme was being spent.
Arriving at the Khakassky Nature Reserve on a snowmobile, Vladimir Putin first reviewed a programme to study and monitor the snow leopard population in southern Siberia presented to him by the expedition's scientists. In particular, scientists explained the outcome of the first phase of the expedition, and showed a video explaining the collection of biological samples from a recently captured snow leopard named Mongol and its satellite transponder collar.
Afterwards, Mr Putin was introduced to Mongol.
The male snow leopard was caught, a few days before Mr Putin's arrival, as part of the programme to study and monitor the snow leopard population in southern Siberia, carried out by the permanent expedition of the Russian Academy of Sciences under the auspices of the Russian Geographical Society on the territory of the Sayano-Shushenskoye reserve in the Kalbak-Mes area.
Mongol is over 10 years old, and the scientists have been observing him for quite some time. However, until recently, he could only be identified with light traps, set by the reserve's staff. After Mongol's capture and during his check-up, the scientists found a scar on his neck from a poacher's noose and some inflamed wounds on his face and shoulders. With photos from the traps, the scientists deduced that the leopard had to live with a noose around his neck for about six months. But Mongol got the injuries in fights with other snow leopards during a rutting season, according to the expedition team. Having carefully studied the animal's condition, the staff of the expedition decided to treat the leopard with injections of antibiotics for a few days – before releasing him into the wild with a GLONASS transponder collar.
After Putin left Khakassia, the leopard, with the collar, was taken back to the place of his capture and released.
The snow leopard is the least studied big cat in the world. This is due to the inaccessibility of its habitat and the inherent rarity of the species.
The snow leopard was listed on the IUCN Red List as "endangered" in 2000 (the highest protection category).
As chairman of the Russian Geographical Society's Council of Trustees, Vladimir Putin is actively involved in the protection of rare animals by administering the programmes on Amur tigers, polar bears and white whales. In August 2008, Vladimir Putin visited the Ussuri Reserve a hundred kilometres from Vladivostok, where he collared an Amur tiger with a satellite linked device. Then Mr Putin took part in a scientific expedition to study the grey whale, together with specialists from the Kronotsky reserve in Kamchatka. Mr Putin shot a whale with a special crossbow to analyse a piece of a grey whale's skin. In the summer of 2009 in the Khabarovsk Territory, Mr Putin attached a GLONASS satellite transponder to a white whale named Dasha. In April 2010, Mr Putin joined an expedition of scientists on a trip to Franz Josef Land to study and restore the population of polar bears in the Arctic. He tagged a bear with a transponder. In May 2010, Mr Putin released one of the two female leopards, which had been brought from Iran, from a cage into a Sochi National Park enclosure.
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Vladimir Putin’s interview with the Rossiya and Moya Planeta TV networks
Correspondent: You are making a good example by pushing five projects to conserve wildlife – polar bears, white whales, leopards, tigers and now snow leopards. The list needs to expand, right? You need to personally supervise it, I think, and then everything will move faster.
Vladimir Putin: We are still speaking with the experts on this issue. We were actually talking on the way here about what else can be done. If we talk about marine wildlife, for example, then we could work on seals. In my opinion, it would be interesting to work on freshwater seals, like we have on Lake Baikal and Lake Ladoga. We could work in that direction. Oddly enough, though, there are many of them. It makes more sense to work on the Black Sea's dolphins. Scientists want to know how they are reacting to the changing environment, including, unfortunately, the pollution of the Black Sea. Incidentally, the dolphin was also a contender to become an Olympic mascot.
Correspondent: It's a pity it didn't win.
Vladimir Putin: Yes. It's truly a symbol of the Black Sea.
Correspondent: It's good they're not being taken out of the sea, as is done in some parts of the world.
Vladimir Putin: Then, as the experts say, we could work on the Saiga antelope. Their numbers are declining dramatically – both due to poaching and wolves.
The Przewalski Horse's revitalisation could also become an interesting project. There are none left in the wild. Today, in the Orenburg Region, the military have handed over large tracts of disused land to environmental agencies. It could be used to revive the Przewalski Horse.
Correspondent: Are you following these five projects? What happens to these animals? Do you know?
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course.
Correspondent: What's in store for them? Just more collars and traps?
Vladimir Putin: No, there will be more research. This is the kind of research that helps to protect wildlife. I just mentioned dolphins, and it wasn't an accident. It has to do with what is happening to the Black Sea's ecology. It's not immaterial. This isn't to be taken lightly.