Hot unfortunate news: A young leopard was shot at Diyarbakır in south-eastern Turkey!

A Diyarbakır man shot and killed a leopard on Sunday, believed to be a member of a critically endangered leopard subspecies unique to Anatolia. (Photo: İHA)

News taken from Todays’ Zaman

A Diyarbakır man shot and killed a leopard on Sunday, one which is believed to be a member of a critically endangered leopard subspecies unique to Anatolia, saying the animal attacked him, as ecologists and scientists call for a conservation zone for the critically endangered Anatolian leopard.
The last confirmed sighting of a leopard in Turkey was in 2010 when a hunter shot a leopard in Siirt. A university research team photographed a leopard in the Black Sea region earlier this year; however, the exact location has not been disclosed.

In the latest case, Mahmut Kaplan and his cousin Kasım Kaplan from the Solmaz village of Diyarbakır’s Çınar district said they were attacked by a leopard while herding sheep near their village on Sunday. According to the two men, the animal attacked Kasım Kaplan and Mahmut Kaplan shot the animal with a hunting rifle.

“It came out of nowhere and attacked me. Its roar really frightened me. I tried to push it back but it had me on the ground. Then my uncle’s son, Mahmut, killed it.” Kasım Kaplan was treated for injuries at Çınar State Hospital in Diyarbakır.

The leopard’s body was taken to Diyarbakır Dicle University’s department of veterinary medicine. Dicle University Professor Ahmet Kılıç said he suspected the leopard was an Anatolian leopard, or the Panthera pardus tulliana.

“I had never seen one before; it is an extremely rare species. Even if we see one or two of these, it is extremely important because it means they are still around. Officials should act immediately and take measures to protect them because when the word gets out, hunters and collectors will go to the area and loot the place [killing any remaining leopards].”

A Panthera pardus tulliana, a subspecies native to Turkey, was photographed by researchers from Karadeniz Technical University (KTÜ) in September after years of research. Professor Şağdan Başkaya of KTÜ, when sharing the images with the press, said the university had been conducting field research in hopes of establishing a conservation zone. He also refused to provide the exact location where the leopard was filmed. The Panthera pardus’ conservation status is “endangered.”

In a telephone interview, Başkaya told Today’s Zaman that the shooting was very “unfortunate,” as it comes at a time when his team and officials were close to declaring conservation zones for the Panthera pardus. “We have been working very closely with General Directorate for Nature Conservation and National Parks (DKMP) of the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs over the past three to five months to announce conservation sites for the Anatolian leopard; the ministry is actively working on a leopard action plan. We also recently presented a project to the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK). This happened at a time when we are very close to beginning these projects.”

Başkaya said the Anatolian leopard does not only live in southeastern Turkey. “It exists across a wide range; it is in the Southeast, the East, eastern parts of the Black Sea and other parts.”

He also criticized media stories suggesting that the animal had come from Iran. “That is unlikely, but even if it had, it is not important.” He said there are various subspecies of the Panthera pardus such as the Iranian or Caucasian leopards, but added that they are very closely related and essentially members of the same species. He said it is possible that these animals frequently move across national borders. “The difference [between subspecies] is really small,” he said, adding that the press should be concentrating on the fact that an animal that should be protected is dead.

Erdal Seven, a local Nature Conservation and National Parks director in Diyarbakır, told reporters that tissue samples from the leopard had been sent to a TÜBİTAK lab to ascertain its subspecies. Experts at Dicle University’s faculty of veterinary medicine were studying the body on Monday.

He said it is good news that the animal was sighted in Diyarbakır, in terms of biodiversity and the resilience of wildlife, but he said it was equally saddening that the animal had been killed.

“We will do as the law dictates following an investigation. This is an animal that was killed. This should be investigated properly.”

He said, “It would have been great if it hadn’t been killed.” A team of experts from WWF Turkey visited Solmaz on Monday.

Turan Çetin, the WWF’s regional representative for the Southeast, told Today’s Zaman that the leopard sighting has given researchers significant clues about the current state of these animals. “This was a male, about two-and-a-half years old. Males roam across wide distances; they are mobile and do not live in a fixed spot. Judging by his age, he must have left his litter recently since mothers usually kick the males out at around that age.” He said WWF experts had spoken with elderly residents of Solmaz who had no recollection of any leopards in their area. “This means that the leopard didn’t live in that area.”

“In 2010, a leopard was killed this way and one in 2005 in Bitlis. There was another killing in 1974, in Beypazarı, Ankara. Roughly every five years an Anatolian leopard is killed the same way, by a shepherd or a hunter. This shows that the best way to protect this animal is to inform the villagers.” He said there is a project being conducted by the WWF and other civil society organizations and financed by the UN’s Small Grants Program (SGP). The project’s two main purposes are to define the boundaries of a protected habitat for these animals – since leopards change places across areas as wide as 10,000 hectares — and together with officials, declare that a conservation zone and create greater awareness among the people of the area.

He said the animal that was shot by the Diyarbakır shepherd was not in a good place for leopards. “It normally should be living further east.” He said human encroachment, particularly in the form of hydroelectric power plants in the East and the Southeast that are built on nearly every river in the region, was forcing animals to change locations, often resulting in greater contact with humans.

More on leopards in Anatolia.