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30 December 2022

The Mysterious Leopards of the Caspian Region

You might not associate leopards with the Caspian countries, but in fact there are two distinct sub-species in the region. Both are very rare, but naturalists and photographers have been gathering ever more evidence of their survival.

The Mysterious Leopards of the Caspian Region

Image: Screengrab from a videoby UN Environment Programme 

In 2018 I had the privilege of doing a two-day hike through Azerbaijan’s glorious Hirkan National Park. We started from the hot springs near Astara, climbed through Tolkienesque forests surreally thick with moss, and stayed overnight in a roadless village that doesn’t appear on any map. The experience was unforgettable but made all the more memorable by our guide – the locally famed Babakhan, who has become widely nicknamed the “Leopard Man.” You could easily believe that this is due to his lithe physique, his way of bounding almost noiselessly through woodlands and his habit of leaping up trees. On a couple of occasions, we came across him watching us from the treetops, where he lay in apparent comfort on a branch, just as a leopard might.