Gazeta.ru: Scandal brewing around Mongol’s imprisonment

Here a translation of a great article by Gazeta.ru. Clearly, the situation is unraveling as the scandal brews.

Mysterious Rendezvous
They caught a snow leopard for the prime minister
18.03.11 22:02
By Polina Nikol’skaya, Konstantin Kuzinsky (Krasnoyarsk)

In Krasnoyarsk Krai they caught a snow leopard, but instead of fitting this rare animal with a satellite-tracking collar and releasing it, for unknown reasons it was taken to Khakassiya Republic. According to Gazeta.ru sources, Vladimir Putin himself is to release the snow leopard. There is no official confirmation of this information.

There is a scandal brewing in Russia about the capture of a Red Book-listed snow leopard in Krasnoyarsk Krai. As a source in the Altai-Sayan ecoregion conservation circles told Gazeta.ru, the male snow leopard was captured on March 14 in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik by specialists from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Severtsev Institute of Ecology and Evolution. The permit documentation issued to the Institute by RosPrirodNadzor states that the snow leopard was to be caught in order to be fitted with a satellite collar and immediately released where it lived. Instead, the snow leopard was placed in a cage and transported by helicopter to Khakassiya.

As the source reported, it was assumed that the snow leopard would participate in events planned for March 18 dedicated to the completion of phase one of a research expedition “On the trail of the snow leopard,” organized by the Khakassiya Republic branch of the Russian Geographic Society (RGO), of which Vladimir Putin chairs the Board of Trustees, Khakassiya Zapovednik, and the independent non-profit organization Center for Environmental Projects.

According to the source’s information, on Saturday, March 19, the prime minister will participate in the expedition’s activities; it is said that he will personally set free the collared snow leopard.

In 2008 during a visit to Primorye, Putin publicly approved the program to study and protect snow leopards.

Gazeta.ru learned that WWF is aware that the Krasnoyarsk snow leopard has been transported to Khakassiya and is being held there. Ecologists do not know why the animal was taken to a different region.

Aleksandr Bondarev, director of WWF’s Altai-Sayan program, told Gazeta.ru that the Fund has already demanded that the snow leopard be released from its 5-day caged confinement and returned to its home – the Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik.

“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. Bondarev noted that the captured animal is known as Mongol and is the dominant male in a “pride” of snow leopards living in the Krasnoyarsk zapovednik.

Capturing snow leopards is strictly regulated. WWF specialist Natalya Dronova told Gazeta.ru that permission to transport an animal to a different administrative region should be precisely note in the permit. According to point 8 of the “Rules for capturing animals belonging to species listed in the Russian Federal Red Book” dated 6 January 1997, “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 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.

A source told Gazeta.ru that they had planned to capture a snow leopard in Khakassiya itself, but were unable to do so.

Mikhail Paltsyn, WWF program coordinator in the Altai-Sayan Ecoregion, explained that snow leopards can be found in Khakassiya, but they do not live there long-term. “But in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik there is a group of 8 snow leopards. Catching one of them is not difficult – the snow leopards live near the reservoir,” the expert said. However, a month ago, RosPrirodNadzor denied an application by the Institute of Ecology and Evolution requesting permission to catch two snow leopards in Khakassky Zapovednik. “The Russian Academy of Science’s snow leopard monitoring and research program not yet been developed, nor has it been approved by the zapovednik. Because snow leopard mating season takes plan from January through March, the Institute was asked to review the dates it was requesting to take into account this species’ biology,” according to an excerpt from RosPrirodNadzor’s announcement.

Irina Samoylova, RosPrirodNadzor’s Krasnoyarsk Krai duty officer, told Gazeta.ru that she had seen WWF’s memorandum to the agency and had already “begun looking into it.”

“A Krasnoyarsk Krai RosPrirodNadzor staffperson has set out for the zapovednik and will remain on site until the reasons are clear and the information regarding the snow leopard’s transport is clarified, if such transport has taken place,” she said. Samoylova added that permission to capture the animal was given by RosPrirodNadzor in Moscow. However, the central office refused comment on the situation with Mongol, stating that it was after hours and that all responses to media inquiries would be made on Monday.

Gazeta.ru was unable to obtain comments from the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Khakassky Zapovednik, or Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik on Friday. Since then, the Siberian News Agency has reported that the Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik press office was “surprised to learn of Mongol’s transportation to Khakassiya,” and staff in zapovednik director Aleksandr Rassolov’s office state that their director is in the field in the zapovednik and that he will not be reachable until next week.

Another source told Gazeta.ru that Putin was expected to arrive in Khakassiya Friday evening, however, there is no official confirmation of this information.

Reports that the prime minister was expected to participate in the closing meeting of the Russian Geographic Society on Saturday appeared in the regional media. However, the Russian Geographic Society informed Gazeta.ru that they cannot confirm Putin’s participation in activities related to “On the trail of the snow leopard.” “Today there were a number of activities including a photography exhibition. Tomorrow everything will go according to plan as well. We have no information about Vladimir Putin’s participation in these events,” a representative of the RGS told Gazeta.ru. (They also had no comment on the situation with the captured snow leopard or its transport there from another region.)

The prime minister’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov also denied this information. “Vladimir Putin is in Moscow where he has a meeting planned with the Belgian prime minister. He has no plans to go to Khakassiya,” Peskov told Gazeta.ru.

One source told Gazeta.ru that when the prime minister’s entourage learned of “the story with the snow leopard, a scandal broke out,” and it was decided to release the snow leopard: “It is not known if they have already released him or will release him soon or the location of his release – in Sayano-Shushensky Zapovednik or in Khakassiya.”

Gazeta.ru was unable to obtain a comment from the government’s press service.

Earlier it had been officially announced that on Saturday, Putin would make a working visit to Sakhalin, “during which he would engage in issues related to the completion of work on building a gas pipeline and its connection to a nearby power station.” It was also expected that “issues of target-pricing would be addressed.” A short while later, the prime minister’s press office reported that Putin will lead a meeting on Sakhalin regarding “Russian atomic energy development in light of the crisis in Japan.”

Translation by Jennifer Castner

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