Nat Geo WILD is to screen a revelatory documentary charting the search for The World’s Most Wanted Leopard. The film airs internationally in December 2016 as part of the Mission Critical strand, which features powerful stories of the most incredible and most endangered animals on our planet.
The World’s Most Wanted Leopard follows wildlife photographer and filmmaker Adrian Steirn and his team as they set out across the rugged and vast terrain of Azerbaijan in their quest to capture footage of the Caucasian Leopard, Europe’s last remaining indigenous leopard species. The Caucasian Leopard, which is the largest sub-species of leopard in the world, has never been substantively documented in the wild on film, with only limited still images and partial sightings via video camera traps in existence from other Caucasus regions. Azerbaijan’s population has never previously been filmed, making this a ground-breaking expedition to document a species which is officially denoted as critically endangered by the global monitoring organisation IUCN in its Red List of Threatened Species.
Fronted by Adrian Steirn and produced by his South African-based Ginkgo Agency, the film captures the hunt through Azerbaijan’s sub-tropical semi-desert heat as well as freezing winters as the team persevere in their mission to track down and film the enigmatic beast in the isolated Hirkan National Park. Assisted by specialist support from the intriguing Babakhan Rakhmanov, known locally as the Leopard Man, and Victor Lukarevsky, a world-renowned Russian big cat specialist (BBC Operation Snow Tiger), the team used a network of cameras, planted in carefully targeted locations, to keep watch over the huge territory inhabited by the elusive animal. With conditions tough and jeopardy high, this film documents their journey to capture documentary evidence and prove the existence of the species in the region with the first known video footage and clear still images.
Adrian Steirn, said: “Making this film has been a truly unique and incredible journey in search of a majestic creature. It was a privilege to be granted access to the depths of the incredible Azerbaijan mountains with the support of local environmental bodies and trackers in an attempt to capture footage of this rare sub-species of leopard. The team and I were tested both emotionally and physically but we were thrilled with what we managed to accomplish. To know that the future of the Caucasian Leopard is now high on the agenda of key players in the region as a result of our film is extremely rewarding.“
Hamish Mykura, EVP Programming & Development, National Geographic Global Networks commented: “The World’s Most Wanted Leopard is part of the Nat Geo WILD Mission Critical strand, covering stories that are as urgent as they are timeless. A ground-breaking film featuring never before seen footage, this documentary is a beautiful and powerful tale, serving as a wake-up call for the need to save iconic species from extinction and create a more sustainable planet.”
The unprecedented footage captured for the documentary has assisted in engaging and galvanising key conservation organisations in wider efforts to restore the Caucasian Leopard population across the region. These new initiatives follow the successful programme earlier this year, in the Caucasus biosphere reserve of Russia’s Sochi National Park, which saw the breeding and subsequent release into the wild of three Caucasian Leopard cubs, which was implemented by the Caucasus Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre.
In addition, based on the evidence gathered throughout this project, the government of Azerbaijan has committed to explore future strategies to protect the country’s Caucasian Leopard population, and earlier this year announced plans with Russia to create a cross border reserve for the restoration of a leopard population in the Caucasus region in coming years. The reserve is proposed to become part of Zagatala State Nature Reserve (Azerbaijan) and Federal Reserve Tlyaratinsky (Republic of Dagestan), rewarding the efforts made in the film and producing a long-term impact and an optimistic future for this extraordinary sub-species.