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FLORA AND FAUNA
First Persian leopard cubs in 50 years born in Russian breeding center
by Staff Writers
Moscow (UPI) Jul 19, 2013


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

The first Persian leopard cubs to be born in Russia in 50 years are part of efforts to reintroduce the endangered species back to the wild, scientists say.

The kittens were born in the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre at Sochi National Park in southwestern Russia last week, a release from the World Wildlife Fund said.

The Persian leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana) was once widespread throughout the mountainous region between the Black and Caspian Seas but declined drastically throughout the 20th century due to poaching and habitat loss.

It is believed that only a few leopards now live there in the wild, the WWF said.

The parents of the new cubs were brought to the Sochi park in 2012 from Portugal`s Lisbon Zoo.

"[The cubs] will be released into the wild after learning surviving skills and will start a new population of the leopards in the Caucasus Mountains", Natalia Dronova, WWF-Russia species coordinator, said.

The species is considered endangered with fewer than 1,290 mature individuals believed to live in Iran, eastern Turkey, the Caucasus Mountains, southern Turkmenistan and parts of western Afghanistan.

Leopard cubs eyes' do not open until between 7 to 9 days after birth, experts said, and cubs do not leave their den until 2 months of age.

"It is too early to tell the sex of the cubs," Umar Semyonov, head of the breeding center, said. "They're in the den with their mother and center staff don't want to disturb them."

H.K. seizes baby elephant tusks in major ivory haul
Hong Kong (AFP) July 19, 2013 - More than 1,000 ivory tusks, mainly from baby elephants, were seized by Hong Kong customs in their biggest haul in three years, officials said on Friday.

The tusks, which weigh over two tonnes and are worth more than US$2 million, were discovered at the city's main port in a cargo container from the African country of Togo.

It was headed for mainland China and the bags of tusks were hidden beneath planks of wood.

"We profiled a container from Togo, Africa, for cargo examination. First, we found irregularities at an X-ray check. Then, we opened the container and discovered the tusks of different sizes," Wong Wai-hung, a customs' commander, told reporters.

He added that the tusks were buried underneath planks of wood in the corner of the six-metre (20-foot) container, which had been declared as carrying wood only.

More than 1,148 tusks were seized in the haul at Hong Kong's Kwai Chung terminal, worth around HK$17.5m (US$2.3m).

It was the biggest ivory seizure in the southern Chinese city since 2010, since when another nine cases have been recorded.

Ng Kwok-leung, customs' group head of ports control, said that the majority of the tusks seized in the operation were from baby elephants.

"It was a big haul, we should be happy. But when I looked at these tusks, we saw very small tusks of baby elephants. We were sad because they were killed for nothing," he said.

The international trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Ivory is popular with Chinese collectors who see it as a valuable investment.

It is often intricately carved to depict anything from devotional Buddhist scenes to wildlife and bizarre fantasies, and is also turned into more mundane household objects such as chopsticks.

Conservation groups have accused the Chinese government of failing to enforce laws to control the illicit trade.

Hong Kong, a free port which runs one of the biggest container terminals in the world, often sees the seizure of products from banned trades.

But customs officials said on Friday said there was "no concrete information" to show that the financial hub had become a gateway for ivory smuggling, despite its proximity to China.

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