An Anatolian leopard was killed by a shepherd in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır on Nov. 3, drawing attention back to a species long thought extinct within Turkey’s borders.
The shepherd, Kasım Kaplan, said the animal had suddenly attacked him from behind while he was outside his village grazing his cattle.
“We were on a cliff when all of a sudden something jumped on me. I wrestled with the animal that I did not recognize. We fell around 1.5 meters and rolled for 10 meters. I was injured by his claws when he jumped again on me where we fell,” Kaplan said.
At this point, his cousin Mahmut Kaplan, who was accompanying him, shot the animal with his rifle.
A biologist from Diyarbakır’s Dicle University analyzed the dead animal’s body, and said it was the first time he had seen such a leopard since another one was killed in the nearby Siirt province in 2010. That had been the first leopard seen in Anatolia for more than 35 years.
“It’s the first time that a leopard has been seen [in Diyarbakır]. We don’t know how he came here, but it’s an itinerant type of animal. We know that they live in Iran,” Professor Murat Birecik said.
Birecik’s colleague, Ahmet Kılıç, said the animal may have offspring and called for their protection. “The reappearance of the Anatolian leopard, which we have thought of as extinct for centuries, is very exciting. It’s appearance in Diyarbakır is a miracle. Probably the villagers entered the area where the animal lived, or it may have offspring nearby. It appears to be a young, teenage leopard. Officials should immediately protect the zone,” Kılıç said.
One of the causes of the leopard’s extinction is thought to be trophy hunting, which was widespread until the 1970s. Leopards once also populated the Aegean and Mediterranean regions, according to scientists, some of whom maintain that around a dozen still remain in the wild in Turkey’s eastern provinces.