Putin in row over 'cruelty to leopard' at photo shoot
Vladimir Putin has become embroiled in an animal cruelty row after the World Wildlife Fund claimed a snow leopard used in his latest macho photo shoot was abducted from a nature reserve, injured and held for a week.
The Russian prime minister met the male snow leopard earlier this month when he visited a conservation programme in the central Siberian region of Khakassia. Named Mongol, it had been captured 100 miles away a week earlier.
Mr Putin arrived by snowmobile before he was pictured admiring Mongol. The leopard was then flown back to Krasnayask and released.
Mr Putin has previously been seen tagging polar bears, Siberian tigers and Beluga whales. The prime minister presides over conservation projects for each of these species.
Snow leopards are one of the world's most endangered species. There are only about 100 in Russia, making them rarer than the Siberian tiger.
But some Russian scientists are questioning why Mongol was held for a week before Mr Putin's visit on March 19. The official explanation is that the scientists found lacerations from a hunter's snare and fresh injuries to his face and decided to keep Mongol in for treatment.
But the 'Novaya Gazeta' newspaper has reported that the snare was the scientists' own, and it sustained facial injuries while trying to escape.
The prime minister's spokesman said that Mongol was "ill" and allegations that the animal had been held to meet Mr Putin were groundless.
But there is scepticism about Mr Putin's good fortune in stumbling over endangered species. In one photo shoot in 2008, a Siberian tiger stumbled into a trap just as he was visiting a conservation project in the Far East. (© Daily Telegraph, London)