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Putin takes IOC to meet Sochi leopards

President Vladimir Putin takes senior IOC members to meet leopards that are to be re-introduced in the Sochi region, in an attempt to show the Winter Olympics are positive for the environment.

SOCHI: President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday took senior members of the IOC to meet leopards that are to be re-introduced in the Sochi region, in an attempt by Russia to show the Games are positive for the environment.

However one of the leopards called Grom (Thunder) took none to happily to the arrival of the large group of guests and attacked two journalists inside the cage, state Russian media said.

Putin took Jean Claude Killy, the French skiing legend who has been the International Olympic Committee's pointman for Sochi, and IOC Executive Director Gilbert Felli in his own jeep to the nature reserve above Sochi.

Russia is working to reintroduce the Persian leopard to the mountains above the city as part of measures aimed at showing that the Olympic Games will benefit and not hurt the environment.

"The ecological situation has improved many times over," said Putin. "According to some estimates, it has improved by a factor of four."

"There are questions which always crop up during such huge construction but in general the situation has not worsened but improved."

However environmentalists scoff at such claims, saying that the Games have irreversibly damaged once virgin environments by the sea and in the mountains.

After six-month old Grom had lashed out at journalists, state television noted that the media left the cage and Putin went in himself to calm the animal. One reporter was scratched on the hand and one lightly bitten in the knee, the RIA Novosti news agency said.

State television showed Putin cradling Grom on his knee with the animal now seemingly at ease. "I like animals, it seems I have a feeling for them," said Putin. "We liked each other."

Putin is well known for his meetings with wild animals which he uses to burnish his hardman image. As well as leopards, in the past he has met beasts including a tiger and a polar bear.

Three pairs of adult leopards being kept in the big cages of the reserve have already given birth to four leopards in the last months.

Leopards have been extinct in this part of Russia since the 1950s.

To start the reintroduction programme, Russia received two male leopards as gifts from Turkmenistan and two females from Iran.

The first two offspring come from another leopard pair who came from Lisbon zoo. But then a Turkmen-Iranian partnership then produced two more leopards.

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