ABC's Alexander Marquardt reports from Moscow:
The leopard growled, flashed its teeth and lunged at the fence of its new enclosure at a national park in Russia’s near the southern city of Sochi.
Standing on the other side of the fence was Russian prime minister, and animal lover, Vladimir Putin , who smiled broadly.
The rare Persian leopard is one of two that Iran recently gifted to Russia in exchange for two Amur, or Siberian, Tigers. Putin was on hand to open an enclosure for Russia’s new cats, the second of which was too ill to come out, according to Russia Today.
Russia hopes to start a breeding program to revive the Persian Leopard population in the Caucasus region which has largely disappeared because of poaching and a shrinking habitat. At the same time, Iran is looking to re-introduce Amur tigers to the Islamic Republic, decades after they became extinct in the country.
"Russian zoologists will manage the tigers' habitat here [in Iran] for five years and we will do the same for our leopards there," said the head of Iran’s environmental body, Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh, last month according to Agence-France Presse.
Tough guy Putin is an unlikely environmentalist but has spearheaded efforts to protect Russia’s endangered tigers, famously shooting one on a monitoring trip in 2008 with a tranquilizer dart when it escaped. Russian TV later claimed he saved the visiting camera crew from a mauling.
Last week Russia’s resident action man was up in the Arctic, fitting a massive sedated polar bear with an electronic collar and declaring, “he’s the real master of the Arctic.”