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1 May, 2009 06:01

Animal rights outrage over millionaire’s birthday present

A Russian millionaire is appealing for thieves to return a Far Eastern leopard cub stolen together with his Mercedes. He says he doesn't need the car but is worried about the animal - one of only 50 left in the world.

For just a single day Mikhail Barakin was the owner of one of the rarest cats on the planet – the Far Eastern leopard. The leopard cub was given as a birthday present but it was forcibly stolen from Mikhail the very next day.

“Two people threw me and my driver out of the car. A Far Eastern leopard cub, which was only a month old, was still inside. I'm convinced the attackers were not after the car but after the animal. Very few people knew I had the cat. I don't know who it was but the attack was carefully planned,” Mikhail Barakin believes.

While Mikhail is offering a 95, 000 euros worth reward for the endangered creature, animal welfare experts say the animal is priceless and are outraged it could have been a present in the first place.

“Legally, at least, it’s not possible anywhere in the world and specifically in Russia because this species is included in the Red Data Book of Russian Federations as a critically endangered species,” said a campaigner from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Grigory Tsidulko.

According to the latest research by the IFAW, the black market for endangered species is the third largest in the world after weapons and drugs.

The Internet is the biggest black market for selling rare species of animals. If one tries googling such keywords as ‘buy’ and ‘leopard’ you will easily find an offer. International animal rights organizations are tracking down the illegal sellers but in Russia very few of them are prosecuted.

Under current Russian animal welfare laws, it is only the person who sold the animal who can be prosecuted. Mikhail is refusing to say where the leopard came from.