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10 Feb, 2010 06:59

Leopard may have to change its spot

A rare tamed Russian leopard is about to lose its home. Not only should it not be kept as a pet, environmentalists say, but the houses in the village where the leopard lives are claimed to have been built illegally.

Cleopatra’s family is among 400 others accused of building their houses illegally on a Moscow riverbank. The war between the authorities and local residents now threatens the cat's life more than any hunter's rifle.

First the animal was given as a present. Next it was abandoned in the woods, where it was hunted. Then, when the feline finally found a safe new home, that home now has to be demolished.

Its owner, Sergey Bobyshev, says he found the cat in the woods and nursed it back to health.
“Nobody wanted to take the animal then,” Sergey recalls. “All organizations and zoos turned their backs. Well if you don’t need her – I’ll take her! I love animals. I have several cats and I feed strays.”

Neighbors, human as well as strays, got used to the spotted resident and appreciate that she is also there to the bitter end in the fight to save their homes.

But environmentalists claim Cleopatra is an endangered Far-East leopard and should be moved to a national reserve. Especially now that she is due to become homeless anyway.

Rinat Gigatulin from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry claims that in fact the leopard was given as gift.

“From unofficial sources we know that the leopard was given to its current owner as a present by a friend,” Gigatulin told RT. “The friend is a Far-East customs officer who seized the cat when it was a cub. We have promised not to prosecute the current owner for taking hold of an endangered species, provided he gives the animal away.”

But the family is fighting to keep hold of their beloved cat. They argue it is not a Far East leopard and that authorities are only interested now because she has reached breeding age. They fear Cleopatra simply will not survive away from home.

"Once we went on vacation and left the leopard with our friends,” Bobyshev states. “She didn't eat anything for a week. She was skin and bones when we came back. She started to eat only at home. It will always be like this.”

The family says they cannot face two big losses at once. And even if a house can be rebuilt somewhere else, nothing can replace Cleopatra. The family feels they are being torn apart.

"They’re burying us alive! They act like fascists! Even worse than fascists! I only hope that the government will respond to our grief!" Galina Sharlaimova, Sergey’s mother-in-law, says.

Such has been the attention to the case that even the president has become involved. But even if the media frenzy manages to save the Bobyshevs's house, it seems it has had the opposite affect on the leopard, and the cage, together with its inhabitant, will have to go.