Wildlife in the Caucasus

Encountering wildlife on the Transcaucasian Trail, save for livestock and stray dogs, is not as common as you might think. Most animals are wary of humans and tend to steer clear of people. However, an abundance of animals, from the elusive Caucasian tur to the more common legless lizard, are still out there on the rocky slopes, alpine meadows, and forests that you’ll be traversing. 

The TCT offers a glimpse into the rich biodiversity of the region and reminds us that while wildlife sightings may be rare, the environments along the trail are home to a wide variety of animals and should be protected. 




Photo from: Toronto Zoo

West/East Caucasian Tur (Capra caucasica, Capra cylindricornis)

This elusive mountain mammal is endemic to the Greater Caucasus. The Western tur roams the Western Caucasus until Mt. Shkhara, the highest mountain in Georgia, and the Eastern tur can be spotted roughly from Mt. Shkhara to Mt. Babadag in Azerbaijan. 

Turs are the largest herbivores in the Caucasus and live just below the snowline at elevations ranging from 800 m to 4000 m. The Western tur is listed as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. 

The large, curved horns of the tur were also the inspiration for the TCT logo!


Photo by: WWF Armenia

Caucasian Leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana)

The world’s largest subspecies of leopard, the Caucasian leopard (also called the Persian leopard) is found in remote areas of southern, south-eastern, and north-eastern Armenia, and parts of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. They make their home in a wide variety of areas, including the subalpine meadow, forests, and ravines of the Greater Caucasus and steppes and juniper forests of the Lower Caucasus. 

Due to a number of factors, wild Caucasian leopards likely number fewer than 1,000, and have been listed as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species since 2016. Poachers decrease the populations of the leopards’ natural prey. Deforestation and overgrazing by livestock threaten the leopards’ habitat. And in some places, leopards are still hunted as trophies or for the fur trade.

red deer1

Photo from: Wikipedia

Caspian Red Deer (Cervus elaphus maral)

The Caspian red deer is one of the easternmost and endangered subspecies of red deer native to the South Caucasus. It’s been hunted for its antlers since the 1930s, and fewer than 1000 are now left in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, mostly in national parks and nature reserves. In Armenia’s Dilijan National Park, the Red Deer Breeding Centre hosts a program aiming to breed red deer in the center to reintroduce them into the wild. 


Photo from: World Land Trust

Bezoar Goat (Capra aegagrus aegagrus)

The Bezoar goat lives in a wide variety of habitats, including open woodlands, shrublands, deserts, alpine plateaus, and mountainous areas up to 4,000 meters. Sightings are extremely rare, but they can be found in the Sevan and Gegham mountain ranges, Meghri and Noravank Canyons, and the upper part of Arpa Valley. Their numbers have dwindled due to both legal and illegal hunting for their horns, habitat loss, and competition for food from livestock. They were listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals in 1996, but their population has since increased enough to be listed as “Near Threatened” since 2020. 


Photo from: Wikipedia

Armenian Mouflon (Ovis gmelini gmelini)

The Armenian mouflon inhabits rocky hills, steppes, semi-deserts, grass-covered slopes, and alpine meadows at medium–high altitudes in the Southern Caucasus, particularly the Syunik, Vayots Dzor, and Ararat provinces of Armenia. They spend their summer just below the snowline and descend into valleys during the winters. Unfortunately for the population, their horns are also valued by hunters. Today, Armenian mouflons number only about 500 in Armenia. 

brown bear

Photo from: Zoochat

Syrian (Ursus arctos syriacus) and Eurasian (Ursus arctos arctos) Brown Bears

The only bear in the world to have white claws, the endangered Syrian brown bear is native to the Middle East, particularly Syria, Turkey, Iran, and parts of the Caucasus. Their fur ranges from dark brown to almost black, and they have a distinctive shoulder hump. 

The Eurasian brown bear is native to mountainous regions and can be found in the Caucasus as well as many parts of Europe, especially in Russia, the Baltics, Scandinavia, and Romania. Their fur can be yellowish-brown, dark brown, red-brown, or nearly black.

Bears in the Caucasus are extremely wary of humans, so while you’re likely to see bear tracks and scat in remote parts of the mountains, actual sightings are rare. 



Photo from: Memozee

Eurasian Grey Wolf (Canis lupus lupus)

The Eurasian grey wolf occupies a variety of habitats, including forests, mountains, and steppes. They’re skilled hunters, preying primarily on deer, moose, and wild boar, but they also consume smaller mammals and occasionally scavenged carrion. Although they’re incredibly rare to see, one of our staff spotted one in Racha a few years ago. 

European Golden Jackal

Photo from: Wilderness Society

European Jackal (Canis aureus moreoticus)

The European jackal is the largest subspecies of golden jackal, and has reddish chestnut colorings with black tones on its back. Found in a variety of habitats, from lowland plains and forests to mountainous regions, they take advantage of available food resources such as small mammals, birds, fruits, and carrion. Jackal sightings are quite rare, but you’re likely to hear them at night. 


Photo from: Zoo Institutes

Caucasian Lynx (Lynx lynx dinniki)

The Caucasian lynx is native to the Lesser Caucasus, Iran, Turkey, and Russia, and is a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx. Their distinctive tufted ears and dense fur coat enable them to withstand the harsh Caucasian winters and fluctuating temperatures found in the mountains. They’re found in inaccessible, remote regions of rocky-steppes, mixed forest-steppes, forests, and alpine meadows, and are rarely seen. They’re listed as critically endangered in Georgia.

Carpathian Boar (Sus scrofa attila)

The wild boar is one of the widest-ranging mammals in the world, and is the ancestor to most modern pig breeds. The Carpathian boar is one of many large subspecies. It has long lacrimal bones and dark hair, and can be found in Romania, Hungary, Ukraine, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, and northern Iran. They are rare to see, but you might spot some tracks.

Black Sea Field Mouse

Photo credit: Margaret Holland

Black Sea Field Mouse (Apodemus ponticus

This subspecies of field mouse is found in the Caucasus, and possibly Iran, Iraq, Russian Federation, and Turkey. They’re found among forests, grasslands, and cultivated fields, and winter in more wooded areas. Field mice primarily eat seeds, but also eat berries, fruits, and food not stored properly by hikers (don’t be one of those!). 


Photo credit: © Anita Gould

Caucasian Squirrel (Sciurus anomalus)

Caucasian squirrels are small tree squirrels known for their distinctive tufted ears and vibrant fur coat, which typically ranges from reddish-brown to gray. They make their home in temperate deciduous and coniferous forests and mixed woodlands, up to altitudes of 2,000 meters (6,600 ft). Caucasian squirrels are particularly prevalent in areas of dense vegetation and abundant tree cover, such as foothills and mountain slopes. They use tree hollows and leaf nests as shelters to raise their young and shelter from predators.

Northrn White-breasted Hedgehog

Photo credit: © Aleksandar

Southern (Erinaceus concolor) and Northern (Erinaceus roumanicus) White-Breasted Hedgehogs

The Caucasus serve as the overlapping habitat for the southern and northern white-breasted hedgehog. The southern white-breasted hedgehog is native to Turkey and Southwestern Asia, and the northern white-breasted hedgehog’s habitat stretches from Poland to Russia, Estonia to Greece. They live primarily on the edge of forests and in shrublands and agricultural areas. Most species of hedgehog are brown, but as their names suggest, these subspecies have a distinctive white spot on their chests. Primarily nocturnal, these omnivores eat insects, snails, bird eggs, mushrooms, grass roots, berries, and melons. 

Red fox

Photo credit: © Andreev Dmitrij


Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Red foxes are known for their striking red-orange fur and bushy tail. Found in Europe, northern Africa, Asia, North America, and Australia. They live in habitats as diverse as their geographical range, from lowland forests and grasslands to agricultural land and mountainous terrain. They often seek refuge in rocky crevices, dense vegetation, and abandoned burrows for shelter and breeding dens. Although they typically eat small rodents, red foxes also eat fruits, vegetables, and carrion. 


Caucasian Grouse

Photo credit: © Miguel Rouco

Caucasian Black Grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewiczi

The Caucasian black grouse inhabits a range of elevations, from subalpine meadows and mountain forests to mixed woodlands and open clearings. The village of Laza in Azerbaijan is one of the best places to see these birds, especially males on early spring mornings. 

Blue Rock Thrush

Photo credit: © Pedro Marques

Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius

Blue rock thrushes live in a variety of habitats, including rocky cliffs, mountain slopes, and urban areas with suitable rocky outcrops. They’re commonly observed in higher elevations, often near water sources such as rivers and streams. 

Caucasian Snowcock

Photo credit: © Bradeanu Alin

Caucasian Snowcock (Tetraogallus caucasicus

Caucasian snowcocks inhabit alpine and subalpine areas characterized by rocky slopes, scree fields, and high-altitude grasslands, and are typically found at elevations above 2,000 meters. Mount Gizilgaya near Khinalig, Azerbaijan is one of the best places to see them. 

White-winged Redstart

Photo credit: © Vincent Wang

White-winged (Güldenstädt’s) Redstart (Phoenicurus erythrogastrus

These strikingly colored birds can be found in alpine and subalpine habitats with rocky slopes, scree fields, and sparse vegetation. The villages of Khinalig and Laza in Azerbaijan are excellent places to spot them. 

Mountain Chiffchaff

Photo credit: © John C. Mittermeier

Mountain Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus sindianus)

Mountain Chiffchaffs are small, insectivorous birds that inhabit the upper forests and subalpine meadows of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. They’re often found in dense undergrowth and scrub, where they forage for insects and spiders. 

Great Rosefinch

Photo credit: © Christoph Moning

Great Rosefinch (Carpodacus rubicilla)

Great rosefinches inhabit rocky slopes, alpine meadows, and mountain valleys of the Caucasus’ high-altitude regions. These colorful birds eat seeds, berries, and insects, often congregating in small flocks during the breeding season. 

Velvet Scoter

Photo from: eBird

Velvet Scoter (Melanitta fusca)

The velvet scoter was thought to be extinct in Georgia until 2015, when Nika Paposhvili discovered its presence near Lake Tabatskuri in Javakheti (right along the TCT). These sea ducks are found along coastal areas and inland bodies of water and prefer deep water where they can dive for mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. 

Fire-fronted Serin

Photo credit: © Craig Brelsford

Fire-fronted Serin (Serinus pusillus)

These small, colorful finches have a black head and an orange patch on their forehead. They inhabit scrubland, rocky slopes, and alpine meadows, eat seeds and insects, and often forage in mixed-species flocks. 

Rock Bunting

Photo credit: © Daniel Pettersson

Rock Bunting (Emberiza cia)

These distinctive songbirds are found in rocky habitats throughout the Caucasus, including mountain slopes, cliffs, and scree fields. Males are noted for their chestnut upperparts, deep buff underparts, and pale grey heads with black striping. Females have paler underparts, grey-brown backs, and a less contrasted head compared to the males. They eat seeds, insects, and plant matter.

Crested Lark

Photo credit: © Joaquín Salinas

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata)

Crested larks are small larks found in open habitats, particularly grasslands, agricultural fields, and scrubland. They’re brown birds with short tails and light brown outer feathers. They eat seeds, insects, and small invertebrates.

Great Tit

Photo credit: © Steven McGrath

Great Tit (Parus major)

The great tit has a black head and neck, white cheeks, olive upperparts, and yellow underparts. They’re found in forests, woodlands, and urban areas, and eat seeds, insects, and small fruits. 

Common Swift

Photo credit: © N. Camilleri

Common Swift (Apus apus)

These dark-colored birds are commonly seen circling over Tbilisi and Georgian villages in the summer. They migrate to Africa in the winter, and can stay in the air for 10 months without landing! 


Legless Lizard (Sheltopusik; Pseudopus apodus)

Yes, this is its actual name, and no, we’re not talking about snakes. Unlike snakes, legless lizards have eyelids, external ear openings, and a notched—not forked—tongue. They can also detach their tail as a defense mechanism if necessary. They’re quite common in grasslands and sparsely wooded hills, and are most likely sighted during wet weather. Legless lizards respond to perceived threats by hissing, biting, and musking.

Armenian Viper

Photo credit: Chuck Dresner

Armenian Viper (Montivipera raddei

These vipers are native to southern Armenia, western Azerbaijan, northwestern Iran, and eastern Turkey. They live in dry, rocky habitats at high elevations, and are gray, gray-brown, or black in color. They also have round yellow, yellow-orange, brown-orange or red blotches on their backs. Their population has decreased due to habitat loss and being hunted for venom, which can be used as a blood-clotting agent.


Photo credit: Giorgi Elbakidze


Caucasian Viper (Vipera kaznakovi)

Also known as Kaznakov’s Viper, this endangered snake is found in Armenia and Western Georgia, primarily in humid meadows. It is found in mountain ridges, moraines, and bedrock around alpine grasslands. It’s light brown or gray in color with a dark zigzag pattern over its body. Its belly has many gray and black dots.

South Caucasian Ratsnake

Photo credit: © Daniel Jablonski

South Caucasian Ratsnake (Zamenis hohenackeri)

Native to Western Asia and the Middle East, this snake lives in rocky areas of steppes and mountain forests. It is gray with dark brown spots on its body and has black streaks from its eyes to the corner of its mouth and a black line below its eyes.

Common Animals


Photo credit: Meagan Neal

Livestock—horses, cows, sheep

Hiking the Transcaucasian Trail is nearly impossible without encountering horses, cows, or sheep. Many locals along the trail raise cows and sheep and use horses as one form of transportation. These animals enjoy human food, so be careful not to leave food out, and store your meals properly.


Photo credit: Nazrin Garibova

Shepherd and Village Dogs

Aggressive shepherd and village dogs can be by far the biggest animal threat to TCT hikers. Many villagers keep guard dogs for security and train them to bark at potential intruders, but such dogs are territorial and will rarely stray beyond their property boundaries. 

Beyond villages and farms, dogs often accompany livestock herds as protection from predators. If the dogs show aggression, they consider your presence a threat to their herds. If you proceed calmly without sudden movements, they’ll usually back off once you’re far enough from the herd.

If a dog runs towards you, stand your ground and wait for the herder (who will usually be nearby) to call it off. Shout forcefully and throw stones or wave your trekking poles if you need to assert dominance. Do not run away, as this will trigger the dog’s instinct to chase.  If a dog does attack, fight back. 

To avoid these encounters, skirt around grazing herds at a wide distance, or, if farmers are around, seek out them as quickly as possible and approach with a friendly greeting.

IMG_5177 2

Photo credit: Nazrin Garibova

Street cats and dogs

Stray dogs and cats are common in the Caucasus in both urban and rural areas. In urban areas in Georgia, several NGO-run campaigns vaccinate and sterilize street dogs; those dogs are easily identifiable by a tag in their ear.

You’ll likely encounter a few dogs on the trail, who are typically either extremely friendly or keep to themselves. It can be fun to have a “trail dog” hike with you for a while, providing companionship and a sense of security on the trail. 

That said, we don’t recommend encouraging dogs to follow you, no matter how cute they are. While some are true “trail dogs” who will happily traverse back and forth over the mountains, some are actually village dogs with an owner (who will then have to find them several villages away). If in doubt, err on the side of caution. 

Another risk involves falling in love with your trail dog and ending up adopting them. You wouldn’t be the first! 

The information above was collected from the following sources: 

General Sources 

  • https://map.nationalgeographic.ge/en/
  • https://www.iucnredlist.org/ 
  • https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/


  • https://www.worldlandtrust.org/species/mammals/ 
  • https://hedgehogregistry.org/
  • https://animalia.bio/
  • https://uk.inaturalist.org/taxa/ 


  • https://ebird.org/explore 
  • https://birdwatchinghq.com/birds-of-Armenia/
  • https://gocaucasus.today/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/20518_ATB_Birdwatching-brochure_ENG_PREVIEW-1.pdf


  • https://stlzoo.org/animals/reptiles/snakes/armenian-viper
  • https://animals.howstuffworks.com/snakes/legless-lizard-vs-snake.htm
  • https://dcpaleo.org/sheltopusik-ophisaurus-apodus/