Every Olympics since 1972 has had an official mascot. There’s your standard animal variety (Roni the raccoon in Lake Placid, Misha the bear in Moscow), and then there are outliers—everything from cartoon characters (Håkon and Kristin in Lillehammer) to droplets of steel (Wenlocke and Mandeville in London).
For the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia selected a trio of mascots: the hare, the polar bear, and the snow leopard. The polar bear seems to be the only one with a name (it’s Bely Mishka, by the way), but the leopardis definitely Vladimir Putin’s favorite. It’s a symbol, the Russian president contends, of a modern Russia interested in reviving the species and the country’s natural resources.
Now, being the object of Putin’s affection has its pluses and minuses. The Russian leader, it turns out, has a long and complicated history with wild cats—one explored recently by Bill Donahue in the the Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth Magazine.
The central question in Donahue’s article is whether Russia’s “declared commitment to wildlife conservation … has any basis in reality,” and the snow leopard’s symbolic presence in Sochi offers a perfect lens through which to investigate.
Read more. [Image: Markus Schreiber/AP]
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