A hundred mammals, over 330 birds, 48 reptiles, 11 amphibians, and over 160 fish species have been recorded in Georgia, whose fauna combines European, Central Asian, and North African elements. There is also a large variety of invertebrates: insects, arachnids, myriapods, crustaceans, and worms. The alpine and subalpine zones are populated with two species of wild ox, Daghestanian and Caucasian, both of which are indigenous to the Caucasus.
Nearly a quarter of the mammals, reptiles and amphibians are endemic to the Caucasus. Twenty-one species of mammals, 33 birds, and ten reptiles and amphibians are listed as rare, threatened or endangered; these include the goitered or Persian gazelle (Gazella subgutturossa), which probably became extinct in Georgia in the 1960s, although it is still found in Azerbaijan. The striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and Caucasian leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasia) were thought to have met the same fate, but it now appears that a few remain in the arid steppes of southeastern Georgia. Two species are listed as critically endangered: the Kazbegi birch mouse (Sicista kazbegica) and the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus).
Large mammals such as red deer, bear, wolf, boar, lynx, golden jackal, ibex, chamois, wild goats and wild sheep (mouflon) are found almost exclusively in the High Caucasus. However, populations of many species have been halved in recent years, largely due to increased poaching; wildlife has fled from conflicts in the northern Caucasus (notably Chechnya) and from the south in Azerbaijan, then been shot in Georgia (partly by hunters from Russia).
Birds found in the alpine and forested zones include the Caucasian jackdaw, black grouse, pheasant, pigeon, woodcock, curlew, cuckoo, kingfisher, woodpecker, crow, magpie, finch, crossbill, wagtail, tomtit, nightingale, swallow, chiff chaff, and linnet. The rivers are home to trout, barbel, sazan (a type of carp), and occasionally pike and river perch.
The endangered goitered gazelles, wild boar, roe and other deer roam the low-lands of eastern Georgia. The dwarf shrew, also endangered, lives in the Tbilisi area. The Iorian plateau supports a population of partridges and pheasants; Bronze Age Greeks supposedly imported the pheasants into Europe.
The lowlands of western Georgia feature extremely diverse fauna. Mammals include the hedgehog, mole, shrew, horseshoe bat, Caucasian squirrel, and various other rodents. In the area between Gagra and Sokhumi live badger, weasel, stone marten, wildcat, grizzly bear, wild boar, wolf, jackal, fox, and lynx. Birds of this region include the pheasant, quail, large curlew, woodcock, gull, goose, duck, pochard, and cormorant. During migrations pelicans are seen, as well as storks, bitterns, herons, falcons, hawks, hen harriers, eagle owls, cuckoos, hoopoes, king-fishers, woodpeckers, martlets, starlings, orioles, western nightingales, and swallows. Among the fish found in this region are trout, Black Sea salmon, Atlantic sturgeon, pike, sea roach, vobla, Caucasian chub, Colchian barbel, and sazan.
The common and bottle-nosed dolphin and the porpoise populate the Black Sea coast, while its fish includes shark, ray, beluga, Russian and Atlantic sturgeon, Black Sea salmon, khamsa, herring, dogfish, flounder, and swordfish.
The European bison and beaver, as well as the Transcaucasian leopard, became extinct early in the 20th century, and populations of goitered gazelle, wild goat, and striped hyena have been seriously diminished. However, Georgians are now taking steps to protect rare and indigenous fauna. Game reserves have opened in Lagodekhi, Borjomi, Saguramo, Ritsa, and Kintrishi.
There are four species of wild goat: the west Caucasian tur (Capra caucasica), the east Caucasian tur or Daghestanian goat (C. cylindricornis), bezoar or pasang (C. aegragus) and chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), and all are suffering from being hunted. The bezoar has been in decline since the 19th century, and there's now a maximum of 100 on the northeastern slopes of the High Caucasus. The Daghestanian goat, endemic to the eastern Caucasus, is endangered, with its population falling from about 5,000 in 1985 to a current estimate of around 4,000; the west Caucasian tur, endemic to the western Caucasus, is listed as vulnerable, but its population has also been halved from around 5,000 in 1985. The chamois is endangered, its population having fallen from around 6,000 in 1985 to barely 1,000 in 1993, a decline that continues today; however, there are many more in the Carpathians and Alps.
The red deer (Cervus elaphus maral) is also endangered by an increase in hunting; in eastern Georgia numbers fell from 2,500 in 1985 to 880 in 1994, and an estimated total of 1,500 in the whole of Georgia. Likewise the lynx (Felis lynx orientalis) has fallen from over 500 in 1990 to just 100 now. The wolf is also endangered, and the bear (Ursus arctos syriacus) is vulnerable, its numbers having fallen from over 3,000 in the 1980s to under 600. In fact the main hazard for hikers in the mountains is the nahgaaz or Caucasian sheepdog, used to guard sheep; this supposedly gentle giant (in medieval times visiting ambassadors would nervously ask for the lion next to the throne to be removed) is seen as a national treasure, and competitive shows are very popular. Bear gall, as well as skins and horns, are smuggled into Turkey. Tougher legislation is under consideration and bounties are no longer paid for killing animals that attack flocks, while reintroduction programmes are under way for wolves and other large mammals.
Mid-sized mammals in the mountains include the badger (Meles meles), pine marten (Martes martes), stone marten (M. foina), marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna), wildcat (Felis silvestris), fox (Vulpes vulpes), hare (Lepus europaeus) and weasel (Mustela nivalis), which here fills the niche of the marmot, scavenging in campsites. Other endangered species include the jungle cat (Felis chaus) whose range stretches from here to Indochina, the European otter (Lutra lutra), the Caucasian mink (Mustella lutreola caucasica) and golden jackal (Canis aureus). The Persian squirrel (Sciurus anomalus) is suffering from an invasion by the European squirrel (S. vulgaris).
Twelve species of small mammals are endangered or vulnerable, largely due to overgrazing or agricultural expansion; these include the red-backed vole (Clethrionomys glareolus ponticus), the Transcaucasian golden hamster (Mesocricetus brandti), the pygmy or grey hamster (Cricetulus migratorius), the shrew (Sorex volnuchini), the birch mice (Sicista caucasica, S. kluchkorica, S. kazbegica) and the Prometheus mole vole (Prometheomys shaposhnikowi), most of which have been split up into isolated groups. Many of these are endemic to the Caucasus: the Transcaucasian golden hamster; the black-chested hamster (M. raddei); the shrews (Sorex volnuchini, S. raddei, S. caucasica) and the water shrew (Neomys schelkownikowi); birch mice (S. caucasica, S. kluchorica, S. kazbegica and S. armenica); the Prometheus vole; the Caucasian moles (Talpa caucasica, Terricola daghestanicus and T. nasarovi); the yellow-breasted mouse (Apodemus fulvipectus), as well as A. ponticus; and hybrids with the house mouse (Mus musculus).
There's been little research on the cetaceans of the Black Sea, but the harbour porpoise (Phoecoenaphoecoena), bottlenosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) are all present.
There are around 52 species of reptiles in Georgia (the total keeps changing as lizards are reclassified), 25% of which are endemic to the Caucasus. The dominant lizard species is Lacerta praticola, while L. rudis, L. derjugini, L. parvula, L. mixta, L. valentini, L. unisexualis, L. clarcorum, L. valentini and L. mixta may or may not be separate species. Much the same applies to the Vipera (pelias) kaznakovi complex. Threatened species include Schneider's skink (Eumeces schneideri), the lidless skink (Ablepharus pannonicus), the leopard snake (Elaphe situla) - perhaps the most beautiful in Europe - and the Transcaucasian ratsnake (E. hohenackeri), the dwarf snake (Eirenis collaris), the boigine snake (Malpolon monspesulanus), the racerunner (Eremias arguta), the turtle (Clemmys (Mauremis) caspica caspica), the snake-eyed lizard (Ophisops elegans) (the commonest lizard in the Anatolian steppes), the javelin sand boa (Eryx jaculus), the garter snake (Natrix megalocephala), the Caucasian viper (Vipera kaznakovi), the Transcaucasian long- nosed or sand viper (V. ammodytes transcaucasiana), the Levantine viper (V^ lebetina obtusa) - thegiurza, up to 1.8m in length, and Dinnik's viper (К Dinnicki).
Georgia's amphibians consist of four species of Caudata: the Caucasian salamander (Mertensiella caucasica), the banded newt (Triturus vittatus ophryticus), the smooth newt (T. vulgaris lantzi) and the southern crested newt (T. cristatus karelini), and nine species of Anura - the frogs and toads (Pelobates syriacus syriacus, Pelodytes caucasicus, Bufo viridis viridis, B. verrucosissimus, Hyla arborea shelkownikowi, H. savignyi, Rana macrocnemis, R. camerani and R. ridibunda). A quarter of these are endemic to the Caucasus (Mertensiella caucasica, Pelodytes caucasicus, Bufo verrucosissimus, and hybrids of Rana macrocnemis and Hyla arborea). The Caucasian salamander is in fact found only in the Lesser Caucasus of Georgia and Turkey, not the High Caucasus. Pelobates syriacus, Mertensiella caucasica and probably Hyla savignyi are threatened, and Pelodytes caucasicus, Bufo verrucosissimus and Rana macrocnemis are in decline.
A quarter of fish species are also endemic to Georgia: the sturgeon (Accipenser nudiventris) is probably extinct in Georgia, while A. guldenstadti and A. sturio are endangered. Eastern European fish have been introduced into the lakes of the Javakheti Plateau, virtually wiping out local fish species; the Crucian carp (Carassius carassius) is also harming newt populations.
Georgia acts as a 'funnel' for birds migrating from their breeding grounds in Siberia and northern Europe to their winter homes, so it's hardly surprising that very few are endemic to the Caucasus, and even these are subspecies rather than distinct species. Twenty species are endangered: the lammergeyer or bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), the black or cinereous vulture (Aegypius monachus), the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), the peregrine (Falco peregrinus), the lanner falcon (F. biarmicus), the short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus), the marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosas), the Imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) and lesser-spotted eagle (A. pomarina) (the Georgian populations of both are under 85 pairs), the golden eagle (A. chrysaetos), the booted eagle (Hieraaetuspennatus), the Caucasian snowcock (Tetraogallus caucasicus), the black francolin (Francolinus francolinus), the grey partridge (Perdix perdix), the black stork (Ciconia nigra), the spoonbill (Platalea leucordia), the crane (Grus grus), the demoiselle crane (Anthropoides virgo) and the glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), as well, probably, as some woodpeckers and passerines. Certainly the Syrian woodpecker (Dendrocopus syriacus) is vulnerable, as, amazingly, is the pheasant (Phasianus colchicus); having taken over the world it is suffering in its land of origin from loss of forest and increased hunting.
Many raptors migrate along the flyway down the Black Sea coast; lammergeyer live year-round in the High Caucasus, but the population has dropped from 40 pairs to 20 pairs in the last 50 years. Others nest in the mountains but can often be seen hunting in the semi-desert of Davit-Gareja; other mountain species include the Caspian snowcock (Tetraogallus caspius) - from the Eastern Caucasus to Iran, the Caucasian snowcock (T. caucasicus) - more to the west, and the Caucasian black grouse (Tetrao (Lyrurus) mlokosiewiczi) - typically Caucasian, and probably a relict species. There's an isolated population of the alpine finch or great rosefinch (Carpodacus rubicilla), which otherwise lives in central Asia; the scarlet grosbeak (C. erythrinus) breeds from Sweden to Japan and passes through to winter between Iran and China. An endemic subspecies of the rock partridge (Alectoris graeca) (which is kept as a domestic fowl in Armenia) can be seen near the snowline.
Other species found in the High Caucasus include Kruper's nuthatch (Sitta kruperii), the white-winged or Guldenstat's redstart (Phoenicurus erythrogaster), Radde's accentor (Prunella ocularis), the red-fronted serin (Serinus pusillus), the grey-necked bunting (Emberizia buchanani) and rock bunting (E. cia), the alpine accentor (Prunella collaris), the redwing (Turdus iliacus) - only in winter - and a subspecies of jay (Garrulus glandarius krynicki).
In the deserts you may find the trumpeter bullfinch (Rhodopechys sanguinea), the rufous bush robin or tugai nightingale (Cercotrichas galactotes), the chukar (Alectoris chukar) and, in winter, great bustard (Otis tarda) and little bustard (O. tetrax).
Perhaps the most important bird habitats are the wetlands of the Black Sea coast and the Javakheti Plateau, where you may see migratory birds such as white spoonbills (Platalea leucorodia), red-breasted geese (Rufibrenta ruficollis), red-necked grebe (Podiceps grisigena), white pelican (Pelecanus onocrotalus), Dalmatian pelican (P. crispus), squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides), great white egret (Ardea alba), little egret (Egretta garzetta), white stork (Ciconia ciconia), black stork (C. nigra), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca) and other ducks, herons, geese and cormorants.