Action man Putin poses with leopard ahead of Sochi Games

Putin petting the leopard from inside the pen at Sochi National Park. Credit: RTV/EBU

Rugged Russian President Vladimir Putin spent some time inside a leopards' cage at Sochi National Park today, taking his first step on the Olympic stage ahead of the games that will open on Friday.

He visited the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre at Sochi National Park and got acquainted with a group of cubs born last summer.

Watch action man Putin's best exploits

Persian leopards used to live in large numbers across the Western Caucasus but they became extinct in 1970 and remain endangered in the wild across the world.

Persian leopards became extinct in Southern Russia in 1970. Credit: RTV/EBU

The centre has been working to try and increase the number of wild cats, efforts Putin described as "very delicate work."

Putin with one of the leopards. Credit: RTV/EBU

The reserve was established five years ago as an Olympics-related project. Addressing the press after settling in to cuddle up with one of the baby cubs, Mr Putin praised the work of the staff at the centre and said the Olympic project was also about restoring nature.

The baby cub appeared not to enjoy the attention from the media.

He said:

Putin spent several minutes petting the endangered animals inside the pen. Credit: RTV/EBU

Putin drove to the reserve in an SUV, with two International Olympic Committee officials in the back seat. Later this evening, he will address the IOC in Sochi ahead of the games, which begin this Friday.

Read: Action man Putin's best exploits