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Softer Side? Putin Pets Leopard in Sochi Photo Op

Image: Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, looks at a snow leopard cub while visiting the snow leopard sanctuary in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. Putin checked in Tuesday at a preserve for endangered snow leopards and visited a group of cubs born last summer in the mountains above the growing torrent of activity in Sochi for the Winter Games. At right is director of the preserve Umar Semyonov. Alexei Nikolsky / AP

Just in time for the Olympics, Russian President Vladimir Putin is showing off his softer side.

The avid outdoorsman has been photographed hunting and horseback riding — at times shirtless — all in an effort to preserve his macho image in the press. But on Tuesday, Putin took time to cozy up to a leopard in Sochi National Park — a preserve created five years ago as an Olympics-related project.

With the games kicking off Friday, Putin is putting the spolight on the endangered Persian leopards, which are among the Olympic mascots this year.

Image: Russian President Putin strokes a Persian leopard during his visit to the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre in the Sochi national park
Russian President Vladimir Putin strokes a Persian leopard during his visit to the Persian Leopard Breeding and Rehabilitation Centre at Sochi national park on Feb. 4, 2014. Alexei Nikolsky / RIA NOVOSTI via Reuters

"We liked each other," Putin said after getting into one of the cages and petting the seemingly docile cat, Russian news agencies said.

But the leopard was apparently riled up afterward. The animal scratched one journalist on the hand and bit another on the knee, according to The Associated Press.