- As part of an exchange with Oman, the leopard adds genetic diversity to the breeding population at RCU’s Arabian Leopard Conservation Breeding Centre
- RCU has a long-term goal of returning the critically endangered species to the wilds of AlUla
AlUla, Saudi Arabia-: The Royal Commission for AlUla’s (RCU) action plan to conserve the Arabian Leopard has taken another step forward with the arrival of a new male leopard at RCU’s Arabian Leopard Conservation Breeding Centre in Taif, Saudi Arabia.
This is the Centre’s second ‘Founder’ leopard arriving in 2023, so-called because he adds to the genetic diversity of the existing population, and thereby increases the viability of the breeding programme.
The new leopard arrived this week on a one-year loan from the Royal Court of Oman as part of a regional agreement which sees RCU working in collaboration with conservation partners across the Gulf. In exchange, RCU will be lending a male leopard to Oman.
The new leopard arrived at RCU’s Arabian Leopard Conservation Breeding Centre in Taif following his international journey by air from Oman to KSA. Abdulaziz Alenzy, RCU Conservation Breeding Centre Manager, reports that the leopard is in healthy condition after his journey and acclimating to his new environment.
As part of a breeding loan agreement, RCU has agreed to the future transfers of descendants to wider centres across the peninsula, alongside knowledge transfer of the breeding process.
This is the second Founder leopard to arrive at Taif this year. The first, named AlAin, arrived from the Al Bustan Zoological Centre in the UAE in April. He was integrated into the Taif centre’s population in July and has already fathered two cubs out of seven total cubs born into RCU’s breeding programme in 2023.
Firmly on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, the Arabian Leopard is classified as ‘critically endangered’. Remaining wild leopards on the Arabian Peninsula are thought to number less than 200. This year a study – supported by RCU in partnership with the big-cat conservation group Panthera – concluded that based on extensive evidence from camera traps and scat analysis, there probably are no surviving, sustainable populations of Arabian Leopards in the wild in Saudi Arabia.
This underscores the importance of RCU’s Conservation Breeding Programme and its recent successes that will contribute to restoring the population. Seven cubs have been born at the centre so far this year, up from three last year. As part of RCU’s long-term efforts, a full renovation of the Arabian Leopard Conservation Breeding Centre has also been completed this year, expanding enclosures for the leopards to roam and providing improved facilities for leopards where keepers and experts can provide necessary care.
Mr Alenzy said: “The Arabian Leopard is a powerful symbol of our efforts to conserve AlUla’s natural environment by unleashing the power of nature’s balance. The arrival of a new Founder, which increases the genetic diversity of our breeding population, is a testament to the role of international collaboration in saving the species from extinction in the wild.”
In the long run, RCU’s plan is to eventually return the Arabian Leopard to its ancestral habitat in the wilds of AlUla County. To make this possible, RCU experts are sustainably restoring the essential balance to AlUla’s ecosystems, in line with Saudi Vision 2030. These efforts include the reintroduction of native species of plants and animals into nature reserves.
The ancestors of the Arabian Leopard arrived in the Arabian Peninsula from Africa almost 500,000 years ago. The smallest members of the leopard family, they thrived for millennia by stalking their prey amid the mountainous terrain of north-west Arabia. But in recent decades the population in the wild has been decimated by habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, loss of prey species and illegal trade.
In June the UN General Assembly adopted 10 February as International Day of the Arabian Leopard. This global recognition for the pressing need to conserve the species builds on RCU’s leadership in expanding Arabian Leopard Day from its regional roots.