The birth of an Arabian leopard cub has been announced by the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), providing hope for the survival of this severely endangered species.
On April 23, a female cub was born. On July 13, she was given her gender and had her first health check. The youngster is one of 16 born in a captive-breeding program at the Arabian Leopard Breeding Center in Taif, Saudi Arabia, as part of an effort to save the animal from extinction.
After generations of habitat degradation and hunting, her species has dwindled to less than 200 individuals in the wild. The species is classified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which means it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
The leopard’s historical range included the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant, but it is currently confined to three countries: Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen. RCU, the organization in charge of regenerating a 22,561km stretch of northwestern Saudi Arabia as a global destination for natural and cultural heritage, runs the breeding center.
The desire to conserve the leopard is great in Arabia. The Arabian leopard, also known as An Nimr Al ‘Arabi’ in Arabic, has long been a symbol of beauty, calm, physical power, bravery, and independence for the people of the region. For millennia, the animal has had a particular position in the mind, appearing in ancient rock art, tales, and even everyday phrases.
As a result, the birth of the cub is a win for both cultural and natural heritage in Saudi Arabia.
The species will be reintroduced into the wild in the AlUla mountains by recovering the population through a breeding program and the creation of a suitable environment in which the leopard can thrive.
Following are some of the initiatives that are part of the campaign:
• Expansion of the captive-breeding program, with the building of a state-of-the-art breeding center at Sharaan Nature Reserve, AlUla, by early 2024.
• RCU has committed USD 25 million to the Arabian Leopard Fund.
• Extending collaborations with key conservation organizations like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Panthera.
• Conversion of 80 percent of the AlUla project’s land into natural reserves, following the Saudi Green Initiative. The Sharaan Nature Reserve, for example, will restore and conserve the ecosystem across 1560 square kilometers, including indigenous flora and fauna.
• Reintroduction of prey species like Nubian Ibex and Idmi Gazelles, as well as park ranger training for AlUla locals to protect the reserves.
“This birth is noteworthy because it is one step closer to restoring the Arabian leopard,” said Dr. Ahmed Almalki, Director of Nature Reserves “We feel, is important for the conservation of our world and the natural balance of our ecosystem. Our goal at RCU is nothing less than to restore the power of nature’s balance.”