The Arabian leopard was once found throughout Arabia’s mountains, from Oman in the east through to Jordan in the north west. However rapid human population growth with its associated infrastructure and increase in livestock numbers have fragmented the Leopards habitat and caused their numbers to plunge.
However Hadi Al Hikmani, who works as wildlife specialist with the Office for Conservation of the Environment in Oman and a research student at Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), University of Kent believes the leopard can fight back from the brink of extinction.
The current situation is so serious that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the Arabian leopard, Arabias last big cat, as a critically endangered sub-species, due to the entire remaining population now only numbering up to around 200 animals of which perhaps 58 adults remain in Oman’s southern mountains.
The Arabian leopard’s problems can be summarised in three words: humans, livestock and development, said Hadi. Together these elements create a very difficult situation.
Hadi says in this interview that now “We have built trust with the local people and their attitude towards the leopard is better now than it was 10 years ago. At least, the local people now understand the importance and the value of the Arabian leopard and they won’t want to lose them as they already lost the cheetah which once occurred in this region.”
Crucially, as the leopards’ natural prey of gazelle and ibex also decline, so the Arabian leopard turns to hunting livestock causing herdsmen in turn to shoot or poison them, which is illegal.
“Development and new infrastructure has caused a lot of changes in the last 40 years. Areas which were inaccessible are now regularly being used by people which disturbs the leopards and other wildlife,” he said.
“We’ve established a camera trapping monitoring program in the mountains to observe the leopards and monitor the situation. We are in the middle between the leopard and the local population, so it’s important to understand how these people think and take them into consideration when we plan leopard conservation.”
“At the Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve in southern Oman we’ve had five new-born leopard cubs over the last three years. These are the only ones we know about in the wild and we hope they will sustain the population.”