The Arabian leopard has roamed the Arabian Peninsula for more than 500,000 years, but due to habitat loss and human conflict, the species’ population has been pushed to the brink of extinction, with only about 200 animals now remaining in the wild. The birth of a recent cub, however, brings new hope for this iconic species, which is considered to be one of the world’s most critically endangered animals.
According to The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), the female cub was born on April 23 at the Arabian Leopard Breeding Center in Taif, Saudi Arabia. As reported by euronews, the conservationists could only identify her sex and carry out her first health check in July. She is now one of 16 born in their captive-breeding program.
“We are hoping to restore this species and eventually reintroduce it back to the wild,” says Emma Gallacher, Conservation Specialist at RCU. “Arabian leopards have sadly declined drastically in numbers and are now classified as critically endangered. The best estimate is that there are less than 50 in the wild here in Saudi Arabia, and potentially as low as 200 across the region.”
The leopards are thought to remain in only three countries: Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen. For the region’s inhabitants, the animal has long served as a symbol of beauty, tranquility, physical strength, fearlessness, and freedom.
“So we know that Arabian leopards once thrived here in the mountains of AlUla,” says Gallagher. “They’re depicted in rock art across many sites in the region. Arabian leopards are a desert-adapted subspecies. They are much smaller than their African cousins. They grow only to around 30 kilos maximum.“
RCU plans to reintroduce the leopards to the wild in a newly created nature reserve spanning more than 1,560 km2 in the region of AlUla. The habitats will be specifically adapted to allow the Arabian leopard to thrive.