$20 million deal signed to save Arabian leopard population

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The Arabian leopard faces an extremely high risk of extinction. (Shutterstock)
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Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, minister of culture and governor of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, has signed an agreement with the chairman of Panthera. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 09 June 2019

$20 million deal signed to save Arabian leopard population

  • Royal Commission for Al-Ula committed to helping protect and develop wildlife in region

JEDDAH: A $20 million deal to save Arabian leopards has been signed between the Royal Commission for Al-Ula (RCU) and Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization.
The Arabian leopard population is critically endangered, meaning it faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, according to the definition provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Panthera President Dr. Fred Launay said the Arabian leopard subspecies was estimated to number fewer than 200 in the wild, with its population driven down in recent years due to loss of habitat and prey, followed by persecution in livestock areas.
The signing ceremony was held at Ashar in Al-Ula county.
The RCU will join The Global Alliance for Wild Cats with a commitment to investing more than $20 million over the next 10 years to conservation measures, with a focus on the Arabian leopard, which is indigenous to Al-Ula.
Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, the minister of culture and RCU governor, said: “The signing of the agreement is a major milestone in our shared ambitions to reintroduce the Arabian leopard population in the region and join global partners to support the preservation of these wild cat populations worldwide.
“It is our duty to protect, conserve and build the population numbers to preserve the species from becoming a footnote of history.
“Our partnership with Panthera will help ensure that populations in other countries around the world are preserved before they reach the levels of endangerment faced today by our precious native big cats.”
RCU CEO Amr Al-Madani said that Al-Ula was chosen as the venue for signing the deal because the conservation of the Arabian leopard was a major part of the commission’s commitment to helping protect, enhance and develop wildlife in the region.


• The Royal Commission for Al-Ula will join The Global Alliance for Wild Cats with a commitment to investing more than $20 million over the next 10 years to conservation measures, with a focus on the Arabian leopard, which is indigenous to Al-Ula.

• Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems.

• Both the royal commission and Panthera share a deep-rooted passion for conservation.

“Arabian leopards were native to the Al-Ula area in the recent past alongside other species and we are committed to investing in breeding programs to help increase their numbers with the aim of eventually being able to reintroduce them back into their natural habitat,” he told Arab News.
“The RCU has created the Sharaan Nature Reserve to provide a sanctuary for the protection, preservation and reintroduction of endangered species native to Saudi Arabia and plans to develop further protected areas in the county.
“Our ambition is to create thriving, ecologically rich environments that can support big cat species such as the Arabian leopard.
“Our partnership with Panthera — a global authority in the preservation of big cat species worldwide — will help us achieve this.”
There will be a global fund focused on the protection and enhancement of remaining wild populations, captive breeding programs, international collaborations, community-based conservation projects and scientific research to support the future of this rare species.
“Being able to create a future where magnificent Arabian leopards can once more roam freely within the Sharaan Nature Reserve we are developing is one that we cannot wait to see. Such a beautiful natural landscape as Al-Ula is a fitting home for some of the world’s most magnificent animals,” he added.
Panthera Chairman Dr. Thomas Kaplan said the launch of the Arabian Leopard Initiatives (ALI), announced by the RCU, was proof that individuals could alter the trajectory of a species away from extinction and toward rebirth.
“I am particularly grateful that the RCU has not only chosen to invest in bringing back the Kingdom’s own leopards, but has also joined — together with Indian, Chinese, Emirati, and American partners – in Panthera’s Global Alliance for Wild Cat,” he told Arab News.

A Saudi app that promotes Arabic reading

Updated 39 sec ago

A Saudi app that promotes Arabic reading

  • Lamsa was launched in Saudi Arabia in 2012
  • It provides an innovative way of motivating children to learn

DUBAI: The most crucial year in a child’s education may be the age of 8, or third grade, according to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.The organization, which focuses on improving the wellbeing of American children, found this to be the developmental phase when children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

The research also established that third graders who lack proficiency in reading are four times as likely to become high-school dropouts.

The significance of this pivotal point in early childhood development is what drives Badr Ward, CEO of Arabic edutainment app Lamsa, to develop innovative ways of motivating kids in the Arab world to read and learn in their language.

“If we don’t encourage reading at that age, we could be taking the risk of them having a life-long issue with catching up,” Ward said.

Since children already spend a considerable amount of their time on connected devices, Ward is convinced that edutainment — media designed to educate through entertainment — is the best way to make screen time “relevant and meaningful.”

Badr Ward, CEO of Lamsa. (Supplied Photo)

Launched in Saudi Arabia in 2012, Lamsa provides an ad-free platform featuring animated literature, rhymes, songs, interactive games and educational videos in Arabic for children aged between 2 and 8.

Ward said: “We have to face reality. Education systems across the world are legacy systems. Whether we like it or not, technology has changed the way we consume information. Children today have access to devices from the moment they are born. So whether it’s reading on paper or e-books or interactive storytelling, we need to look at encouraging them to read, and to love to read and learn.”

Ward explains that much like a favorite teacher impacts a child’s interest in a subject, edutainment has a significant effect on their curiosity about a topic.

He modelled the characters in the edutainment app after his daughter Joory and son Adam, whose lack of interest in reading prompted him to start Lamsa.

Ward sought advice from his friend Leonard Marcus, an author, historian and expert on English language children’s literature. Marcus recommended taking the kids to a comic book store and letting them explore without forcing them to buy anything.

“So I did that,” Ward said. “We went to the comic book store, and I let them roam around. They were fascinated by the images.”

“Arabic is not just a language. It’s so important for children to understand their heritage and culture.”

Badr Ward, CEO of Arabic edutainment app Lamsa

He then asked his kids if they wanted anything, and they asked to have some of the comics. “In the evening, I found my children opening the comic book and just laughing,” he said.

“Because of that start three years ago, they can’t let go of books now.”

Ward said seeing the power of images and illustrations has made him support using pictures to captivate children.

The lack of quality and culturally relevant educational material in Arabic remains a challenge, he said. For this reason, Lamsa’s content library has been developed to celebrate Arabic not just as a language but as a source of heritage, culture, literature, music and food. The app team works in partnership with Arab authors, illustrators and organizations.

“Arabic is not just a language,” Ward said, adding that for Arab children everywhere, understanding cultural context is crucial to their values, beliefs and identity.

“It’s so important in the development of children to have a clear understanding of where they come from. In order to establish understanding of other cultures and learn tolerance, you need to start with your own. It’s fundamental to confidence, identity and heritage.”


 The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.