ALULA: AlUla is celebrating the inauguration of Arabian Leopard Week with immersive and grand activities to raise awareness of the endangered big cat through public participation, adding to its existing efforts in conserving the species.
As Feb. 10 is known officially as Arabian Leopard Day, a global campaign has been launched to generate awareness of the animal’s dire state, from grassroots celebrations in Saudi Arabia to static billboards in London’s Piccadilly and New York City’s NASDAQ.
Dr. Stephen Browne, wildlife and natural heritage executive director at the Royal Commission for AlUla, told Arab News: “Leopard conservation combines the natural and cultural aspects of RCU’s regeneration of AlUla county as a leading global heritage destination. RCU’s events for Arabian Leopard Day 2023 will engage the community in celebrating the Arabian leopard as a cultural symbol that we will one day restore to its natural habitat.”
The first-ever Arabian Leopard Week in AlUla is bringing an array of activities, such as a digital exhibition running from Feb. 10-11 in collaboration with the Catmosphere foundation, taking visitors on a journey through the history of the endangered species.
Set across the majestic mountainous terrain of Ashar Valley, a story unfolds as a rawi, or storyteller, narrates its longstanding history in the region in a five–part experience that uses vivid, animated projections onto the crevices of the valley.
“The idea is to show the majesty of the Arabian leopard in the natural habitat to which it will one day return,” Browne said.
While the Arabian leopard is still far too precious to be exposed to the public, visitors can still simulate the experience of viewing one in real life through a Snapchat filter. Augmented reality technology demonstrates a digital leopard roaming around Hegra’s landmark Tomb of Lihyan Son of Kuza, known as Qasr Al-Farid.
The city, in collaboration with Catmosphere, has installed a new 7 km permanent trail in AlUla’s Sharaan Nature Reserve. The Arabian Leopard Celebration Trail is open to the public on Feb. 11 and will be the first initiative to prompt a global network of Catwalk Trails.
The RCU has also launched a series of informative Deep Dive campaign videos in collaboration with Catmosphere highlighting the commission’s efforts in conserving the species.
To prepare for the eventual return of Arabian leopards to the wild, the RCU has reintroduced native species of vegetation and prey animals into its nature reserves, increased efforts to track and protect wild leopards, and regenerated natural areas managed by teams of trained experts.
Browne said: “This winter, RCU’s animal release program is returning more than 1,500 individual animals — Arabian gazelles, sand gazelles, Arabian oryx and Nubian ibex — to AlUla’s nature reserves.
The return of the Arabian leopard will be the final piece of a sensitive and complicated puzzle.
Dr. Stephen Browne, Wildlife and natural heritage executive director at the Royal Commission for AlUla
“The return of the Arabian leopard will be the final piece of a sensitive and complicated puzzle.”
Four new cubs were welcomed to life at the RCU’s Arabian leopard breeding center in Taif in the past 22 months, furthering the commission’s goal of boosting the big cat’s population in captivity. As a symbol of the hope to protect the future of the species within the region, one female cub was named Amal, the Arabic word for “hope.”
The Arabian leopard is currently one of the rarest animals on the planet, classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered, and a growing decline could lead to extinction.
There are fewer than 200 individuals living free in the Arabian Peninsula, which acts as a great motivator for building on Arabian Leopard Day and promoting conservation goals locally and globally.
“There are fewer Arabian leopards left in the wild than there are spots on a typical leopard’s coat. Safeguarding the future of the Arabian leopard is an objective closely linked with regional pride and identity. As more and more people become aware of the plight of the species and its role in our shared history, support for conservation efforts has grown across the region,” Browne said.