How a Saudi rewilding scheme is bringing the Arabian leopard back from the brink of extinction

Special How a Saudi rewilding scheme is bringing the Arabian leopard back from the brink of extinction
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Updated 24 February 2024
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How a Saudi rewilding scheme is bringing the Arabian leopard back from the brink of extinction

How a Saudi rewilding scheme is bringing the Arabian leopard back from the brink of extinction
  • The Kingdom’s Royal Commission of AlUla has succeeded in breeding seven Arabian leopard cubs in the past year
  • There are thought to be as few as 120 of the iconic animals left in the wild, with approximately 20 of them in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Conservation experts from Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla have this year succeeded in breeding seven Arabian leopard cubs in captivity in the hope of increasing the population of the critically endangered species in the wild.

There are thought to be as few as 120 Arabian leopards left in the wild, with approximately 20 of them in Saudi Arabia, confined primarily to the isolated southwestern mountains of Asir and the Hijaz, making conservation efforts even more urgent.

“The captive population at the RCU facility is 27 healthy animals,” Stephen Browne, the commission’s vice president of wildlife and natural heritage, who works closely with the conservation program, told Arab News.

Breeding programs such as the RCU’s are considered essential to boosting the number of Arabian leopards in the wild, which have been declining because of human encroachment on vulnerable habitats and the poaching of their natural prey.

Browne said: “The last estimate had 200 animals (in the wild) a few years ago, so they have gone down very dramatically, very quickly, to barely a few animals.

“In many of the areas where they formerly occurred, like the UAE and Egypt, they are now extinct, and they are only found in very few isolated areas in western and southwest Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the very high rugged mountains of Yemen, and Oman.”

When conservationists are confident the animals will have a good chance of survival, they intend to release the RCU breeding program’s captive population into the wild. This will depend largely on changing human behaviors.

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On the potential threats to Arabian leopards in the wild, Browne added: “There’s a whole combination of factors, from hunting as retaliation for the loss of livestock to trophy hunting or catching them for the illegal wildlife trade.”

Hany Tatwany, a Saudi environment consultant, who previously worked at the National Center for Wildlife and later as president of the RCU’s Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard, noted that hunting was only one of the dangers the animals faced in the wild.

He said: “There are several reasons, but most of them are related to human behavior, such as overhunting the prey that the leopard eats or destroying the environment in terms of agriculture, urban expansion, and road construction.

“There is also the targeting of leopards to protect livestock, or, unfortunately, the leopards are hunted as a way of showing off.”

Leopards originated in Africa before spreading to the Arabian Peninsula and across Asia. By adapting to different climates, terrains, and altitudes, they evolved into distinct subgroups that became better suited to their respective habitats.

Browne pointed out that the Arabian leopard, for instance, had adapted well to cope with the hot, dry climate of the Middle East.

The elusive big cats are also well suited to rugged terrains and have been found at elevations ranging from sea level to more than 2,000 meters, making them highly adaptable and able to survive in arid and semi-arid environments.

DID YOUKNOW?

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have programs to breed and protect Arabian leopards. The Kingdom’s captive breeding center is in AlUla and is managed by the RCU.

After 13 weeks of pregnancy, leopards give birth to a litter of between two and four cubs, typically in caves. Cubs are normally born with closed eyes, which open after a week to nine days.

Human activity has depleted leopards’ larger natural prey such as gazelle, forcing the big cats to switch their diet to smaller animals and livestock, including goats and sheep.

While releasing a predator into the wild may seem counterintuitive to protecting wildlife, Tatwany said that every organism, wherever it featured in the food chain, served a vital role in a balanced ecosystem.

“Predators come at the top of the pyramid. The health of the ecosystem is also evaluated through predators, because with the disappearance of predators, imbalance occurs and many things change, either with the increase of fungi, for example, or the growth of other alternative species that lead to environmental imbalance,” he added.

Beyond their importance as part of a healthy and balanced ecosystem, the distinctive creatures also hold immense cultural significance. Browne said that saving them from extinction was a key test of humanity’s stewardship of the natural world.

“It has been mentioned in stories, poems, and works of art for thousands of years. If humans are losing an iconic species like the leopard or aren’t working toward protecting it, then why should they worry about mice, slugs, or scorpions?

“If people did not worry about leopards, if they are prepared to lose them, then they are prepared to lose the ecosystem,” Browne added.

 

Rewilding Arabia
Return of the leopard is at the heart of plans to conserve and regenerate Saudi Arabia’s landscapes and wildlife

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Saudi authorities highlight tourism commitments during UN Sustainability Week in New York

Saudi authorities highlight tourism commitments during UN Sustainability Week in New York
Updated 12 sec ago
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Saudi authorities highlight tourism commitments during UN Sustainability Week in New York

Saudi authorities highlight tourism commitments during UN Sustainability Week in New York
  • Tourism minister says he hopes Kingdom can help lead transformation of sector into an environmentally friendly industry that supports communities and countries

NEW YORK: The Saudi tourism minister on Tuesday reiterated the Kingdom’s commitment to sustainable development of the travel sector.

Ahmed Al-Khateeb said that under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has become one of the most promising and attractive global travel destinations.

He was speaking at the start of an event at the UN headquarters in New York that aims to encourage a concerted approach to enhance the resilience of the sector at the highest level and maximize its contribution to sustainability.

The event, which takes place during UN Sustainability Week, was convened by the president of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis, in cooperation with UN Tourism.

Al-Khateed highlighted the efforts the Kingdom is making to address the environmental impacts of the travel and tourism sector, and noted that those efforts had contributed to the establishment, with Saudi Support, of the World Travel and Tourism Council and the World Center for Sustainable Tourism.

During the past two years, Saudi Arabia has sought, in its role as chair of the executive council of UN Tourism, to enhance the representation of the travel and tourism sector in international forums, Al-Khateeb said.

This has resulted in UN Tourism and the Kingdom cooperating on a package of initiatives to help achieve this goal, including a Best Tourism Villages award, a Tourism Opens Minds initiative, and a working group to reimagine the future of tourism, Al-Khateeb added. He also noted his country’s efforts to ensure the tourism sector was properly represented on the agenda for UN Sustainability Week. 

Saudi Arabia topped the UN World Tourism list in 2023 in terms of growth among major tourism destinations in the number of international visitors. It also topped the list of G20 nations in terms of the number of international tourists, welcoming more than 27 million last year, Al-Khateeb said. He added that authorities in the Kingdom are developing plans and strategies to attract more than 70 million international tourists a year by 2030.

By then, he said, the Kingdom aims to have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than 278 million tonnes annually, designated 30 percent of land and marine territory as protected areas, and planted more than 600 million trees.

“The Kingdom has taken significant steps to launch the Sustainable Tourism Global Center, with the aim of accelerating the travel and tourism sector’s transition to climate neutrality, protecting nature and empowering communities around the world,” Al-Khateeb said.

He also highlighted major Saudi projects such as the NEOM smart city development and the Red Sea tourism project that aim to ensure they have positive effects on the climate, environment and local communities.

He also expressed the Kingdom’s aspiration for all countries to make concerted efforts, and be open to cooperation, to achieve the goal of sustainable development in the global travel and tourism sector.

Al-Khateeb said that through this important UN event, he hopes the Kingdom can spread a message to the world about the need to preserve the environment, and can help lead and support the transformation of tourism into an environmentally friendly industry that supports communities and countries worldwide.

UN Sustainability Week began on Monday at the UN headquarters in New York and continues until Friday.


Saudi crown prince discusses military escalation in the region with UAE president, Qatar emir

Saudi crown prince discusses military escalation in the region with UAE president, Qatar emir
Updated 3 min 24 sec ago
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Saudi crown prince discusses military escalation in the region with UAE president, Qatar emir

Saudi crown prince discusses military escalation in the region with UAE president, Qatar emir

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received two separate calls from UAE president Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Qatar’s emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Saudi Press Agency said early Wednesday.

The calls discussed the recent military escalation in the region and its repercussions on safety and security, in addition to the latest developments in Gaza.

They also underscored the importance of exerting efforts to prevent the situation from worsening and to spare the region the dangers of this escalation, the SPA added.


Saudi Arabia highlights its environmental and sustainability efforts at Our Ocean Conference

Saudi Arabia highlights its environmental and sustainability efforts at Our Ocean Conference
Updated 40 min 15 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia highlights its environmental and sustainability efforts at Our Ocean Conference

Saudi Arabia highlights its environmental and sustainability efforts at Our Ocean Conference
  • The Saudi delegation at the two-day event is led by the CEO of the National Center for Wildlife, Mohammed Qurban
  • During 8 previous events since the conference was launched in 2014, participants announced 2,160 commitments worth $130 billion

RIYADH: Saudi authorities showcased their programs and plans for environmental protection and sustainability initiatives on Tuesday, during the first day of the 9th Our Ocean Conference in Athens.

Delegates at this year’s event, the theme for which is “Our Ocean: An Ocean of Potential,” include representatives of governments and businesses, as well as activists and experts on marine environments, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

They are discussing topics such as protected marine areas, sustainable blue economies, maritime security, the relationship between oceans and climate change, sustainable fishing, and ways to combat marine pollution. Other issues to be addressed during the conference include sustainable tourism in coastal areas and on islands, ways to reduce plastic and microplastic pollution in marine environments, green shipping, and the green transition in the Mediterranean.

The Saudi delegation at the two-day event is led by the CEO of the National Center for Wildlife, Mohammed Qurban. The initiatives in the Kingdom highlighted at the conference revolve around ways to protect oceans and other water resources, and the sustainable utilization of marine resources.

“Our participation in the work of this global conference reflects the Kingdom’s keenness to support the efforts and endeavors aimed at achieving Sustainable Development Goals, protecting the seas, oceans and water resources, and the sustainable use of marine resources in a way that reflects the trends of the Kingdom and (its) Vision 2030 (development plan) to support environmental protection efforts,” said Qurban.

He highlighted several key national projects that are underway, including the Saudi Green Initiative, which aims to expand protected areas of the Kingdom to encompass 30 percent of its total land and sea territory, and plant 100 million mangrove trees by 2030.

“The Kingdom remains resolute in its mission to safeguard nature and its invaluable ecological treasures, with a special emphasis on the Red Sea region,” Qurban said. “We stand ready to deploy all necessary resources and efforts toward sustainable conservation endeavors.”

Participation in forums such as the Our Ocean Conference encourages the invaluable sharing of knowledge, a cross-pollination of ideas, and collaborations in the creation of innovative ways to tackle environmental challenges and promote sustainable practices, he added.

During the previous eight events since the conference was launched in 2014 by the US to fill a gap in global ocean governance at the time, participants have announced 2,160 commitments worth $130 billion, organizers said.

Other items on the agenda this year include ways in which oceans will meet the needs of future generations, ways to encourage governments, businesses and other organizations to adopt long-term commitments that have positive effects on oceans, and efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals relating to oceans, seas and marine resources.


Saudi Shoura Council speaker meets king of Jordan in Amman

Saudi Shoura Council Speaker Abdullah Al-Asheikh meets Jordan’s King Abdullah II. (SPA)
Saudi Shoura Council Speaker Abdullah Al-Asheikh meets Jordan’s King Abdullah II. (SPA)
Updated 43 min 37 sec ago
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Saudi Shoura Council speaker meets king of Jordan in Amman

Saudi Shoura Council Speaker Abdullah Al-Asheikh meets Jordan’s King Abdullah II. (SPA)
  • Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh also meets speaker of Jordan’s House of Representatives
  • Sides discuss greater cooperation in parliamentary affairs

RIYADH: The Speaker of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council, Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh, met Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Tuesday during an official visit to the country.

The meeting, held in the presence of Crown Prince Hussein, discussed “the historical fraternal relations between the two countries, their people and their leaders,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The sides also discussed ways to expand cooperation in various fields, especially parliamentary affairs, and the importance of maintaining their collaboration on issues of common interest.

Al-Asheikh led a delegation to Jordan following an invitation from Ahmed Safadi, speaker of the Jordanian House of Representatives.

In a separate meeting, the two speakers discussed ways to strengthen parliamentary cooperation and enhancing ties in other areas.

Al-Asheikh thanked his hosts for the warm reception and hospitality extended to his delegation.

“This visit comes within the framework of strengthening parliamentary cooperation between the two councils and keeping pace with the aspirations of the leadership of the two countries to strengthen bilateral relations and open new horizons for cooperation in a way that serves the interests of the two countries and their peoples,” he said.

Safadi noted the strong relations between the two countries and the high level of coordination between the Shoura Council and the Jordanian House of Representatives.

He also expressed his appreciation for the support Saudi Arabia had shown Jordan on various regional and international issues.


Young Saudi artist finds beauty in the ordinary

Almasoud’s painting of a man selling ramsi tomatoes, the seasonal heirloom fruits with green ‘shoulders’ found in Qatif.
Almasoud’s painting of a man selling ramsi tomatoes, the seasonal heirloom fruits with green ‘shoulders’ found in Qatif.
Updated 55 min 50 sec ago
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Young Saudi artist finds beauty in the ordinary

Almasoud’s painting of a man selling ramsi tomatoes, the seasonal heirloom fruits with green ‘shoulders’ found in Qatif.
  • Dana Almasoud’s works are inspired by historical Middle Eastern and European art aesthetics

RIYADH: When picking up a pencil or paintbrush to create an artwork, self-taught Saudi artist Dana Almasoud channels her inner child.

“As soon as a child picks up a pencil, they attempt to draw or capture a sense of what they see through their eyes on paper. The majority of them stop at some point in their childhood, for whatever reason,” Almasoud told Arab News.

Almasoud’s painting of a man selling ramsi tomatoes, the seasonal heirloom fruits with green ‘shoulders’ found in Qatif. (Supplied)

“Fortunately, I was one of the few who never did. I had the luxury of a supportive mother who always looked forward to my next scribble.”

While pursuing her undergraduate studies in finance, as a freelance artist Almasoud explores a variety of styles, from fine art to surrealism and fantasy inspired by everyday scenes.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Much of Dana Almasoud’s work is inspired by Islamic historical art, characterized by its symbolism and emphasis on the beauty of spirituality.

• One of her first works inspired by Saudi culture was a commission from a man who wanted a portrait in the orientalist style.

• The artist says her work is an attempt to fill the void that excess simplicity and minimalism has created in recent years.

“The warm morning sun, the singing of the birds, the stoplights and the people. I am surrounded by life and I do my best to pour what I see into my work. What makes us human is how we make things from nothing,” she said.

Almasoud’s painting of a man selling ramsi tomatoes, the seasonal heirloom fruits with green ‘shoulders’ found in Qatif. (Supplied)

Speaking about the “sanctuary” she has created in her room, she said: “It took me years of collecting, arranging and a lot of dedication to get it to how it is now.”

Much of Almasoud’s work is inspired by Islamic historical art, characterized by its symbolism and emphasis on the beauty of spirituality.

As a freelance artist Dana Almasoud explores a variety of styles, from fine art to surrealism and fantasy inspired by everyday scenes. (Instagram/esotericdana)

“In order for me to create things that resemble life, it only makes sense to use colors that already exist in nature,” she said.

“I take a lot of inspiration from historical art, both from Europe and the Middle East, since the pigments they used were extracted from natural sources and were perfectly saturated.”

Almasoud’s painting of a man selling ramsi tomatoes, the seasonal heirloom fruits with green ‘shoulders’ found in Qatif. (Supplied)

She enjoys experimenting with new mediums, but drawing with a pencil is her preferred choice.

“I also do enjoy the occasional challenge of an ink brush, because once it sets its bristles on paper, you cannot go back. When it comes to painting with color (watercolors, acrylics, oils), I still consider myself in the process of learning,” she said.

The warm morning sun, the singing of the birds, the stoplights and the people. I am surrounded by life and I do my best to pour what I see into my work.

Dana Almasoud, Saudi artist

“I also experiment with pyrography, doll making, embroidery, linoleum block printing and, soon, murals.”

Almasoud said one of her first works inspired by Saudi culture was a commission from a man who wanted to look like an orientalist.

Almasoud’s painting of a man selling ramsi tomatoes, the seasonal heirloom fruits with green ‘shoulders’ found in Qatif. (Supplied)

Her most recent painting is of a man selling ramsi tomatoes, the seasonal heirloom fruits with green “shoulders” that are prevalent in Qatif.

“These tomatoes are known for a special flavor and a lot of farmers from various lands tried to grow it themselves, but to no avail. For some reason, these tomatoes only taste special when they grow on that specific piece of land,” Almasoud said.

She said she had been told her work had “a layer of fog, where the edges are never harsh,” which reflects the high levels of humidity in the Eastern Province where she lives.

“I can see the Arabian Gulf from the window of my room. You can imagine the high rates of humidity, which is where I think that layer came from,” she said.

“I will always wonder how this translated into what I draw, but regardless, I do love it.”

Almasoud said her art was an attempt to fill the void that excess simplicity and minimalism has created in recent years.

“My art is an attempt to inspire people back to see the beauty in complexity and the intricacy of the small things in life.”

Speaking about the importance of art in the modern world, she said: “With the increase in the pace of the world, art has become even more important. It gives people and their minds something to hang on to, for them to not lose themselves and their identities in a busy world.”

For more information about the artist visit @esotericdana on Instagram.