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.

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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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King Salman issues royal order to change name of Saudi housing ministry

King Salman issues royal order to change name of Saudi housing ministry
Updated 21 July 2024
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King Salman issues royal order to change name of Saudi housing ministry

King Salman issues royal order to change name of Saudi housing ministry
  • Bid to enhance overall performance of the ministry, affiliated bodies

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued an order on Sunday to change the name of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and Housing to the Ministry of Municipalities and Housing, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Saudi Housing Minister Majid Al-Hogail expressed his gratitude to King Salman, and stressed that the name change was a progressive step reflecting the nation’s commitment to fostering an advanced urban environment in alignment with Vision 2030 objectives.

The change aims to enhance the overall performance of the ministry and its affiliated bodies, including secretariats and municipalities, to achieve sustainable urban development plans, the SPA added.

It also seeks to empower municipalities to improve the quality of life in cities and advance the housing sector by offering innovative services to beneficiaries.

Al-Hogail highlighted that the municipalities and housing sector were crucial components of the state, directly impacting the lives of citizens.
 


56th International Chemistry Olympiad begins in Riyadh

56th International Chemistry Olympiad begins in Riyadh
Updated 21 July 2024
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56th International Chemistry Olympiad begins in Riyadh

56th International Chemistry Olympiad begins in Riyadh
  • Some 333 students from 90 countries to attend

RIYADH: The 56th edition of the International Chemistry Olympiad got underway in Riyadh on Sunday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The annual event is renowned as one of the largest international chemistry competitions for students in general education.

The IChO 2024 will bring together 333 students from 90 countries, who will be judged by 260 chemistry experts.

The event has been organized by King Abdulaziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, known as Mawhiba, in strategic partnership with the Ministry of Education, and King Saud University. Saudi Basic Industries Corporation is the exclusive sponsor.

Competitors will challenge for 35 gold medals, 70 silvers and 110 bronzes, along with 10 honorary certificates. The final results will be announced on July 28.

Established in Prague in 1968, the event is hosted by a different country each year.

Saudi Arabia first attended as an observer in 2004 and 2005, and subsequently entered students in 2006 and 2007.

After observing again from 2008 to 2010, the Kingdom has been actively participating with students from 2011 to the present day.
 


Variety is the spice of life as Saudi Arabia ushers in dining renaissance

Variety is the spice of life as Saudi Arabia ushers in dining renaissance
Updated 21 July 2024
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Variety is the spice of life as Saudi Arabia ushers in dining renaissance

Variety is the spice of life as Saudi Arabia ushers in dining renaissance
  • Local eateries are nurturing a sense of community, providing valuable job opportunities to Saudis

RIYADH: In the bustling heart of Saudi Arabia, a culinary revolution is unfolding. Restaurant entrepreneurs are launching new coffee shops and fast-food restaurants that are redefining the dining landscape by offering high-quality food and drinks at accessible prices. The cherry on top? They’re hiring local talent, bolstering both the community and the economy.

Imagine walking into a newly opened coffee shop or fast-food joint with modest expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised by the taste and quality of your order. This is the new norm sweeping across the nation. These establishments are quickly earning reputations for delivering great food and drinks without the hefty price tags.

As more restaurant entrepreneurs enter the market, the competition is driving everyone to elevate their game. (Instagram/sawada.ksa)

“Honestly, I always look for a fair price when it comes to my coffee, and this place fits the bill perfectly,” frequent customer Khalil Al-Azwari told Arab News. “This coffee shop is one of my favorites, and they serve the best V60 for only SR10 ($2.67). It’s great value for money.”

A cornerstone of this transformation is the focus on employing local workers. By prioritizing job opportunities for Saudis over expats, these businesses are not only boosting the economy but also fostering a stronger sense of community.

Establishing a new business requires a deep and thorough study of market needs, sound management, and dedication to the business.

Talat Hafiz, Financial analyst

“Working here has been an amazing experience,” said Ahmed Saleh, a barista at a prominent coffee shop in Riyadh. “I get to work with top-notch ingredients and learn new skills. Plus, it’s great to see familiar faces enjoying the coffee and food we prepare.”

The allure of these new dining spots extends beyond just offering great food and drinks. By prioritizing local hires, these businesses are nurturing a sense of community and providing valuable job opportunities. This approach represents a refreshing change in a country where the service industry has traditionally been dominated by foreign workers.

As more restaurant entrepreneurs enter the market, the competition is driving everyone to elevate their game. (Instagram/sawada.ksa)

Local customers are equally thrilled with the shift. “I love that these new places are hiring people from our own cities,” said Bashayer Mohammed, a regular patron. “It makes the experience feel more personal and connected to our community.”

However, not everyone is embracing this wave of new dining options. Some local business owners are feeling the heat as these large restaurant entrepreneurs gain popularity. Many local establishments, which often have higher prices, are struggling to compete.

“It’s tough,” said Saad, who used to own a coffee shop in Alkhobar. “We can’t match the prices of these big traders, and people are noticing. We’re losing customers, and it’s affecting our livelihood."

Saad opened his coffee shop in October 2021 with high hopes for success. “In the first month, the numbers were doing great,” he recalled. However, as the months went by, business began to decline steadily. Despite his efforts to adapt, the situation worsened. “It was surprising because it got way worse each month,” Saad said.

Determined to save his business, Saad tried everything. “We changed the menu, collaborated with coupon companies, and partnered with delivery apps. We even invested in advertising,” he explained. Despite trying every strategy he could think of, nothing seemed to work. “None of it made a difference,” he admitted.

On top of these challenges, Saad faced unexpected financial burdens. “The rent was much higher than I expected, and I didn’t fully account for staff salaries and insurance,” he said. These expenses quickly added up, straining his finances.

The increase in costs has led most merchants to reduce expenses, cut salaries, and lay off employees. “This is a sign of failure,” Saad added. “Successful merchants invest in the human element and intellect to create and innovate solutions for survival. The general public has a consumer mentality, not a problem-solving one.”

Desperate, Saad even tried to sell the coffee shop to investors. “It just didn’t work,” he said. Ultimately, the mounting losses forced him to close the coffee shop in 2023. “It was a huge loss for me,” Saad reflected.

As more restaurant entrepreneurs enter the market, the competition is driving everyone to elevate their game. Local businesses are starting to take notice and are striving to match the quality and affordability that these new players offer, although it remains a challenging transition.

In an interview with Arab News, financial analyst Talat Hafiz emphasized the crucial role that small and medium enterprises play in the Saudi economy: “SMEs in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere around the world are the backbone of the economy and business activities.”

Recognizing this, the Saudi government has been proactive in fostering the growth of these enterprises. It has made significant efforts to facilitate the growth of SMEs and enhance their contribution to the Kingdom’s non-oil gross domestic product from 20 percent to 35 percent by 2030, Hafiz added.

The establishment of the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises, also known as Monshaat, in 2016 is a testament to these efforts. “Monshaat was created to regulate, support, and develop the SME sector in the Kingdom,” Hafiz said.

Additionally, the Loan Guarantee Program, established in 2006, aims to overcome financing obstacles for economically viable SMEs lacking the necessary guarantees. Despite these avenues of support, many SMEs still face significant challenges. “There are still some companies that fail to continue their businesses successfully and close their doors within the first year or by the third year of operation,” he said.

Hafiz has identified several reasons behind these failures. “Most complaints from SME owners are due to various fees imposed by the government, especially violation fees,” he said. However, he believes that the primary reasons for failure lie elsewhere.

“The main reasons behind the failure of SMEs, especially startups, include a lack of careful consideration of market needs and different consumer preferences, lack of management experience, technical and professional expertise, and the imitation of adding value to the market,” Hafiz added.  

He also highlighted the importance of management dedication and sufficient financial resources. “Establishing a new business requires a deep and thorough study of market needs, sound management, and dedication to the business. It also requires specific talents that allow the company to respond quickly and effectively to market and economic changes,” he noted.

While the Saudi government has regulated fines to be more transparent, fair, and progressive, Hafiz stresses that the focus should not be limited to government fees. “The focus on business failures should also address the main and real causes of businesses’ failure. The government fines are transparent and progressive, and it is also not permissible to impose them the first time, as there is a warning that precedes the violation.”

 


Hail’s ancient crafts breathe new life into Saudi cultural festival

Hail’s ancient crafts breathe new life into Saudi cultural festival
Updated 21 July 2024
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Hail’s ancient crafts breathe new life into Saudi cultural festival

Hail’s ancient crafts breathe new life into Saudi cultural festival
  • Abdullah Al-Khazzam highlighted the distinctive features of the Najdi door, which typically incorporates three crossbars, in contrast with the traditional Hail door’s four-crossbar design

RIYADH: The third Beit Hail heritage festival, themed “Your Home Away from Home,” is a vibrant display of Saudi Arabia’s rich cultural heritage, with traditional craftsmanship taking center stage.

At the heart of the festival is the “Hail Wooden Door Making and Plaster Engraving” exhibit, which has drawn crowds to the Aja Park Entertainment Center where the techniques and tools used in crafting intricate designs are on show.

Abdullah Al-Khazzam’s specialty lies in crafting the distinctive old Hail house door, traditionally made from tamarisk wood and other local timber varieties. (SPA)

Abdullah Al-Khazzam, a Hail native and registered artisan with the Saudi National Handicrafts Program “Bari,” began his journey into the world of intricate woodworking with a childhood fascination for mud construction, which evolved into a passionate pursuit of mastering the art of wooden door-making and engraving, Saudi Press Agency recently reported.

At the festival, Al-Khazzam showed his expertise, demonstrating the nuanced differences between regional door styles. His specialty lies in crafting the distinctive old Hail house door, traditionally made from tamarisk wood and other local timber varieties.

Abdullah Al-Khazzam’s specialty lies in crafting the distinctive old Hail house door, traditionally made from tamarisk wood and other local timber varieties. (SPA)

He highlighted the distinctive features of the Najdi door, which typically incorporates three crossbars, in contrast with the traditional Hail door’s four-crossbar design.

Festivalgoers seemed captivated by Al-Khazzam’s craftsmanship, marveling at the intricacy of his work, SPA reported.

Abdullah Al-Khazzam’s specialty lies in crafting the distinctive old Hail house door, traditionally made from tamarisk wood and other local timber varieties. (SPA)

Beyond door-making, the booth displays a range of related crafts. Islamic plaster engravings, integral to Najdi architecture, adorn mock-ups of building entrances and the majlis (reception rooms).

Visitors were drawn to the elaborate engravings, patterns and motifs that offer a glimpse into the social fabric of bygone eras. The festival has reported a surge in demand for these traditional designs, with many visitors expressing interest in buying replica doors and decorative pieces for their homes.

Al-Khazzam’s repertoire extends to other traditional items, such as replicas of historical water-raising devices, an ornate camel saddle that was once a common sight in the region, and recreations of the decorative elements that once adorned traditional mud houses.

Some of these designs incorporate Qur’anic verses, proverbs, and ornamental patterns while others incorporate motifs based on local flora.

 

 


Attempt to smuggle 160 kg of qat thwarted in Jazan

Saudi authorities have arrested individuals carrying illegal drugs in Jazan. (SPA)
Saudi authorities have arrested individuals carrying illegal drugs in Jazan. (SPA)
Updated 21 July 2024
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Attempt to smuggle 160 kg of qat thwarted in Jazan

Saudi authorities have arrested individuals carrying illegal drugs in Jazan. (SPA)
  • Three expatriates have been accused of fraud involving expired food products from unknown sources

JAZAN: Eight Yemeni nationals were arrested by Border Guard patrols in Al-Dair, Jazan for attempting to smuggle 160 kg of qat into the Kingdom.

The suspects, who were apprehended for violating border security regulations, have been processed according to initial legal procedures. Both the alleged smugglers and the seized substances have been handed over to the appropriate authorities for further investigation.

Separately, three expatriates have been accused of fraud involving expired food products from unknown sources. The investigation revealed that the suspects stored over 55 tonnes of expired chicken meat from unknown sources, changed their packaging, and placed false commercial data on them, providing inaccurate expiration dates and places of production.

The suspects have been arrested and referred to the criminal court to demand the penalties prescribed against them under the anti-commercial fraud and commercial data regulations.