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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GCC, Uzbek officials meet ahead of ministerial meeting

GCC head, Jasem Albudaiwi, is pictured with Uzbekistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bakhtiyor Saidov in the capital Tashkent.
GCC head, Jasem Albudaiwi, is pictured with Uzbekistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bakhtiyor Saidov in the capital Tashkent.
Updated 14 April 2024
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GCC, Uzbek officials meet ahead of ministerial meeting

GCC head, Jasem Albudaiwi, is pictured with Uzbekistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bakhtiyor Saidov in the capital Tashkent.
  • Officials discussed preparations for the second ministerial meeting of the Strategic Dialogue between the GCC and Central Asian countries

RIYADH: The secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jasem Albudaiwi, met Uzbekistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Bakhtiyor Saidov in the capital Tashkent on Sunday.

During the meeting, they discussed preparations for the second ministerial meeting of the Strategic Dialogue between the GCC and Central Asian countries.

The meeting, scheduled to be held on April 15 in Tashkent, will gather ministers of foreign affairs from the GCC and Central Asian countries.

Albudaiwi said GCC countries attach great importance to their relations with Central Asian nations, stressing that holding the joint ministerial meeting less than a year since their first summit is a testament to these countries’ keenness to advance relations at all levels and in all fields.

According to Albudaiwi, discussions are expected to focus on political coordination and collaboration in investment and economy, mainly digital economy, and green energy security and use.


Saudi officials attend meeting of auditors in Tanzania

The meeting was attended by Dr. Hussam bin Abdulmohsen Al-Anqari, the president of the General Auditing Bureau.
The meeting was attended by Dr. Hussam bin Abdulmohsen Al-Anqari, the president of the General Auditing Bureau.
Updated 14 April 2024
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Saudi officials attend meeting of auditors in Tanzania

The meeting was attended by Dr. Hussam bin Abdulmohsen Al-Anqari, the president of the General Auditing Bureau.
  • IIA is looking forward to expanding its work in developing professional standards and raising awareness of the roles of the internal audit profession

RIYADH: The board of directors at the Institute of Internal Auditors has convened its second meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

It was attended by Dr. Hussam bin Abdulmohsen Al-Anqari, the president of the General Auditing Bureau and chairman of the board of directors at the Saudi Institute of Internal Auditors, and other members of the board at the IIA.

The meeting looked at the notable activities of the current year and discussed agenda items. Several recommendations and decisions were made.

The body is looking forward to expanding its work in developing professional standards and raising awareness of the roles of the internal audit profession.

It aims to keep up with the world’s technical and professional advances, and progress the development of the profession and its practitioners.

It also bids to develop future strategies that will lead the field toward broader horizons in line with ongoing technological developments.

The IIA has served as the world’s premier professional reference for all aspects of the internal audit profession since its establishment in 1941.

Headquartered in Florida, the organization is tasked with providing comprehensive educational and professional development opportunities; establishing professional practice standards and guidelines; administering certification programs; conducting research; and disseminating and enhancing knowledge related to internal audit and its appropriate role in oversight, risk management, and governance for practitioners and stakeholders.


Pakistan PM receives MWL chief in Islamabad

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif receives Muslim World League chief Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa in Islamabad.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif receives Muslim World League chief Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa in Islamabad.
Updated 14 April 2024
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Pakistan PM receives MWL chief in Islamabad

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif receives Muslim World League chief Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa in Islamabad.
  • Pakistan attaches utmost importance to its strong relations with the Kingdom which are rooted in common faith and values, Sharif said
  • MWL chief also held talks with Qazi Faez Isa, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan

RIYADH: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif received Muslim World League chief Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa in Islamabad, Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

Sharif commended the MWL’s “global efforts in unifying the words of scholars, clarifying the true message of Islam, and confronting Islamophobia,” the organization said.

The two officials discussed topics of common interest and Islamic-related work.

Pakistan attaches utmost importance to its strong relations with the Kingdom which are rooted in common faith and values, Sharif said.

He praised the league’s efforts to clarify the reality of Islam and confront Islamophobia, and stressed his country’s continued support for its efforts inside and outside Pakistan.

In a separate meeting during an official visit to Pakistan, the MWL chief also held talks with Qazi Faez Isa, chief justice of the Supreme Court. The two discussed several issues related to general constitutional principles and their subordinate legislation.


Swiss music to be highlighted at Riyadh concert

Swiss artists Marc Aymon and Milla Besson. (Supplied)
Swiss artists Marc Aymon and Milla Besson. (Supplied)
Updated 14 April 2024
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Swiss music to be highlighted at Riyadh concert

Swiss artists Marc Aymon and Milla Besson. (Supplied)
  • Marc Aymon and Milla Besson performing at event

RIYADH: The Swiss Embassy in Riyadh — in cooperation with the French Embassy and Alliance Francaise — is hosting a music concert on April 18 at the Cultural Palace in Riyadh’s Diplomatic Quarter. It aims to showcase French-language Swiss music through performances by Swiss artists Marc Aymon and Milla Besson.

Born in 1982 in Sion, Switzerland, Aymon has released four albums and his music has reached audiences across South America, Iran, the US, Africa, and the French-speaking world. Aymon has performed at various concerts and festivals, including the Paleo Festival in Nyon in 2006 and 2013.

Aymon and Besson recently gave an exclusive French-language interview to Arab News in which they told of their love of Swiss culture.

Aymon said: “It (Swiss culture) represents the authenticity of nature, elegance, precision, and quality.

“Swiss culture is inspiring just about everywhere. It’s a wonderful country to leave and return to. I believe in movement. I like to be a Swiss artist who arrives on time, who is very precise and fussy, but who doesn’t hesitate to change all the plans and go through the window when all the doors remain closed.”

His passion for music has been recognized on European and global stages. He added: “It’s a passion for memory, for archives, for the emotions we all share.

“I fell in love with an old song from 1890 and thought it was beautiful before I knew it was part of Switzerland's heritage.”

Aymon will be performing for the first time in Saudi Arabia with Besson.

He added: “We’re going to be playing in a magnificent auditorium, a very large room equipped with a great sound system.

“I’m looking forward to unplugging my guitar, in total acoustic mode, (and) asking people to stop filming us with their phones to experience a moment of disarming simplicity.”

Besson, who was born in 2000, is a Swiss singer-songwriter who has been collaborating and composing with singers Aymon and Jeremie Kisling, and the duo Aliose, since 2019.

She said: “We all have important encounters that shape our lives. Marc Aymon was the first person to take my music seriously, to see in me what I didn’t dare to see, and to offer me my first stages and studio experiences. He helped me to make my mark, to become solid and free artistically.

“This is my first time in Saudi Arabia and Riyadh. Like any first time there’s a certain mystery and excitement about it. I'm looking forward to discovering this new country, its people, and its culture.”

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. on April 18 and free tickets can be obtained from https://dqa-et.e-ticket.app/events/9bac8509-623a-4696-b0ee-e1f988982f2a.


UNICEF hails KSrelief’s role in advancing education in Yemen

UNICEF hails KSrelief’s role in advancing education in Yemen
Updated 14 April 2024
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UNICEF hails KSrelief’s role in advancing education in Yemen

UNICEF hails KSrelief’s role in advancing education in Yemen
  • Over 800,000 children thriving through Saudi educational support, reports UN fund

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia, through its aid agency KSrelief, has allocated $6.2 million to support approximately 827,000 children in Yemen, ensuring their access to quality education opportunities. This initiative was undertaken in collaboration with the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.

UNICEF recently noted that the funding provided by KSrelief has facilitated access to public and private education for girls and boys from vulnerable groups, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Peter Hawkins, the fund’s representative to Yemen, said: “One in every four primary school-aged children in Yemen is currently out of school. Moreover, educational outcomes for those able to attend do not align with their age.

“Thanks to contributions from partners such as KSrelief, UNICEF continues to address the educational needs of vulnerable girls and boys in Yemen.”

The funding enabled over 527,000 children to participate in national final exams for the 2022-2023 academic year.

Additionally, 300,000 male and female students received school bags and recreational supplies, aimed at motivating them to return to school while alleviating the financial burden on their families.

Moreover, the Kingdom’s support through KSrelief has enhanced teaching and learning practices in classrooms by training 7,520 male and female teachers across 17 governorates.

Additionally, hygiene supplies were distributed to 71,956 children and 120 schools.

KSrelief’s assistance also facilitated UNICEF’s outreach to nearly 4.9 million individuals, including caregivers, through the implementation of five awareness campaigns. Outreach activities reached approximately 26,000 community leaders and officials, as well as 2,500 families.

KSrelief remains a steadfast partner of UNICEF, providing continuous funding for life-saving interventions that enable UNICEF to address the most critical needs of vulnerable children in Yemen, SPA stated.

Meanwhile, in Yemen’s Hajjah governorate, KSrelief’s mobile medical clinic rendered essential medical services to 2,072 beneficiaries in one month. The clinic’s diverse services included treating patients for epidemiological diseases, providing emergency care, and offering internal medicine and reproductive health services.

In the Saada governorate of Yemen, KSrelief’s ongoing projects aim to address the primary healthcare and water needs of displaced individuals in the Razih district. In one month, medical clinics operating under this initiative treated patients for various ailments, including epidemic diseases, emergencies, internal medicine issues, and reproductive health concerns.

The project also provided nursing services, surgical assistance, and medical referrals, alongside conducting waste disposal programs and supplying potable water to the district.