Saudi Arabia Unveils $25m Plans to Rewild Critically Endangered Arabian Leopard

4 mins

The news comes as images of the big cat adorned billboards across Dubai, London and New York to mark Arabian Leopard Day

Illuminated images of the critically endangered Arabian Leopard lit up Dubai, London and New York in a move to raise awareness of the plight of the species.

The billboards and illuminated buildings marked the second annual Arabian Leopard Day (February 10) a campaign spearheaded by the Saudi Arabian Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU), which is regenerating an area of the country’s north-west.

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Billboards in London’s Piccadilly and High Street Kensington alongside the walls of the NASDAQ stock exchange in New York and were illuminated with images of the big cat.

The Arabian leopard is one of eight leopard subspecies and once lived across the Arabian Peninsula. But today it is limited to isolated pockets across the region.

The big cats have been threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, prey depletion caused by unregulated hunting, trapping for the illegal wildlife trade and retaliatory killing in defence of livestock.

It is thought there are only around 200 adults left living in natural habitats scattered across Oman and Yemen and it is not known whether any exist in the wild in Saudi Arabia.

Amr AlMadani CEO of RCU said: ‘The Arabian Leopard is a powerful symbol of our aim to conserve and safeguard AlUla’s natural environment through far-reaching conservation efforts designed to protect the natural flora and fauna of this incredible part of north-west Arabia.’

Arabian Leopard in a zoo
Only 200 Arabian Leopards are left in the wild

Galvanising Arabian Leopard Support

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ranks the Arabian Leopard as Critically Endangered in the wild. If the population continues to decline, the next stages on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are Extinct in the Wild and, lastly, Extinct. 

RCU and its conservation partners believe that by raising global awareness on Arabian Leopard Day they can build international support for actions to save the species.

RCU’s goal is to safeguard the future of the big cat through the reintroduction of the species into its native habitat. Its Leopard Breeding Centre in Taif, Saudi Arabia, has welcomed four new cubs, since April 2021. Staff say these animals, although born in captivity, are a vital step towards Arabian Leopards one day returning to the wildness of AlUla.

The naming of a cub born in 2022 as Amal – ‘hope’ in Arabic – symbolises the aim to protect the future of the species. 

baby arabian leopard looks to camera
The Leopard Breeding Centre in Taif, Saudi Arabia, has welcomed four new cubs

Emerging from Africa around 500,000 years ago, the Arabian Leopard – the smallest of the leopard family – is one of the most important species of mammal native to the Arabian Peninsula.

Its territory once ranged from the Mediterranean to the Arabian Gulf – from Mount Sinai and the Negev Desert in the north, to the Haraz, Dhofar and Al Hajar Mountains in the south. Its image has been discovered in cave art in Shuwaymis, south-east of AlUla, with the animal recognisable by its long tail, flat facial profile and stalking pose.

Dr Stephen Browne, Wildlife and Natural Heritage Executive Director at RCU, said: ‘The Arabian Leopard is a formidable symbol of our aim to conserve and safeguard AlUla’s natural environment.

‘Unfortunately, the sad reality is that the Arabian Leopard is Critically Endangered with threats to its natural habitat highlighting the pressing need to step up conservation efforts that are so vital to the species’ long-term survival. It is our ongoing commitment to mark Arabian Leopard Day and engage with activities to raise awareness of, and help to protect, these magnificent big cats.’

To prepare for the return of Arabian Leopards to the wild, RCU has released around 1,500 native species of animals into nature reserves, including the Arabian oryx, Arabian and sand gazelles, and Nubian ibex, These herbivores will help to increase the reserves biodiversity – as well as become the big cat’s natural prey.

Newsletter signup