The rapid disappearance of the Arabian Leopard, along with so much of its main prey, from large areas of their former range in the Arabian Peninsula represents a major setback for conservation of biodiversity in the region.
Full details of former status and abundance are lacking, but it can be supposed that distribution once extended over all the mountainous parts of the Arabian Peninsula. As the reports from each range state included here indicate, the current situation is critical. In the worst case, only three populations widely scattered across the Peninsula now survive. The actual situation may be slightly more favourable, with other remnant populations surviving in remote areas, but these must be small and fragmented and their long-term viability uncertain.
The Arabian leopard formed a major item on the agenda of the first Conservation Workshop for the Fauna of Arabia held at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah in 2000 and it has continued to feature regularly at the annual meetings held since then.
Over the last few years, it has been very encouraging to witness the development of a successful captive breeding programme based here in Sharjah and with the cooperation of other facilities from around the region. The offspring produced by the programme serve as a safeguard against the total extinction of the Arabian leopard and potentially provide stock for releases at some point in the future.
The challenge facing all of us now is to translate this success to the leopard population in the wild. Compilation of this report is an important initial step in this process by bringing together all that is currently known and highlighting the many important gaps in knowledge that remain to be filled.
The task now is to formulate and, crucially, to enact, measures that will enable fi rst the survival, and then the recovery of the Arabian leopard. The projected range-wide Conservation Strategy and Action Plan for the Arabian leopard will achieve the fi rst part of this task. It will then become the responsibility of governments to ensure that resources are applied to realise the recommended actions so that the nimr can reclaim its place as the top predator through the mountains of the Arabian Peninsula.
His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al Qassimi
Ruler of Sharjah and Member of the Supreme Council
The Leopard in the Arabian Peninsula - Distribution and Subspecies Status by J. A. Spalton and H. M. Al Hikmani
Historically it was considered that there were four subspecies of leopards in the Arabian region. Today P. p.jarvisi no longer occurs and the ranges of P. p. tulliana and P. p. saxicolor have severely contracted north. Only P. p. nimr, the Arabian leopard, remains. Morphological data suggests nimr to be the smallest of the leopards and a distinct subspecies but this has yet to be conclusively confi rmed by genetic evidence. Recent records give a bleak picture of the status of P. p. nimr. A few individuals survive in the Judean Desert and Negev Highlands while in the Arabian Peninsula leopards are known from just one location in the Republic of Yemen and one in the Sultanate of Oman. In Yemen the leopards of the Al Wada’a area are under great pressure from killing and from capture for trade. In Oman the situation is much more hopeful and the leopards of the Dhofar Mountains have benefi ted from comprehensive conservation measures. While the possibility, however remote, of the existence of other relict populations cannot be ruled out the need for urgent conservation action across the region is obvious given the reality that the Arabian leopard may soon be reduced to two, or even just one population in the wild.
The Leopard in Jordan by M. Qarqaz and M. A. Baker
Leopards have been reported from several localities in Jordan. The last confi rmed report dates from 1987. There have been occasional unconfi rmed reports since. Recent field surveys have failed to fi nd signs of leopard presence.
Status of the Arabian Leopard in Saudi Arabia by J. Judas, P. Paillat, A. Khoja and A. Boug
The historic range of the Arabian Leopard presumably extended over a large part of Saudi Arabia. Analysis of the scarce historic and recent records suggests that the range has decreased by 90 % since the beginning of the 19th century, with an annual rate of range loss close to 10 % in the last 15 years. During the period 1998-2003, 19 reports were recorded, of which only 4 can be confi rmed, distributed in 2 main areas. 1) the escarpment of the Asir Mountains between Al Baha and Abbah (600-2400 m), where high prey density may still be found near permanent water fl ows, and 2) the drier Hijaz Mountains north of Madinah (< 2000 m), where potential prey density is low. Considering home range sizes and densities calculated for other leopard populations in different ecological contexts, the potential population was estimated at 60-425 individuals in a range of 4000-19,635 km2. Population viability analysis projected a mean time for fi rst extinction of 11.3 years from 1998. The decline is mainly attributed to habitat fragmentation and degradation and direct persecution. The increase in over-grazing, and encroachment into once remote areas by road construction since the 1970s have induced important biodiversity loss affecting the whole food chain. Prey availability has decreased throughout leopard range, which has presumably led the leopard to alter its diet towards livestock and other domestic animals. This increases the unpopularity of the species, and persecution by local people. The leopard is offi cially protected in Saudi Arabia; however, despite the high proportion of land protection (4.1 % of the country), there is an obvious lack of protected areas that encompass the leopard’s remaining range. Recommendations stress the need for extensive surveys to update current status and distribution of the Leopard, and to develop ex situ and in situ conservation programs.
Status Report on Arabian Leopard in Yemen by M. Al Jumaily, D. P. Mallon, A. K. Nasher and N. Thowabeh
The assumption that the historical range of the leopard in Yemen formerly extended through all or most of the mountainous areas of the country seems to be reasonable. Since 1990 reports on the occurrence and distribution of the Arabian leopard in Yemen are generalized, and all post 1990 records can be grouped in five broad clusters. 1. The northern part of the western highlands (Wada’a, Saada to the Saudi border and Kufl Shammar in Hajja. 2. The central part of the western highlands (Al Hayma, Jebel Bura’a and Jebel Raymah. 3. South western region (Radfan to Al Koor and possibly extending west to Taizz). 4. Central Yemen (Wadi Hajar, possibly with Wadi Hadhramaut). 5. Al Mahra region in the East. Due to lack of suffi cient information on various aspects of the leopard’s life in Yemen, extensive fi eld work is urgently needed to assess the status of this animal. Since the animal is facing great threat, strict protection measures are urgently needed. Major threats to leopards include 1. depletion of their prey, 2. direct persecution through killing, 3. habitat degradation. Immediate action to control these threats are needed, priorities are:1. Establish the current status of the leopard and its prey. 2. Provide effective protection for the Arabian leopard and its prey. 3. Take immediate protection measures once surveying sub-populations are identifi ed. 4. Set up an Arabian Leopard Working Group to develop a conservation strategy. 5. Develop a good captive breeding programme. 6. Initiate long term education and public awareness. 7. Strongly discourage further live capture and hunting.
Status Report For the Arabian Leopard in the Sultanate of Oman by A. J. Spalton, H. M. Al Hikmani, M. H. Jahdhami, A. A. A. Ibrahim, A. S. Bait Said and D. Willis
Once widespread in the mountains of Oman the Arabian leopard disappeared from the Hajar range in 1976 and has not been recorded in the Musandam Governorate since 1997. However, it continues to survive through much of the Dhofar Mountains. The fi rst signifi cant step to conserve the Arabian leopard was taken in 1985 when the region’s fi rst captive breeding group was established. Further important steps were taken in 1997 when Jabal Samhan, a part of the Dhofar Mountains, was declared a Nature Reserve. In the same year the Arabian Leopard Survey was launched and since that time fi eld surveys, camera-trapping and tracking of leopards fi tted with GPS satellite collars has not only revealed vital information on the ecology of this species but has helped to keep this fl agship species in the public eye. While new work, from ecotourism initiatives to molecular scatology, is underway further bold steps need to be taken if we are to conserve Oman’s and perhaps the regions’ last wild Arabian leopard population. Undoubtedly the most important of these is to urgently safeguard the leopards and associated biodiversity of Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve with innovative measures that bring real benefi ts to the local people.
Status of the Arabian Leopard in the United Arab Emirates by J.-A. Edmonds, K. J. Budd, A. al Midfa and Ch. Gross
Experts estimate the wild population of Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) in the Northern Emirates and Musandam Peninsula to be as low as 5–10; however, the UAE does not have the area capacity to carry a population larger than 10-20 animals. In recent historic times, the caracal is thought to have become an apex predator in areas not used by the Arabian leopard. Its predominance in many wadis may therefore serve as an indicator for declined/extinct leopard populations. Very little is known about the primary and marginal habitats of the Arabian leopard in the UAE, assessment is based on scattered reports and knowledge of leopards from other regions. It is thought that the UAE provides a corridor for leopards moving between the Musandam Peninsula and the Al Hajar Mountains of Oman, although the leopard may be extinct from the Al Hajar Mountains. Accurate data regarding the distribution, ecology and behaviour of the Arabian leopard will enable suitable protected areas to be planned and proposed.
History of the Arabian Leopard Captive Breeding Program by J.-A. Edmonds, K. J. Budd, P. Vercammen and A. al Midfa
The Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) is highly endangered and captive breeding has therefore become an essential component of conservation for this species. The Captive Breeding Program has been operating in its present form since 1999 although the fi rst Arabian leopards registered in the studbook were caught in 1985. During the 1990’s additional institutions within the range states began to acquire leopards and the need for a coordinated breeding program became a priority. The Regional Studbook was fi rst published in its present form in 1999 and has been followed by several Conservation Assessment and Management workshops through which improved regional cooperation has been initiated. A large proportion of the captive population is wild caught, however, only half of these have produced offspring in captivity. To maximise genetic diversity in the captive population, it is essential that the unrepresented founder animals contribute to the breeding program.
A Framework For the Conservation of the Arabian Leopard by U. Breitenmoser, D. P. Mallon and Ch. Breitenmoser-Würsten
A Framework for the Conservation of the Arabian Leopard. The Arabian leopard is Critically Endangered according to IUCN Red List criteria. To secure its survival, a strong partnership between the range countries, but also between governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations, and scientists is needed. Steps in the strategic planning for the conservation of the Arabian leopard include (1) compilation of baseline information (status reports), (2) defi nition of common goals and activities at the range level (conservation strategy), and (3) the defi nition of tasks and actions for each range country (action plans). The Status Reports published in this issue form the basis for the development of a range-wide Conservation Strategy. The Strategy should be developed in a participative process using a logistic framework approach, with all relevant governmental agencies of the range countries, important non-governmental organisations, and the experts involved. The Strategy should express the common will to save the Arabian leopard and provide guidance for the defi nition and implementation of conservation action in the countries, which are the management units. Consequently, it will be of outstanding importance that the political authorities in charge of nature conservation in each range country endorse the Conservation Strategy.