Elusive and small, the Arabian leopard appears to be clinging to life in Oman. Ambitious region wide efforts are underway to help ensure its survival.
The leopards once roamed the entire Arabian Peninsula but today are mostly confined to Oman. There is a population in Yemen, but warfare there and photos of dead leopards make it extremely difficult to know their status. They are believed to be extinct in Saudi Arabia and there may be about 8 in Israel but there have been no recent sightings. Arabian Leopards (panthera pardus nimr) are shy and secretive. Males top out around 75 pounds and females about 50. By contrast, the largest Persian Leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana) can reach 130 pounds. Persian leopards are also endangered. Iran and Russia both have conservation programs in place. Persian leopards may number fewer than 1,000 in the wild.
In Oman the leopards survive in the mountainous Jabal Samhan Nature Preserve and a few other similar locations. The nature preserve is about 1,700 square miles and is home to an estimated 30 of the 200 or so leopards thought to survive. Oman borders Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Oman has the will to preserve the species as the Office for the Conservation of the Environment has several strategies in place. Leopards and their chief prey have been protected since 1976 The basic cause of human-leopard conflict has been livestock predation. Ranchers have been compensated for dead livestock since 2014. The program has worked and there is some evidence the population is bouncing back. Omani officials are also working to educate people and raise a new generation of animal activists. Currently there are only about twenty rangers to study and protect the leopards in the reserve. The cats are so shy that technology is a prime partner in conservation efforts. Surveillance cameras are key to tracking the animals. Studying droppings is also very important. Oman is also encouraging eco -tourism to help conservation efforts.
Saudi Arabia has come late to the game, but has pledged $25 million to efforts to protect the leopards. Efforts there center around captive breeding. Leopards have delivered about 16 cubs in the program and the intent is to reintroduce leopards into appropriate areas.
The cats survive in arid rocky terrain preying on Arabian oryx and Arabian gazelle. Now protected, their numbers have increased which can lead to an increase in the number of leopards. The Arabian and Persion leopards are two of the eight subspecies of leopards. The others are African, Indian, Javan, Amur, IndoChinese and Sri Lankan. Snow leopards were recently in the news as a cub was born in an English sanctuary. Genetic studies now indicate that snow leopards are true leopards and are now classified as Pathera Uncia rather than Uncia uncia. Clouded leopards are considered to be closely related to the big cats but are still in a separate category.