AlUla is a place of spectacular natural beauty, with varied habitats that once thrived with life, co-existing with our early ancestors. The beautiful canyon area of Sharaan has been designated a Nature Reserve, setting a new standard in the region for re-balancing fragile desert ecosystems and reflecting Saudi Arabia’s commitment to conserving the earth’s natural environment.
Part of this guardianship will be the establishment of The Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard, a species that once thrived throughout AlUla’s mountains.
The mission of The Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard is ‘to ensure a viable and sustainably managed population of the Arabian Leopard, its wild prey and natural habitats in coexistence with local communities’.
The Arabian Leopard is classified as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
A need for urgent action to save Arabian Leopards from extinction has been recognized by Saudi Arabia and across the wider region. No accurate count of the total number of Arabian Leopards still surviving in the wild exists, but the total adult population is probably lower than 250, and perhaps even as low as 100. These remnant populations are small, isolated, fragmented and under threat. In Saudi Arabia there are probably fewer than 50 adult Arabian Leopards remaining, and it is possible that no breeding nucleus persists.
Their diminishing numbers have been due to persecution from humans (hunting and poisoning) and a decline in prey species beside expanding human development around their natural habitats. The decline in prey species is also a consequence of hunting but also severe overgrazing of vegetation by domestic livestock.
The Arabian Leopard population appears to have reached such a critically low level that the species may not survive in the wild without the support of a reintroduction programme using captive-bred animals.
There are two key captive breeding programmes in the Arabian Peninsula, one in Sharjah in the UAE (Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife) and the other in Taif in Saudi Arabia (Prince Saud Al-Faisal Wildlife Research Centre [PSFWRC]), now under the management of RCU. Thirteen Arabian Leopards (including three females) are being held at PSFWRC. It is RCU’s intention that the Taif breeding centre will ultimately move to new facilities located within the
The fund will partner with national and regional organisations dedicated to conserving the Arabian Leopard and its habitat. The endangered leopards require enhanced habitat and prey populations to thrive, as well as protected corridors to connect increasingly fragmented populations. Additionally, funding will be used to promote the plight of the species and raise awareness of the threats the species face such as habitat loss, trophy hunting and poisoning.
Public education campaigns will seek to reduce leopard-human conflict and demonstrate the value of leopards to local communities, for example through ecotourism initiatives. One of the first actions to be carried out includes funding comprehensive surveys of the distribution of Arabian Leopards within KSA, identifying key areas for protection, assessing threats, such as prey population numbers and poaching and strengthening existing captive breeding facilities. This will be followed by further assessment of the species and its habitats in neighbouring countries.
The fund will focus on supporting a range of initiatives in relation to:
Investments will be based on proposals detailing project background, actions and expected conservation outcomes,
as well as methods of measuring success.
Our longer-term goal is to move our Arabian Leopard captive-breeding programme from Taif to AlUla with the eventual release of animals to the wild. The stablishment of the Sharaan Nature Reserve is a major first step in bringing AlUla’s ancient landscapes back into balance. We are developing and implementing habitat and vegetation restoration programmes to restore the landscape, its natural ecosystems and reintroducing native angulates, ready for the eventual release of wild Arabian Leopard populations.
Eventually, it is our ambition to be able to release Arabian Leopards into the protected areas of AlUla; however this will be a considered journey and one that we need to take step by step. Our initial focus is to increase numbers of Arabian
Leopards in Saudi Arabia through captive breeding programmes and community engagement, safeguarding and nurturing the leopards already existing in the Kingdom.
The Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard will be an enabler on an international scale - aligning and uniting efforts to save, and improve the future outlook of this endangered species. The Global Fund for the Arabian Leopard will contribute to Saudi Arabia’s status as a hub connecting three continents, through ‘on the ground’ action, training, education and research to work to safeguard Saudi’s environment from natural threats.
The initiative will also support Saudi being an ambitious, nation thriving through the protection of its most vital assets - in this case, AlUla’s natural environment. In line with Vision 2030 goals, it will empower non-profit organizations to create
a deeper impact on Saudi and the world. It will also contribute to the development of a thriving economy through the creation of new conservation and ecotourism-based sectors, a vibrant society through the engagement, training and continuous capacity building of local communities.