x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Saving the Leopard

A group of Yemeni conservationists are working to save the endangered Arabian leopard, and encouraging people to take a bigger stake in their natural history in the process.

Panthera pardus nimr. The rare moniker describes one of the world's most endangered species of big cats - the Arabian leopard. Less than 200 remain in the wild now, and few people have ever seen the elusive beast amid the mountainous terrains of the peninsula.

But as an Al Jazeera television documentary, Saving the Leopard, recently showed, there are very visible efforts underway to protect the spotted feline. Last November, a group of eight Yemenis travelled to Jebel Samhan in Oman to study ways of doing just that.

Although bred in captivity in the UAE with cells harvested for future potential clones, Arabian leopards traversing Yemeni terrain are not protected by law. Not yet at least. The Yemeni conservationists are hoping their newly acquired knowledge will change that.

Ibrahim al Qahzem is leading the conservation effort. It's an unlikely role for the son of a prolific leopard hunter. And while it's far too early to know whether his efforts will succeed - the pressures of hunting and habitat loss may be too strong to counter - Mr al Qahzem hopes by sharing the leopard's story, the public will act.

"If a citizen is aware of the environment, he will take care of it. The people are the environment," he said. It's a wise mantra, one every society with rare natural history should relate to.