x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Sharjah breeding centre saves Arabian leopard from brink of extinction

There are only 250 left in the wild and centres such as those in Sharjah provide a vital lifeline for the species.

A male Arabian leopard at the Arabian Wildlife Centre in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National
A male Arabian leopard at the Arabian Wildlife Centre in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National

SHARJAH // A breeding centre in Sharjah has made huge strides in helping to prevent the endangered Arabian leopard from becoming extinct.

In 1998, a male was brought over from Yemen and a female from Oman to the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in the emirate.

“The pair have so far given birth to 35 leopards,” said Hana Al Suwaidi, the chairwoman of the Environment and Protected Areas Authority in Sharjah, which oversees the centre.

“It is very important to protect the Arabian leopard from extinction. Today there are only 250 surviving in the wild and programmes like this are very essential.”

She said the breeding of the Arabian leopard at the centre has enabled many local and international researchers to study the species.

The centre is part of the Government’s policy to provide protection for the country’s wildlife.

As well as the Arabian leopard, the centre also breeds several other endangered animals, such as the Arabian tahr and the Arabian wolf. It is part of the Arabian Wildlife Centre on Al Dhaid Road.

While the breeding area is not open to the public, the centre, also known as Sharjah Zoo, a children’s farm and the Natural History and Botanical Museums all promote eco-tourism in the emirate and welcome visitors.

She said that the centre houses the largest collection of Arabian wildlife in the world.

The centre is also home to a large number of local snakes including saw-scaled vipers, puff adders and the Arabian cobra. There are also many lizards, freshwater fish, amphibians and insects.

Visitors can walk through a large aviary and desert, which are home to several species of indigenous birds including weavers, partridges and houbara bustards.

“The pathway through the aviary also leads you into a cave where bats and blind fish can be seen and past three small carnivore enclosures which are home to the Asian caracal, Indian grey mongoose and sand cat,” she said.

Another section has baboons, wolves, hyenas, cheetahs and the Arabian leopards, each housed in their natural environment without a fence.

She said the centre offered a chance to learn about the animals, as well as facilitating the researchers to observe the animals.

Last year, there were 500,000 visitors to the centre – up from 300,000 visitors in 2012.

It is hoped to increase the number of visitors this year to about a million.

ykakande@thenational.ae