Rare Arabian leopard cub is born, raising hopes for the species’ survival

The birth of an Arabian leopard cub in Saudi Arabia is fuelling hope for the survival of one of the world’s most critically endangered animals.

The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has just announced that the female cub was born on April 23 at the Arabian Leopard Breeding Center in Taif, Saudi Arabia.

They could only identify her gender and carry out her first health check in July. The cub is now one of 16 born in their captive-breeding programme which aims to bring the animal back from near extinction.

It is thought that only 200 Arabian leopards remain in the wild after centuries of habitat loss and human conflict. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says the species is “critically endangered”, which means it is at extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. The leopards are thought to remain in only three countries: Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen.

Motivation to save the leopard in Arabia is strong. For the region’s inhabitants the Arabian leopard – known in Arabic as An Nimr Al ‘Arabi’ ­– has long represented beauty, tranquillity, physical strength, fearlessness and freedom. The animal has impacted people’s lives over centuries, and is found in ancient rock art, stories and even everyday expressions.

Dr Ahmed Almalki, the Royal Commission’s nature reserves director, said the birth represented “one step further towards reviving the Arabian leopard”.

“We believe that saving endangered species such as the Arabian leopard is critical to the protection of our planet and the natural balance of our ecosystem. Our goal at RCU is nothing less than to restore the power of nature’s balance.”

A new breeding centre is due to open by early 2024 in Sharaan Nature Reserve in Al Ula, where indigenous plants and animals will be restored and conserved, and local people trained as rangers.

Efforts to reintroduce the Arabian leopard, one of several leopard subspecies the IUCN classifies as endangered or critically endangered, will also involve the reintroduction of prey, including the Nubian ibex, a desert goat, and the Idmi gazelle, also known as the Arabian mountain gazelle.