A few of days ago I examined the plight of the Arabian leopard, and assessed some of the biggest threats they face. Today I’m going to investigate the current efforts being made by ecologists to try and save the Arabian leopard from extinction and attempt to evaluate their success.
The Arabian leopard conservation strategy was developed using a logical framework approach (lfa), a methodology which is often used for international development projects whereby a long term vision and mid term goals are outlined, thus clearly defining the steps needed to achieve the end result. Although this lfa was “officially” developed in 1969 for the US Agency for International Development, in my mind it is largely based on common sense and without taking anything away from the developer (Leon Rosenberg), I tend to think of the lfa as being defined in 1969. After all, I don’t think you can “develop” logical human thinking. I’m no expert in that field however so if anyone does strongly disagree with my opinion please do let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear your reasons why!
Anyway, I’m digressing again, back to Arabian leopards!
The long term vision stated in the Arabian leopard conservation strategy report was
“To have viable and sustainably managed populations of the Arabian leopard, its wild prey and natural habitats in coexistence with local communities across its range in the Arabian Peninsula”
Something which, in line with a logical framework approach clearly outlines the long term goals of the strategy, with their medium term goal (after 10 years of implementation) reading
To ensure the survival of all known wild populations of Arabian leopard and develop conservation programmes for the leopard, its prey and natural habitat in all range states
So how is this plan going to be achieved?
The report outlined three themes which would dominate the conservation strategy and best tackle the problems which I addressed in my last post. These were halting the decline of the remaining population of about 200 wild Arabian leopards, conserving genetic diversity through captive breeding and the preparation of old leopard habitats for their return. These have been grouped into a series of objectives where specific methods have been outlined, and I’ll introduce some of these below.
Surveying and monitoring existing Arabian leopard populations will allow further knowledge to be gained about these poorly understood cats. Not only does this method allow conservationists to establish more accurate data regarding the remaining population of Arabian leopards, it should also be useful in obtaining important, and currently missing crucial biological information such as range size, and male:female ratio’s (I discussed this in more detail in Pt 1). The strategy hopes by conducting field surveys, and using camera traps this critical information can be obtained, alongside identifying potential future habitats for either relocated or re-wilded leopards.
By establishing protected areas, the strategy hopes to implement a network of leopard corridors based on camera trap data and establish at least one new protected area in a known or historic leopard habitat. One of the most dangerous threats facing Arabian leopards is the lack of genetic diversity in the severely fragmented remaining populations. Establishing new wildlife (leopard) corridors will hopefully allow the remaining populations to integrate, or at least mix with each other leading to a greater genetic diversity through sexual reproduction. Alongside an active captive breeding program in zoo’s, successful implementation of protected areas where leopards are free to roam would be a huge step to conserving the species’ genetic diversity, thus removing a major pressure on Arabian leopards.
In a similar fashion as to India, the involvement of local communities at grassroots level is a target for the Arabian leopard conservation report, and once which would see great improvements if implemented successfully. The report proposes selecting and training local citizens to provide a link between conservationists and leopards, and the local communities, something which I think is an excellent idea. This would enable communities to have a direct involvement in leopard conservation, and something which in time, would hopefully change opinions of the leopard as a pest. The report hopes that the recruitment of leopard, I’ll call them “ambassadors, would help mitigate human predator conflict, establish a long term educational programme and identify economic opportunities within the conservation process.
Another proposal the report makes, and I’m going to link these two together is international co-operation and resource and capacity building. Increasing international awareness of Arabian leopard conservation, and establishing a base for free exchange of knowledge would almost certainly result in a increases in resources available to be used the fight to save leopards. The report highlights the need to build
a sustainable financial mechanism to support the conservation strategy and the necessity for a broad fundraising strategy to secure financial resources.
Without the necessary funds, successful execution of any proposed strategy will be either severely hampered or near on impossible. I’m sure a large number of people the world over have heard of the Indian human tiger conflict, and some of those will be aware of the steps being taken to mitigate this. However how many of those people will be aware of the critically endangered Arabian leopard? My guess is a lot less. As poignant as it may be, Arabian leopards face an extremely difficult future, even with the resources in place to implement conservation strategies. The cold hard truth is that greater funding inevitably equals greater resources and increasing international awareness of Arabian leopards will do conservation efforts a world of good, so lets start here!
Another strategy the report highlights is conservation breeding. As I mentioned previously, the fragmented habitats of Arabian leopards mean populations are at a high risk of inbreeding and subsequent genetic mutations and diseases. The conservation strategy aims to grow the captive population of Arabian leopards by 10% annually, alongside ensuring that the captive populations reach 95% of the diversity of wild populations within five years of the strategy’s start, a tough ask but one which would again, bring great rewards. Expanding the gene pool is must, by growing captive populations (150 within five years) then the possibility remains of re-populating previous leopard habitats with new captive bred leopards, however this is a controversial strategy – and one which I intend to cover in my next post. Nevertheless, ensuring Arabian leopards thrive in captivity will also allow us to gain a better insight into their techniques and methods of raising their young, knowledge which can then be transferred to the study of wild populations.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my update on current Arabian leopard conservation efforts as much as I’ve enjoyed learning about them! Unfortunately I don’t have access to the most “up-to-date” data as to get an idea of the levels of success these strategies are achieving (I’m not even sure if the data is available or not) so if anyone does come across this please do let me know as I would love to have a gander!
**I’ve yet to work out a way of uploading files to WordPress for people to download, so please do feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or let me know on twitter @pantherablog, or even in the comments below if you would like a copy of the official conservation strategy/report for Arabian leopards and I will gladly send a copy over**