It is the plight of the Arabian leopard who brought scientists, institutions, ministries and local people for the first time together in Oman, in Dhofar for a three days International Conference organised by the National Centre for Field Research in the field of Environmental Conservation of the Diwan of Royal Court.
Through five workshops on several issues, a number of recommendations were formulated. Among them, the lack of awareness of the ‘value’ of the Arabian leopard by all levels of society and the benefit of partnerships among other with the local community were underlined. A framework for a coordinated approach and urgent action to prevent the extinction of the Arabian leopard was formulated.
The Arabian leopard is an iconic species in the mountain ecosystems of Arabia. The animal plays an important role in the process of environmental equilibrium and its relationship to food chains and its prey considered to be important in balancing the ecosystem. The presence of the Arabian leopard as one of the top carnivore in the food chain is a good indication of the health of the remaining natural habitats in these mountain ecosystems.
Arabian leopard faces significant human threats mostly because of habitat degradation. For example overgrazing by livestock and newer developments like the Hasik al Shuwaimiyah road passing through Jebel Samhan put a lot of pressure on the already shrinking habitat of this shy animal. Habitat degradation also led to a decrease in its number in wild populations and declining the population of natural preys like Arabian Gazells, Nubian Ibex and Rock Hyrax. This situation led to a shift of the leopard in natural home range and attacking the local’s lifestock which in returning result in hunting those predators. Furthermore the Arabian leopard has significant price in illegal trade market and unfortunately there is an increasing demand.
Local resident accounts and camera trappings suggest that there are around 200 Arabian leopards in Oman. Fact is that the Arabian leopard no longer occurs in the mountains of Musandam nor in the Al Hajar mountains. The leopards continue to survive in the Dhofar Mountain Range in the south of Oman, with Jebel Samhan as one of the main strongholds. Research on wild Arabian leopards in Oman started formally in the 1990s in the Dhofar region. But also there the population is declining and critically endangered.