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A lifeline for the last leopards (commentary)

10 / 09 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

The Arabian Peninsula is home to one of the greatest — yet mostly unrecognized — species resurrection stories in recent times: the Arabian oryx. Left for dead after it disappeared from the wild in the 1970s, this iconic species, characterized by its long straight horns, was saved from extinction by a visionary captive-breeding and reintroduction program inspired by the late founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. This effort constituted an unparalleled conservation success that is now regarded as a case study in how to do things “right” in order to save a species. From being extinct in the wild, the Arabian oryx was reclassified in 1986 as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species after its reintroduction to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. In 2011, with its global numbers increased to thousands, the Arabian oryx was the first animal ever to revert to “Vulnerable” status after having previously been listed as extinct in the wild. Today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) aims to replicate this miraculous turnaround for the Arabian leopard — a little-studied, desert-dwelling subspecies listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN’s Red List — and for leopard populations everywhere with a new $20 million commitment to the Global Alliance for Wild Cats. Fewer than 200 Arabian leopards roam often-isolated patches of Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia; the leopard stands as the most persecuted big…

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