New foundation strives to protect Yemen's National Animal
By: Yusef Al-Radai
SANA'A, Nov. 24 — David B. Stanton, advisor to the Ministry for Water and the Environment, and founder of the Yemeni Leopard Recovery Program (YLRP) is working full time to ensure an expanding population of Arabian Leopards (Panthera pardus nirm) in Yemen. These animals are on the IUCN "Red List" meaning they are critically endangered with extinction in the wild. The number of Arabian Leopards left is unknown but, it is certainly less than 200 and could possibly be fewer than 100, according to Stanton. The Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris bengalensis), by comparison, numbers about 3,500 in the wild. According to the Arabian Leopard fact sheet, a publication of the YLRP, Yemen's leopard population is "possibly extinct," however, sources indicate that Arabian Leopards probably still exist in Wada"a, Amran, Hawf, Al Mahrah, and a few other locations.
According to the YLRP, Arabian Leopards are the largest and strongest of the Arabian cats, of which there are at least three other species: Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi), Gordon's Wildcat (Felis silvestris gordanii), and Sand Cat (Felis margarita harrisoni). Male Arabian Leopards may weigh up to 34 kg, but females average much less at about 20 kg. These cats are the smallest and most genetically distinct of the nine recognized leopard subspecies. They have an unusually long tail, which they use to balance themselves in the steep terrain that they inhabit.
According to the YLRP website (www.yemenileopard.org) the program implements a strategy that consists of increasing public awareness, understanding, sympathy, commitment and involvement in leopard conservation, improving the breeding success of Yemen's captive Arabian Leopards, and lobbying for real protection of wild Arabian Leopards where they still exist in Yemen. As a result of YLRP lobbying, the Yemen Council of Ministers passed legislation declaring the Arabian Leopard as Yemen's official National Animal on April 29, 2008. It is a high priority of YLRP's public awareness campaign to bring this to everyone's attention and to help them understand how this can benefit both Yemen and its National Animal.
When asked why we should conserve Arabian Leopards in the first place, Stanton said, [as quoted in the Quran] "Everything that walks on this Earth, or flies with its wings is a nation like you" [Surat al Anam 38 - 6]. He also said, "Yemen currently faces the risk of being the only country in the world ever to have allowed its national animal to become extinct. If we allow this to happen, then Yemen will suffer a major loss of prestige in the eyes of the world, something the country really can't afford at present."
Stanton also argues that the Arabian Leopard is a powerful and charismatic symbol that has the capacity to help engender pride in the Yemeni public at a time when Yemen is fractured with discontent and struggle. Stanton has been asked many times by people "why so much focus on environmental issues when people in Yemen are suffering so much?" "In fact," David says, "people are part of the environment and any harm that we do to the environment we are actually imposing on ourselves." He added that the only effective way to implement conservation is to involve people, so that we can only help nature by helping people. For example, he will be bringing a team of five Yemeni biologists to Oman in January or February for special training at Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve so that they can gain the skills needed to conduct leopard surveys in Yemen. Leopard surveys will employ local people because their knowledge is vital to the success of such research. According to David, when people begin to realize that having leopards in their area can lead to employment and other economic benefits local attitudes will finally turn in favor of these animals.
Because leopards are at the top of the food chain, they can only exist in areas that are relatively undisturbed. By protecting leopards we are protecting everything that lives in their environment thereby preserving the habitat in its pristine condition.
On Wednesday, November 18th the YLRP became an officially registered foundation with the Yemen Ministry for Social Affairs and Labor. The foundation's board consists of Dr. Abdulkarim Nasher as president, HE Abdulrahman Al-Eryani, Yemen's Minister for Water and the Environment, as chairman, Dr. Masaa Al-Jumaily as advisor, Dr. Amal Al-Kebsi as advisor, and Mr. Adnan Jumman as public relations Officer. With such a strong administrative team, David is confident that people in positions of power will begin to see the wisdom of protecting Arabian Leopards in Yemen. This is good news for the foundation and for Yemen's National Animal.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org