Times News Service
Monday, February 15, 2010 12:02:59 AM Oman Time
MUSCAT - The remarkable but shy Arabian leopard once thrived in the Arabian peninsula, human intervention, dwindling prey populations have spelt trouble for this rarest of the big cats.
Latest estimates indicate that there are fewer than 200 leopards remaining on the Arabian Peninsula, in three confirmed separate sub-populations.
The Shell Oman co-sponsored Biosphere expedition recently concluded its 2010 survey of the Arabian leopard among the remote Dhofar region. The research teams are upbeat about this year's results.
Expedition leader Ronald Seipold, who has been an integral part of the Biosphere Arabian Leopard project in Oman for the past years, has lost none of passion.
"The volunteer teams from around the world have done remarkable work in the last few weeks. The process is taxing and involves a great deal of patience. But are pleased with our efforts. We are trying to create awareness among the locals of the need to save the Arabian leopard," he said
Tessa Mc Gregor's the group's scientist is excited that these year's findings have proved conclusively the presence of a resident leopard in the Dhofar region.
"During our field surveys this year we were thrilled when we discovered 50 signs of leopard presence from one spot alone. We examined each pugmark and scrape of this remarkable animal with great delight," she adds with obvious delight.
John Highmore, the third newest member of the Biosphere team describes this as an "enriching experience".
To Shell Oman Marketing Company, this support comes in line with its sustainable development plans and reaffirms its commitment to developing ecotourism in the Sultanate.
"We are honoured to partner with the Office of Conservation of Environment in Diwan of Royal Court and the Biosphere expedition team. We look forward to working with them for many years to come in order to preserve Oman's unique biological heritage," said Sameh Al Waheibi, external affairs adviser of Shell Oman.
"The Biosphere expedition supports our ongoing programme of field research but it is also an opportunity to bring some benefits to local communities," said Khalifa Al Jahwari, senior conservation specialist of the office for conservation of the environment.
The real heroes of the quest to save the Arabian leopard are locals like Khalid Mohammed Al Hakmani, a ranger at the Diwan of Royal Court has dedicated himself completely to the cause of the Arabian leopard. Over the years this passionate young man has set up camera traps in diverse locations around Oman to assist expedition teams in their mission. His tireless efforts have won him admiration of the team members. Both Ronald and Tessa are quick to point out that ‘real credit must go to him'.
The Arabian Leopard Search Project of Biosphere Expeditions, a non-profit organisation that works in collaboration with the Office for Conservation of the Environment, Diwan of Royal Court, and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA), began its mission to see whether the Arabian leopard, the last surviving species of the big cats in the region, was still present in Oman in January 2006.
Like last year, the Biosphere expedition year set up a base camp in Wadi Uyun. For around five weeks an expedition team of volunteers from nine countries have been painstakingly surveying the nooks and crannies of Oman's southern Dhofar region where a large population of the Arabian leopards may still exist.
Ronald will now head to Brazil in quest of the puma and jaguar in the rain forests, while Tessa will search vital clues on the Siberian snow leopards. The breathtaking images of the Dhofar mountains, the warmth and hospitality of the Omani people, and a deep love for the Arabian leopards, will remain indelibly etched in their hearts.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org