Two Arabian leopard cubs have been born in Saudi Arabia as part of a programme to introduce more of the endangered species into the north-west of the kingdom.
The birth of the female cubs, yet to be named, comes after another female was born at the Arabian Leopard Breeding Centre in Taif in July 2021.
"The birth of two female cubs of this rare species represents a wonderful new hope in our quest to restore the power of nature's balance and reintroduce the leopard to AlUla," Amr AlMadani, chief executive of the Royal Commission of AlUla (RCA), wrote on Twitter.
The Arabian leopard is considered critically endangered, with estimates that there are fewer than 200 left in the wild between Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Habitat loss and poaching are blamed for its demise.
The RCA hopes to reintroduce the leopards to the kingdom with a state-of-the-art breeding centre at the Sharaan Nature Reserve in AlUla, where natural prey for the animals, including Nubian ibex and Idmi gazelles, will also be reintroduced.
Residents of the area will be trained to protect the beasts.
No Arabian leopard has been spotted in the wild in Saudi Arabia since 2014, global wildcat conservation group Panthera told The National last year. Panthera is working with the RCA on the project, which has now bred 18 leopards for eventual release into the wild.
Emma Gallacher, conservation initiatives lead at RCU, said the births Sparked "joy" for the whole team.
"RCU are committed to safeguarding the future of the Arabian Leopard, as part of a comprehensive restoration and rewilding programme,"she told The National.
"We are working in parallel to increase the breeding population, as we continue to identify and prepare potential sites for their eventual reintroduction. Our hope is that these cubs represent a significant step in the species’ journey to, once again, roam the wild mountains of AlUla and beyond," she added.