Inaugural International Arabian Leopard Day marked on February 10

Two years after Arabian Leopard Day was first celebrated, 2024 is the first year officially observed by the UN

WATCH: International Arabian Leopard Day marked on February 10

WATCH: International Arabian Leopard Day marked on February 10
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This weekend, conservationists have officially marked the first International Arabian Leopard Day to help raise awareness for the critically endangered big cat that once roamed widely across this region.

The smallest of all leopards – the Arabian leopard is only half the weight of its African counterpart – it once inhabited large swathes of Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and the UAE.

Today, however, that territory has shrunk dramatically, with pockets remaining only in Yemen and central Saudi Arabia. Human expansion encroaching on the leopard's territories has led to the cat being hunted to extinction across North Africa and the Levant. In the wild, Arabian leopards have a wide diet that includes Arabian gazelle, Nubian ibex, hare, porcupines, Ethiopian hedgehog, small rodents, birds and insects.

Once thought to have numbered in the tens of thousands, it is estimated that as few as two hundred remain in the wild today, and in 1996, it was added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Critically Endangered list.

There is some good news, however. There are active breeding programmes under way in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, to reintroduce the cats into the wild. Last year, the Royal Commission for AlUla which oversees the breeding programme in Saudi Arabia, announced the birth of seven, healthy Arabian Leopard cubs.

“International Day of the Arabian Leopard Day is an important opportunity to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the Arabian Leopard and RCU’s mission to conserve and safeguard AlUla’s natural environment,” says Stephen Browne, wildlife and natural heritage vice president at RCU.

“While recent successes give us hope, we recognise that the work of conservation must continue to ensure that this species can one day thrive in the wild. We encourage the international community to join us on Arabian Leopard Day by engaging in activities that strengthen our understanding and love for these magnificent big cats.”

The RCU is also helping to raise awareness about the leopards' fate among young people, with the release of an interactive game Quest for Hope on the Roblox and Decentraland gaming platforms. In the game, players join a virtual conservation mission to track leopards through the rugged mountains of AlUla.

“The Arabian leopard is a powerful symbol of RCU’s aim to conserve and safeguard AlUla’s natural environment through far-reaching conservation efforts designed to protect the natural flora and fauna of this incredible part of north-west Arabia,” says Amr AlMadani, chief executive of Royal Commission for AlUla.

“It is a sad reality that the Arabian leopard is critically endangered. Ongoing threats to its natural habitat highlight the pressing need to step up conservation efforts that are so vital to the species’ long-term survival. We really want people to mark Arabian Leopard Day and engage with activities to raise awareness of, and help to protect, these majestic big cats."

In 2022, RCU and conservation foundation Catmosphere joined forces to launch Arabian Leopard Day, a day that saw famous landmarks such as the Burj Khalifa illuminated with leopard faces. In June last year, UN General Assembly passed a resolution designating February 10 as the International Day of the Arabian Leopard, in support of RCU and its conservation partners.

February 10 is also World Pulses Day on the UN's list of international days and weeks observed by the intergovernmental organisation, and February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Updated: February 11, 2024, 12:01 PM