Leopard sighting a conservation success

Muscat Oct 22 – Ever since Amer al Mashani shot a video of an Arabian leopard that he spotted in the mountains of Dhofar and posted it on social media, his telephone hasn’t stopped ringing. He has been receiving hundreds of calls and messages, while his video –shot with a mobile camera from inside his car — has gone viral. The video has created excitement as the Arabian leopard, considered a leopard subspecies native to the Arabian Peninsula, has been listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List since 1996 as a critically endangered species.

The appearance of the leopard on a cliff proves the success story of the declaration of Jabal Samhan as a nature reserve in 1997 by a Royal Decree. There are other decrees that also protect the species from being hunted. The spotting of the leopard brings into spotlight the importance of the biodiversity of Jabal Samhan Nature Reserve, a part of the biodiversity of Dhofar mountains.

For Amer, who was always sceptical about the presence of Arabian leopards in the mountains of Dhofar, it was a chance encounter. When he and his friend spotted the species on a high cliff, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“My friend Abdullah al Mashani was driving the vehicle and it was just after sunset (around 7 pm). When we saw the leopard, I just began to capture it on the video,” recalled Amer, a resident of Taqa, a mountainous area. They were coming from Al Damer.

For a few seconds, the leopard looked at them. Known to be shy as a species, it walked down to a wadi and disappeared. Asked if he was scared, Amer replied, “No, we were in the car.” Although it has been reported the leopard was spotted in Wilayat Taqa, the exact location has been withheld for its protection.

In the past, the leopard’s presence had been confirmed through camera-trap studies, field surveys and other methods. It was in August this year that the Observer had reported the Arabian leopard had been spotted in the mountains of Dhofar because of the conservation efforts of Office for Conversation of Environment in Salalah. The conservation office had said the Dhofar mountain ranges were considered the best habitat for leopards in the country. The rugged terrain provides shelter and trapped water and harbours a wide variety of prey species, in particular, in escarpments and narrow wadis.

Lakshmi Kothaneth