- Births of 7 cubs are more than double the births in 2022, increasing RCU’s total number of Arabian Leopards by nearly 100% since 2020 for a total of 27
- Cubs were all born within the past five months, with highly trained veterinary staff and leopard keepers on hand to monitor their progress and care 24/7
ALULA, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 8, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has overseen the successful births of seven Arabian Leopard cubs so far in 2023, marking an important milestone for the Conservation Breeding Programme that seeks to save the species from its Critically Endangered status.
The cubs were all born at RCU’s Conservation Breeding Centre at Taif in Saudi Arabia. RCU welcomed the new arrivals over the past five months, taking the total number to 27 Arabian Leopards at the centre. This is nearly double the original 14 Arabian Leopards present when RCU began its project to conserve the species in 2020.
The long-term reintroduction of Arabian Leopards to the wild will be a culmination of the comprehensive regeneration of AlUla’s natural environment, in line with Saudi Vision 2030. Firmly on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, the Arabian Leopard is classified as ‘critically endangered’. Remaining wild leopards on the Arabian Peninsula are thought to number less than 200. In recognition of the need to conserve this vital species, the United Nations has declared 10 February as International Arabian Leopard Day.
The birth of seven leopards comes as a major boost to the Conservation Breeding Programme, which saw three cubs born last year. Of the new cubs, five are being raised by their mothers at the centre without any additional care from staff, who will keep their distance to ensure a strong maternal bond.
The remaining two cubs are being hand-reared by RCU staff after they were abandoned by their mother after giving birth. While a natural and common occurrence, either in captivity or the wild, staff acted to quickly remove the abandoned newborns from their enclosure after closely monitoring the mother’s behaviour.
Transferring the cubs to a specially created nursery not only prevents any injuries or accidents involving the mother, it also greatly increases their chances of survival at such an early and vulnerable time of life. In line with strict conservation guidelines, the cubs will be hand-reared by a dedicated staff member who stays with them around the clock, sleeping near them and feeding every two hours or so.
Abdulaziz Alenzy, RCU Breeding Centre Manager, said: “We are all delighted to see seven new Arabian Leopard cubs born safely and doing well at RCU’s Conservation Breeding Programme. This is another important milestone in our ongoing efforts to conserve the species by increasing the population each year to reach our ultimate goal of reintroducing leopards back into the wilds of AlUla and broader Arabia.”
The team at RCU’s Conservation Breeding Centre monitors the leopards 24/7 via CCTV cameras. When staff recognise the signs that an Arabian Leopard is pregnant, they go to great lengths not to interfere or go near the expectant mother for around 12 weeks during this critical period, relying exclusively on cameras.
Alenzy added: “Obviously it is better if the mother bonds to her cub and raises it naturally. But sometimes, often with new mothers, there is a chance she might abandon her cub due to a lack of experience. She does not know how to feed the youngster. In the wild, she could leave it for dead. Obviously, as the Arabian Leopard is such an important subspecies and critically endangered animal, within our facility we take the decision to step in.
“Cubs that are hand-reared are just as important as those raised by their mothers. But after being hand-reared they need to be introduced back to the other leopards, which requires special training and lots of patience. After five to six weeks, we place them back in the enclosure for a few hours each day to reintegrate them. We also move them from milk to solid food – it can be a demanding process, but it shows how important it is to save each cub.”
SOURCE The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU)