The Arabian Leopard is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN with a declining population estimated at less than 200 individuals scattered throughout a handful of mountainous regions in the Arabian Peninsula.
On the 1st February 2012 the British Exploring Society (BES) in collaboration with the Oman Office for Conservation of the Environment (OCE) entered the mouth of Wadi Sayq with the aim of finding and camera trapping this elusive big cat.
Gliding in an overpowered local fishing boat along the coastline, above the tropical blue ocean, I couldn’t help but feel the odds weren’t on our side. With an estimated population of only 50 individuals in an area spanning 99,000 square kilometres; what were the chances of us finding this elusive big cat in a single dry river valley.
Rounding the headland to the north of the valley mouth i cast my eyes upon an epic spectacle. A vast gravel plain abruptly soaring skywards on each side into cavernous cliffs cloaked in dense vegetation, which grew narrower, disappearing into an even steeper ‘V’ shaped valley, the floor of which, was littered with boulders the size of houses. A stark contrast to the barren desert we had returned from and a landscape that could easily have come from the set of Jurassic Park.
From that moment a small glimmer of hope lit up in everyone and over the following 4 weeks 19 camera traps were deployed racking up a total of 422 trap nights.
The Arabian Leopard has undergone a severe population decline due to the loss of its vast wilderness habitat and depletion of its natural prey species, an indirect effect of overgrazing by domestic livestock. Retaliatory killing in defence of livestock also occurs.
The identification and formal protection of remaining strongholds is an urgent requirement and thus, the phenomenal landscape of Wadi Sayq requires urgent protection.
Against all odds we found the elusive Panthera pardus nimr; we found the needle in the haystack.