With less than 200 individuals remaining in the wild, the Arabian Leopard is battling for survival. Thankfully, it is not fighting alone because in Oman, governmental and overseas organisations are trying to quantify its existence to save this iconic big cat of Arabia.
Our expedition to Wadi Sayq was one such example of these continuing efforts. We deployed 19 camera traps throughout the valley, from the beach to the plateaus and everywhere in between. Prior to arrival we weren’t holding out much hope of finding this elusive creature; in all honesty the figures just didn’t add up – a global population less than 200 individuals; scattered throughout the mountains of southern Arabia – we had less than 1 month and just one mountain valley…
First traps deployed and it didn’t take long for us to start snapping night shots of mongoose and striped hyena, but this was expected as fresh footprints appeared almost daily on the beach.
We continually penetrated further up the valley moving cameras into fresh territories and winding up trapping in exhausted locations. It was a steep learning curve, rapidly gaining insights into the best locations and discovering tricks like testing the angle of the camera with a standard camera first.
This was a multidisciplinary expedition, surveying most taxa and within one week the species inventory had grown rapidly. Still no leopard on the list though.
Then one morning, whilst moving through the wadi with a team of botanists from Muscat, we flicked through the clips on the tiny screen of one of the traps about 2 km up. Suddenly James Borrell, my fellow science leader exploded into a hysterical laughter. There it was; about 2 seconds of a leopard’s tail. It was a fantastic feeling and with so many people present at the time, a very special moment.
Over the following weeks we clocked up footage of Leopard, Hyena, Caracal and Wolf as well as other species in a number of locations.
Despite the fantastic footage our luck still didn’t run out, when on our last night of sleeping deep in the valley under the stars, we heard the unmistakable throaty call of the Arabian Leopard just a few hundred metres away.
Wadi Sayq proved to be an untamed wilderness and a national gem for Oman’s natural heritage.
Want to join the fight for the Arabian Leopard’s survival? Join the British Exploring 2013 Expedition