UN recognition of Arabian Leopard Day a ‘major triumph for KSA,’ conservationist says
Panthera co-founder Thomas Kaplan told Arab News the resolution will boost the work of wildlife champions worldwide, as well as those in the Kingdom
The Arabian Leopard has been etched into Saudi consciousness for thousands of years, he said, but is the most persecuted of all big cats and critically endangered
Updated 23 June 2023
NEW YORK CITY: When the UN General Assembly voted this month to adopt a resolution designating Feb. 10 as International Day of the Arabian Leopard, Thomas S. Kaplan’s reaction was one of “absolute delight.”
The leopard has been etched into Saudi consciousness for thousands of years, he said, with the petroglyphs on AlUla’s ancient walls that depict the animal bearing witness to its significance to the Saudi people and their ancestors.
Having the importance of the Arabian Leopard now finally enshrined by the UN General Assembly is therefore “a major triumph for the Saudi people and for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself,” Kaplan added during an exclusive interview with Arab News.
As co-founder of Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, and founder and chairperson of the Global Alliance for Wild Cats, Kaplan in 2019 signed an agreement with Prince Badr bin Abdullah, the Saudi minister of culture and governor of the Royal Commission for AlUla, to support regional and international conservation initiatives, at the heart of which is the Arabian Leopard Initiative to protect the critically endangered animal, which is indigenous to AlUla.
“The Arabian leopard is the most persecuted of all the big cats,” Kaplan said. “So having a champion like Saudi Arabia helping us to do the work that we do so passionately is really a gift from God.”
The UN resolution enshrining an International Day of the Arabian Leopard is “a clear win, both for the leopard and for the Kingdom,” he added.
“It is in many respects a beautiful affirmation of one of the most ambitious environmental and conservation initiatives in generations: The restoration of AlUla as a cultural center point for the new Saudi Arabia is complemented by one of the most significant environmental restoration programs in the world.”
Wild cats play a critical role in ecosystems. They are considered an “umbrella species” when making conservation-related decisions, because efforts to protect them also indirectly protect many other species. They represent “Apex Predator Strategy Opportunities.” What this means is that a thriving wild cat population can help ensure the survival of its entire habitat.
Even the human population can benefit when the animals thrive, because they help boost tourism and shine a light on local communities. In the case of Saudi Arabia, such communities can become important parts of the Kingdom’s broader development agenda, leading to better local amenities and opportunities.
“In places where we have gone in to save leopards or jaguars or other animals that are part of the local tourist industry, we have always brought with (us) increased medical attention, building schools, building clinics, (showing) the local communities that not only do they have nothing to fear, but they have everything to gain by a thriving cat population, (and that) because of the leopard, there will be socioeconomic opportunities for their children,” said Kaplan.
“If in its own way the Arabian Leopard Initiative is something that not only gives people national pride, but gives those who live in the same habitat as the leopard even greater opportunities for their children, then this is a huge win.
“So the success of the Arabian Leopard Initiative becomes a signal to the Kingdom, and to the rest of the world, that Saudi Arabia has been successful in restoring the landscape. For these reasons, I believe that AlUla is one of the most transformational initiatives in the preservation of cultural and environmental heritage for future generations.”
None of this would have been possible, he said, without “the passion and commitment” of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Prince Badr; and Princess Reema bint Salman, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the US.
“The revolution from above that has been implemented by the crown prince is the catalyst for all (the reforms that) followed, and the Arabian leopard is no exception,” said Kaplan.
“I have personal experience in engaging with the Crown Prince on the Arabian leopard and leopard conservation globally. He is truly committed not only to the Arabian leopard but also to advancing the cause of leopard conservation in other countries that are not necessarily playing catch-up like Saudi Arabia, but trying to stay ahead of the curve.
Regarding Prince Badr’s role, Kaplan said “everyone knows that (he is) the initiator of the Arabian leopard process. He is, in many respects, the father of the Arabian leopard program, for which I think he will go down in the history books.”
Kaplan also had nothing but praise of Princess Reema.
“Anyone who has come into contact with Princess Reema in Washington DC, or elsewhere, immediately is presented with the passion of what the Arabian leopard means for the Kingdom,” he said.
“It’s not simply because the Arabian leopard is, in my mind, to Saudi Arabia what the panda is to China, an instrument of soft power, it’s much more than that.
“The crown prince, Prince Badr and Princess Reema understand that the Arabian leopard is a symbol of national unity for Saudi Arabia. It is something that goes back thousands of years.”
The UN recognition of the animal’s importance will help boost the efforts of conservationists to save the leopard, Kaplan said.
“Being able to show the buy in of the international community allows us the freedom to show to environmental activists all over the world the significance of this initiative,” he added.
“It allows us to be able to evidence that the reintroduction of the Arabian leopard is real, that it has the full support of Saudi Arabia, that it is not some form of power exercise but it’s the product of passion.
“This in turn allows people such as myself on the international stage to be able to recruit the highest-quality experts to work with us in our field.”
Kaplan said the UN resolution will also aid the work of Saudi environmental and wildlife champions, including Catmosphere, a foundation established by Princess Reema to assist big-cat conservation efforts worldwide.
“Catmosphere has the potential to be the most important cat-conservation awareness program ever undertaken, not simply in the Middle East, but globally, and that was originated by a Saudi, by Princess Reema,” he said.
“It’s an extraordinary story. The impact that it can have on cat conservation is very obvious but, at the same time, the impact that can have on our agenda, which is to get people to see the Arabian Leopard as being Saudi Arabia’s panda, as being a symbol of commitment to the best practices in wildlife conservation, this is absolutely enormous.”
“When you combine the work that Prince Badr is doing at the Royal Commission of AlUla with the work of Catmosphere, what you see is an organic, Saudi-generated initiative and campaign to save the Arabian leopard and, as the crown prince asked us to do, to be able to help countries around the world save their leopards, so that rather than playing catch-up, they’re getting ahead of the curve, and are not in the same situation.
“This is an act of generosity to the world, and it’s coming from Saudi Arabia.”
Return of the leopard is at the heart of plans to conserve and regenerate Saudi Arabia’s landscapes and wildlife
Saudi authorities seize 1.24m amphetamine pills in Madinah
Seven people, including four Egyptian residents and three citizens, were arrested
Updated 22 June 2023
RIYADH: Officials have seized 1,242,740 amphetamine pills that were hidden in a beehive consignment and a vehicle in Madinah.
Maj. Marwan Al-Hazimi, spokesperson at the General Directorate of Narcotics Control, said the seizure was the result of two security operations.
He added that the operations targeting trafficking networks and drug smuggling were to protect the country’s security and its youth.
Al-Hazimi said that seven people, including four Egyptian residents and three citizens, had been arrested and referred to the Public Prosecution. Preliminary legal measures had been taken against them.
Security authorities have urged residents to report information about suspected drug smuggling or the selling of narcotics by calling 911 in Makkah, Riyadh, and the Eastern Province, and 999 in the rest of the Kingdom. The General Directorate of Narcotics Control can be contacted on 995 or via email.
Saudi cities on the rise in Global Liveability Index
The index measures stability, culture and environment, education, healthcare, and infrastructure
Updated 22 June 2023
RIYADH: Riyadh and Jeddah have risen on the Global Liveability Index in an annual report prepared by the Economist Group’s Economic Intelligence Unit.
The ranking of 140 cities was based on an assessment of stability, culture and environment, education, healthcare, and infrastructure.
Riyadh improved by three places to 103rd in the index, while Jeddah advanced four places to 107th compared to 2022.
The government launched the Quality of Life Program to achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030. It aims to improve lives by creating the necessary environment to develop and support new lifestyle options in the Kingdom.
The program seeks to take the Kingdom’s cities into the world’s top 100 on indexes by 2030, through improving the quality of life of citizens, residents, visitors, and tourists by providing new options that enhance participation in cultural, entertainment, and sports activities.
Hira Cultural District is a beacon of knowledge for pilgrims
Pilgrims flock to Hira Cultural District to visit museums and exhibitions
Updated 22 June 2023
MAKKAH: Pilgrims eager to improve their cultural and religious knowledge are heading to the Hira Cultural District, near the Cave of Hira in the mountains of Makkah, to visit museums and exhibitions held in several languages.
The district is supervised by the Royal Commission for the Holy City of Makkah and the Holy Sites, and is considered a cultural landmark.
The project contributes to enriching the religious and cultural experiences of pilgrims and Makkah residents, one of the objectives of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program.
The Visitor Center, Holy Qur’an Museum, Revelation Exhibition and the Trail to the Cave also aim to highlight the history of the mountain and the cave.
Fawaz Al-Dahas, director of the Center for the History of Makkah, told Arab News that “this cultural district is a true reflection of the importance of the historical site, as the Revelation Exhibition is linked to the Cave of Hira, being its major inspiration.
“The exhibition showcases important and essential historical events, namely the revelation to the prophets, especially to Prophet Muhammad,” he said.
Al-Dahas said that the Revelation Exhibition offers a spiritual and cultural experience.
He said that the site where the first Qur’an verses were revealed is of great importance to Muslims.
“Therefore, the Holy Qur’an Museum was established, highlighting its maintenance aspects throughout the ages in a museum and exhibition-like style. It also comprises rare collections and manuscripts of the Holy Qur’an.”
The Cultural District’s content is not limited to adults, with one hall dedicated to children's entertainment and education. Visitors can also walk around Hira Park, and enjoy its cafes, restaurants, services and commercial facilities.
The Holy Qur’an Museum is considered the main component of the project. The museum introduces visitors to the holy book using a wide variety of techniques and Qur’anic manuscripts.
Restaurants and cafes also offer local and international dishes and beverages, while gift shops overlooking Hira Mountain sell souvenirs.
The Hira Center offers access to the Cave of Hira through a paved trail with guide signs and resting places.
Global challenges affecting development of low-income countries, says Saudi finance minister
Updated 22 June 2023
VIENNA, Austria: Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan attended the forum and ministerial meetings of the OPEC Fund for International Development on June 20 and 21 to discuss various global challenges facing developing nations.
During the forum in Vienna, participants focused on the current development landscape, financing, sustainable food systems, climate innovation for a sustainable future, and policies and partnerships that prioritize people and the planet.
Al-Jadaan said: “Multilateral development banks are one of the main ways to support sustainable development globally, by providing multilateral solutions to development issues. They evidently made extraordinary efforts to support low- and middle-income countries since 2020.”