An Arabian leopard. There are less than 250 of these creatures in existence today after decades of hunting and urbanisation near their habitats. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Abu Dhabi: Majestic and solitary, the Arabian leopard once roamed the Arabian Peninsula. Now, less than 250 of these beautiful creatures exist, their numbers threatened by loss of habitat and hunting.

Destroying a top predator in a food chain in such a manner could wreak havoc on the entire ecosystem, a leading environmental fund manager told Gulf News in the capital yesterday.

"This is why it is important to detect remaining members of the species and prevent them from dying out," said Nicolas Heard, head of fund management at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

The conservation fund, established in 2008, provides support and grants for projects that seek to preserve plant and animal species across the world.

Spearheaded by an endowment of about Dh127 million by General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, its initiatives are being highlighted at the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (Adihex) this year.

Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, the fund's managing director and secretary general of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News the grants provided were some of the largest in the world for species conservation.

Animal research

"The launch of the fund by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2008 was exciting, especially because it coincided with a time when species conservation was outshone by other environmental concerns like climate change. Today, the support we provide to various projects are geared at important research about endangered animals, and towards enabling people on the ground [to] live sustainably with other organisms in their habitats," Al Mubarak said.

So when the Friends of the Arabian Leopard organisation in Yemen claimed that the endangered Arabian leopard subspecies had a presence in the country, and applied for funding to gather proof, about Dh91,000 was added to the project.

"Nearly four months later, this organisation brought back proof on camera traps about the leopard's presence near the Hauf area in Yemen. Now, the fund is considering a further grant so that local populations can work to protect the animal," Heard said.

Heard said Dh21.7 million had been donated to nearly 450 projects in more than 100 countries in the past two years. "These grants comprise of individual amounts ranging from Dh18,000 to Dh91,000 for organisations that apply. In a Third World country, this money can go a long way towards protecting a species," he said.

  • Dh127m: initial endowment to the Fund in 2008
  • 450: projects supported until 2011
  • Dh21.7m:  grants to 450 projects in 100 countries