How #WeCanCoexist with Arabian Desert Carnivores

By Alex Botha and Eyad Musa
Senior Field Technician; Community Work Lead

Coexistence Arabian Leopard Initiative
In celebration of International Leopard Day, Panthera highlights its support for RCU. @DAVID MILLS

Alex Botha is a Panthera Senior Field Team Leader in Saudi Arabia who works with the Royal Commission for AlUla to conserve Arabian leopards and other carnivores in this landscape. In honor of International Leopard Day, read this exclusive blog about the huge effort to make sure carnivores and local communities in the mountains and desert regions surrounding AlUla can coexist.  

To protect wild cats, we also need to protect wild dogs. In 2019, Panthera and the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) joined an ambitious partnership to restore and protect Critically Endangered Arabian leopard populations. Five years and several comprehensive remote camera surveys later, we’ve made significant progress. Now, Panthera and RCU turn their focus to helping local communities mitigate human-wildlife conflict — which involves protecting wild carnivores like wolves.  

Protecting Sheep and Goats

Livestock husbandry has been an important practice in the Middle East for over 10,000 years. Raising livestock continues to be culturally significant and vital for food security in many communities across Saudi Arabia. In the region of AlUla in western Saudi Arabia, farming communities share the landscape with important species, including regionally vulnerable Arabian wolves. These carnivores may opportunistically prey on livestock, which can result in human-wolf conflict, particularly in cases where wolves climb into enclosures and kill multiple sheep or goats — resulting in significant economic loss for the farmer. To protect their livestock, farmers use security dogs, house their livestock in traditional enclosures and employ herdsmen during periods of high risk. However, retaliation against wolves has historically occurred in response to livestock predation events, under the premise of reducing livestock predation — within enclosures at night and when livestock graze during the day.

Arabian wolf
Carnivores have historically been subject to retaliation from farmers. Livestock carcasses have also been laced with poisons that may result in the death of non-target species. ©RCU/PANTHERA

Panthera supports the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) in their mission to create a sustainable landscape in which farming communities and wild animals can coexist. We partner with local communities to promote human-wildlife coexistence through:  

  • Regular meetings with sheikhs and community members;  
  • Community conservation skill training; and  
  • Monitoring carnivore activity around livestock enclosures using PantheraCams.   

Proven Conservation Methodologies and Strategies  

Panthera and RCU have also deployed 18 livestock enclosures across AlUla and hired community liaison officers (CLOs) to serve as the main point of contact within their respective communities. Both these enclosures and CLOs are vital components of the path to coexistence around the Harrat Uwayrid Man and Biosphere Reserve and the Harrat AlZabin Nature Reserve. Using SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool, a conservation data aggregator), remote cameras and community engagement methods, the Panthera CLOs collect vital livestock predation data and are responsible for engaging with farmers; their insights provide evidence and guidance on reducing predation risk.   

A Future of Hope in AlUla  

In 2024, Panthera continues to support the RCU’s vision to reintroduce the Critically Endangered Arabian leopard to AlUla by 2030. We’ve already seen success at the Arabian Leopard Breeding Centre in Taif, where this subspecies is prepared for eventual reintroduction into the wild. For now, Panthera and RCU will keep testing livestock enclosures with community members who experience predation losses and training farmers, community members and community liaison officers in various conflict mitigation measures. Simultaneously, we’ll continue to collect important data on livestock distribution and predation. Together, we know that this will ensure scientifically-sound conservation decisions in the future. For animals like wolves, leopards and more, all the hard work will pay off.