Follow Tico's Wild Studio's team into the fabulous quest for the Arabian leopard. Through our camera trap network, we will track and monitor the most iconic species living within the Hajar Mountains and put the light on this rare and endangered natural heritage.
Located in the northern part of the UAE, the Hajar Mountains is the area hosting most the country’s wildlife species. This mountain range extends for 700 kms all the way through the UAE and Oman. Known to be arid and harsh, this environment also provides fresh water within its canyons locally called wadis.
The Hajar Mountains are characterized by rugged and rocky terrain, featuring dramatic peaks, deep wadis (dry riverbeds), and steep cliffs. The range is primarily composed of limestone and has been shaped by geological processes over millions of years.
In the UAE, the Hajar Mountains span several emirates, including Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, and parts of Sharjah and Dubai. The highest peak in the UAE is Jebel Jais, which stands at an elevation of approximately 1,934 meters. This region is also home to rare and endemic wildlife species adapted to an extreme mountainous environment.
Wadis often have vegetation lining their banks, including trees, shrubs, and grasses. This vegetation provides shade and offers a source of food and shelter for wildlife. The presence of water, however temporary, attracts a range of organisms, including birds, mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates.
The interplay of different species within the wadi ecosystem creates a unique and dynamic habitat that supports biodiversity. Herbivores such as the Arabian tahr graze on the available plants while predators would prey on them. Wadis also act as natural corridors for wildlife, providing pathways for animals to move between different habitats, allowing them to access necessary resources.
Until the end of the last century, this ecosystem has also been the home of supposedly extinct species in the UAE such as the Arabian wolf, the Arabian striped hyaena as well as the elusive Arabian leopard.
While wadis have historically been shaped by natural processes, human interventions have altered these ecosystems in various ways. Water regulation to support agriculture, livestock grazing and infrastructure development has made it challenging for large mammals to survive within their natural and historical ecosystem. However, these mountains still holds many secrets and that’s what the Arabian Leopard Chase project is all about.
When it comes to natural heritage, the Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) is probably the most iconic species that has ever roamed the Arabian Peninsula. It is the smallest of all nine leopard subspecies, however, it is the biggest wildcat that has ever lived in the Hajar Mountains. They are excellent climbers and can scale steep cliffs as well as rugged terrain with ease. Arabian leopards are solitary creatures, with adult males and females generally coming together only for mating purposes. They have large home ranges, depending on the availability of prey and suitable habitat.
Historically, Arabian leopards were found throughout the region, including parts of the UAE. However, due to factors such as habitat loss, hunting, and fragmentation, their numbers have significantly declined. Since the early 2000’s no Arabian leopard sightings have been confirmed in the country as they are most likely extinct and that existing monitoring programs have failed to detect it in the UAE.
Therefore, finding Arabian leopards in the Hajar Mountains is an almost impossible task as it has probably disappeared from this whole ecosystem. After spending time exploring the Hajar Mountains, the Tico’s Wild Studio’s team decided to set up a monitoring project in the UAE to document wildlife, assess the current situation regarding endangered species and therefore find out if there are still any Arabian leopard remaining within this exceptional area of the United Arab Emirates.
Along with the Arabian leopard, other iconic species are native from the Hajar Mountains. Here is a list of the medium sized mammals we will also be looking for that historically lives in this mountain range.
In order to get evidence of any animal presence, Tico’s Wild Studio’s team has already established a field strategy that has proven its efficiency through the years with jaguars in Costa Rica. Today, the ecosystem and the target are different, therefore we have adapted our strategy to match the specificity of the field in the Arabian Peninsula.
Through the years, the UAE government's implication in wildlife conservation has grown significantly and has led to remarkable results such as breeding and reintroduction of endangered species like the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) which went from extinct in the wild to reaching a population of thousands of individuals that now roam freely in the desert.
Today, our ambition is in alignment with the successful initiatives carried out in the country. With a knowledgable team, a clear vision and an efficient field strategy, we will use our expertise to raise awareness regarding the most iconic species still living in the Hajar Mountains.
You are based in the Arabian Peninsula and you would like to exchange about the project and wildlife conservation in the region?
The Tico's Wild Studio team will be in the UAE in early 2024.
Photo credits: Hadi Al Hikmani, Adrew Spalton, Miguel Willis, Ted Giffords, Rushikesh Deshmukh, Alex Alaman, Sumeet Moghe, Zarina Fernandes, Alessandro Catta, Mansur Al Fahad, Omani Office for Conservation of the Environment.