Saudi Arabia has been locked in an ambitious programme to resurrect the almost extinct Arabian tiger by breeding it in activity, the head of the Gulf Kingdom’s wildlife agency has said.
The National Commission for Wildlife Conservation and Development (NCWCD) is carrying out the programme which also involves the installation of 50 thermal imaging cameras in areas stretching thousands of miles from the northern border with Jordan to the southern border with Yemen, NCWCD’s secretary general Prince Bandar bin Mohammed bin Saud said.
In comments carried by the Saudi daily Alhayat on Saturday, he said the Arabian leopard, which had lived in large numbers in the Arabian peninsula, has become extinct because of massive hunting and development plans following the discovery of oil.
“Concerning the Arabian tiger, it could exist in just a few numbers across Jordan’s mountains and the UAE…in Saudi Arabia, we have found two of this animal,” the Prince said.
“We have launched a project to breed this animal and study its habitats and the way it lives…the project includes the installation of nearly 50 thermal imaging cameras across the Kingdom’s western region from the border with Jordan to Yemen…we installed them two months ago but so far we have not spotted any animal it is a big project and the study will last at least two years.”
Prince Bandar said NCWCD had launched another programme in parallel with that project involving the breeding of the Arabian tiger in captivity. “We have just had some baby tigers and we expect to have more this year…but there are many other animals that have become endangered in this region including the Arabian Oryx, the Hubara Bustard, the Arabian Gazelle and other species.”
The first birth of the Arabian tiger was reported a few years ago by the Saudi National Wildlife Research Centre (NWRC).
The baby tiger was reported to be in healthy condition, according to NWRC, which said the mother tiger was presented by Yemen to Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, the chairman of NCWCD.
It was later gifted to the breeding programme that was first launched in early 2000s. The mother tigress, was introduced into the captivity breeding program in 2006. In 2007, it was paired with a male Arabian tiger at the NWRC in the central town of Taif.
Prince Bandar said Arabian tigers are among the rarest mammals in the Arabian Peninsula, where only around 200 are believed to be available in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman.
He said Arabian tigers are killed by people who “do not understand their importance in the environment.”
The Prince said the Authority had recently proposed tougher penalties against poachers who hunt inside reserves and other exclusion zones in the desert Gulf nation.
Under the new laws, which will be approved by the cabinet soon, fines against poachers will be raised from SR10,000 to SR50,000 while they will also be fined the price of every hunted animal. “Their cars will also be confiscated and in case they repeat the offence, they could be jailed for one month,” Prince Bandar said.