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Les Léopards du Yémen en protection

David Stanton : défenseur de la Nature du Yémen

Installé depuis près de 20 ans au Yémen, d’abord à Aden, puis à Sanaa, David Stanton, passionné de Nature (ornithologue en particulier) s’est lancé dans la grande aventure de protéger les derniers léopards du Yémen. Expert, il créa un organisme officiel et en relation avec l’état yéménite. Nous vous invitons à suivre son site (en anglais) et de nombreuses informations.

> “It is clear from the Quran that God did not create the earth and its inhabitants for man to despoil,” he says. Sure, if a leopard eats your sheep, you will see it as an enemy. But if you look at it objectively it’s an “exquisite piece of engineering.”

“I can’t imagine that any creator would come up with something like that only to destroy it,” David Stanton.

The Foundation for the Protection of the Arabian Leopard in Yemen is a volunteer effort to ensure an expanding population of wild Arabian Leopards in Yemen. Our three-pronged approach to the conservation of Arabian Leopards in Yemen involves :

- Increasing public awareness, understanding, sympathy, commitment, and - involvement in leopard conservation.
- Improving the breeding success of Yemen’s captive Arabian Leopards.
- Lobbying for real protection of wild Arabian Leopards where they still exist in Yemen ;

Tel : +967 7 339 16928 Fax : +967 1 37 0193 Email : P.O. Box 7069 Sana’a Republic of Yemen

Article récent du Journal "Yemen Times" :

Yemen’s leopard needs attention. The depletion of its natural prey - ibex, hyrax and gazelle - has led it to eat sheep, goats and calves instead. This has lead angry shepherds to kill it to protect their livelihood. In one of the most heavily armed populations in the world, opportunistic hunting is also an issue, says Stanton. “If somebody sees a leopard, the odds are they’re going to be toting a gun and they’re going to try and shoot it. It’s reflexive.” Poverty is also a major factor, as a leopard skin has a cash value of up to USD 140 dollars.

But an even bigger threat is the live animal trade. “Yemen is surrounded by wealthy nations where people like to collect animals,” says Stanton. There are lots of private zoos in the UAE, where it has become fashionable to have the Arabian leopard in one’s collection.

There is however no data on how often these leopards are being captured and smuggled across Yemen’s borders, because it is in contravention of both national law and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which was signed by Yemen in 1997.

So what has been done since April 2008, when the decree to make the feline Yemen’s national animal should have, in theory, protected it from hunting and trapping ?

A leopard in a cage Yemen became famous for its leopards in the mid-nineties, says Stanton. There was a leopard from Wada’a, Amran, in a small cage in Tahrir. You could pay YR 5 and poke it with a stick.

The Arabian Leopard Trust based in Sharja in the UAE, was looking for Arabian leopards to start a captive breeding program, so they bought Arnold from Tahrir to be one of their founder population.

While the media exposure unfortunately brought the poachers’ attention to the presence of leopards in Wada’a and soon after “quite a number” were caught to be sold in the live animal trade, it also localized any future efforts for the animal’s conservation.

The Foundation for the Protection of the Arabian Leopard in Yemen visited Wada’a four times in 2008 : once to check it out, a second time to discuss a protective area, a third time to put up a trail camera, and a fourth to discover that it had been stolen.

The war in Sa’ada then stalled progress and, last April, the situation remained unresolved. The problem revolves around ownership of the land. In Wada’a alone, two groups consider it theirs, and neither want people trespassing or a protected area.

The camera removed in 2008 was stolen, Stanton says, “for political reasons.” Not everyone is in favor of having a protected area there because they don’t understand the benefits to the community and think that they will lose their grazing rights.

Convincing the local community Contrary to what some may think, a protective area in Wada’a would mean jobs, says Stanton - not for everybody, but it would generate interest in the area and push for some infrastructure to be developed, creating work for laborers, as well as training for new park rangers.

But to do this, there needs to be an agreement with community leaders that the camera exists for the community’s benefit, he says. If someone steals it, then no one will see the results or reap the benefits.

It is a long-term process. The foundation has allies in these areas, and they have two cameras in Mahwit, but complete consensus within the community is still missing.

A protected area in Wada’a would only be a beginning, as it is but part of a “large patchwork of interconnected areas in this wadi system where leopards roam” that includes Wada’a and Shahara in Amran as well as Wadi Shahis in Hajja and Jabal Milhan in Mahwit. “Really it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the area that should be protected,” he says.

The foundation also aims to set up an international trans-boundary conservation area to link a protected zone in Mahara, eastern Yemen, with one in Jabal Samhan across the border in Oman. In April, both governments signed a memorandum of understanding with this intent.

Preservation in a ‘museum’ The future of the Arabian leopard in the wild is not certain, according to Stanton. There are only 6-8 leopards left in Palestine and the 50 leopards recorded in Dhofar, Oman, may not survive, according to experts there. Yemen is looking at a similar picture.

The foundation’s goal of “a sustainable population of wild leopards living in harmony with local communities” may be difficult to maintain long term.

“Let’s say we have success by the end of 2020. By 2050, Yemen has 50 million inhabitants. Maintaining that success is going to be impossible - Arabian leopards will probably only exist in captivity.”

In the end, protecting leopards in captivity is better than not protecting them at all. “If you have a temple somewhere in the desert and people are robbing the graves, it’s better to put those antiquities in a museum than to just leave them there where people can take them.”

In this context, captive breeding is an insurance policy against extinction.

But this still has to be developed in Yemen, as the leopards in the Sana’a zoo do not breed and the 24 leopards in Taiz zoo are all inbred.

In the capital’s zoo, Stanton says that he has only ever heard of two offspring, one of which died because of the zoo’s “lack of veterinary capacity.” When it became ill, it was given medicine for sheep and goats, and in inappropriate doses.

And although the Taiz leopards are “potentially useful animals if they could enter the regional equation,” i.e. be crossed with leopards from the Sharja breeding center, Stanton notes that leopard cubs at the zoo are separated from their mothers at birth and suckled by dogs. This is because in captivity stressed mother leopards sometimes eat their offspring.

Christian Gross, a scientist who visited the zoo in 1991, reported online that “dog-raised leopard cubs may prove unsuitable for the breeding plan.”

A national symbol While it may be difficult to protect the Arabian leopard in the wild and captive breeding in Yemen is still developing, this does not mean that the animal in Yemen should not live on as a symbol of national pride.

If “great posters of proud eagles with American flags flowing in the background” boosted patriotism in the US after 9/11, then surely in Yemen the image of the Arabian leopard could be just as powerful, if not more so.

“A leopard is a far more charismatic symbol than a bald eagle, which is in fact a scavenger !” says

FOR YOU If you want to learn more about the work of the Foundation for the Protection of the Arabian Leopard in Yemen, go to or send an email to


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