Activists furious as photos emerge of endangered leopards killed in Yemen

Animal rights activists in Yemen are shocked by photos circulating on social media since July 2 of two endangered Arabian leopards that have been killed. In a war-torn country, it is nearly impossible to track down and bring to justice hunters and poachers.

Shared by animal rights activists in Yemen, these photos show a man and boy posing next to two dead leopards.

Photo of the man who killed two rare leopards in the Lawdar region of southern Yemen. These photos have been circulating on social media since early July. © Y.TigerS Photo of a crowd gathered around the two leopards killed in Lawdar, southern Yemen, on July 2, 2021. © Y.TigerS

The Arabian leopard is an endangered species protected by Yemeni law. It usually lives in remote, mountainous areas, especially in southern Yemen. There are only about 200 left in the wild in the Arabian Peninsula. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) categorizes it as “threatened with extinction”.

After being warned by civilians, the Yemeni Environmental Protection Authority launched an investigation and was able to locate the culprit. We spoke to Abdelslam Al Jaabi, head of the Ad Dali’ Governorate Department of the Environmental Protection Authority:

‘Animal protection is simply not a priority given the chaos in the region’

The two leopards were killed on July 2 in Abyan Governorate, in the mountainous district of Lawdar. We were able to find the man who killed them. He is a shepherd and killed them with a shotgun. He justified himself by saying that the leopards had attacked his sheep several times and that he was afraid of his children.

I cannot accept such statements. It is not uncommon for poachers to target leopards and sell their hides in the markets. In any case, we have assembled a team that will go to Lawdar to collect evidence and witness statements so that the man who did this – and any accomplices – are punished.

Unfortunately, this takes time, because the security situation in this region is so unstable. There is not much we can do at the moment and for the local authorities the protection of animals is simply not a priority given the chaos in the region at the moment.

Since 2015, Yemen has been gripped by a war between the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Shia Houthi movement. Now there is a second conflict in the south of the country, where the Arabian leopard can be found. In Lawdar, Abyan, there has been violent clashes between Yemeni government forces and an independent movement, the Southern Transitional Council, in recent weeks. Al Qaeda fighters in the Arabian Peninsula are also present in Abyan and have launched attacks against several local tribes.

Abdelslam Al Jaabi hopes stricter law will be introduced to protect animals, even if it will be difficult to enforce in a country at war.

I think the law intended to protect animals is outdated. A 2014 ministerial decree on environmental protection stipulates that any person who kills an endangered animal must be fined $60 [50 euros]. It’s too small an amount. We need to make the penalties tougher, impose even higher fines, to try to stop people from doing things like this.

The leopard is mainly found in the governorate adjacent to Ad Dali’ [a town in southwestern Yemen], because this region has very few inhabitants and little human activity.

Since 2014, we have documented 10 cases of leopards killed in Yemen and two cases of captive leopards. Those responsible have never been found.

According to the most recent official estimates, there are still about 200 leopards in the Arabian Peninsula. But I think there are more than that now because the last count was several years ago.

The Arabian leopard is a mainly nocturnal animal. He only goes out at night and hunts. That’s why it’s hard to film it when it’s in the wild. We recently got a rare video where we can see him in daylight.

In April, a video of a female leopard capture in Abyan Governorate sparked a scandal among environmental activists in Yemen. Two videos show the leopard locked in a cage and then tied to a tree trunk.

This video, published on April 3, shows the female leopard being caged by humans in the Lawdar region.

YouTube © Youtube

The same animal was tied to a tree trunk to be transported, as the video here shows, posted online on April 4 4

The Agency for the Protection of the Environment explained in a press release that it had sent officials to ask the person who captured the leopard to release him, but he had refused. The Agency then called on the security forces to intervene, without success.

According to the NGO Holm Akhdar, 18 leopards were killed between 2015 and 2018.

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