Can populations of world’s smallest wolf & leopard, ‘Dhib’ & ‘Nimr’ respectively, be revived ever in Israel-Palestine’s Negev & Judean deserts?

  •  Saturday, November 11th, 2023  Animalsforkids

    The last Arabian leopards were seen in the region in the noughties (the decade from 2000 to 2009); the Arabian wolf hangs on determinedly; but can their revival is possible if the region is continually at war?

    The Holy Land is burning again after Palestinian terrorist group Hamas invaded southern Israel on 7th October, 2023, from the Gaza Strip. Current media blitzkrieg is focussed on human casualties of war quite naturally but isn’t it worthwhile, even minimally, to ponder about the impact on iconic wildlife of the region, including the world’s smallest leopard and wolf?

    The Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) and the Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs) are found across the Arabian Peninsula. Nimr and Dhib respectively are the Arabic terms for these two animals that have featured in the culture and folklore of the expanse’s peoples. However, both animals are critically endangered in the northern half of their range. The deserts of the Holy Land — the Negev and the Judaean — were home to both once. Negev dominates southern Israel till the Gulf of Aqaba while the Judaean desert is shared by Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. Unfortunately, at least for the leopard this may now no longer be the case.

    A study published in July this very year noted that loss of its historical range by the Arabian leopard is as high as 98 per cent and its populations have become highly isolated and fragmented. Title of the study is ‘Genomics reveals introgression and purging of deleterious mutations in the Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr)’. This is absolutely true for Israel and Palestine.

    Down To Earth (DTE) was told by Switzerland-based Urs Breitenmoser (co-chair, IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group) that “The Arabian leopard is extinct in its entire northern range, including all historic distribution ranges on the Sinai Peninsula, the Negev, and the Judean Desert. Remnant nuclei of Arabian leopards are today restricted to Oman, Yemen, and possibly some animals in the southern part of Saudi Arabia.” He added, “The latest observations from the Negev date around 2010 — not so long ago, but these were probably the last survivors; the reproducing population was already gone by then.”

    Things are far better for the Dhib though. A study published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation last year stated this in no uncertain terms. Title of the study is ‘Tolerance of wolves shapes desert canid communities in the Middle East’. Adi Barocas (Research Associate, San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research & WildCRU) spoke on similar lines. He told Down To Earth that “The Arabian wolf is the top carnivore in the Negev desert ecosystems, adapted for life in an environment with reduced productivity.”