Activists enraged as photos emerge of endangered leopards killed in Yemen
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Animal rights activists in Yemen have been horrified by photos circulating on social media since July 2 showing two endangered Arabian leopards that were killed. In a country torn apart by war, tracking down hunters and poachers and bringing them to justice is almost impossible.
These photos, shared by animal rights activists in Yemen, show a man and a boy posing next to two dead leopards.
The Arabian leopard is an endangered species protected by Yemeni law. It typically lives in remote, mountainous areas, particularly in southern Yemen. There are only about 200 left in the wild on the Arabian Peninsula. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) categorises it as "threatened with extinction."
After being alerted by citizens, the Yemeni Environment Protection Authority began an investigation and was able to find the perpetrator. We spoke to Abdelslam Al Jaabi, head of the Ad Dali' governorate section of the Environmental Protection Authority:
'The protection of animals just isn’t a priority considering the chaos in the region'
The two leopards were killed on July 2 in the governorate of Abyan, in the mountainous district of Lawdar. We were able to find the man who killed them. He’s a shepherd and killed them with a hunting rifle. He justified himself by saying that the leopards had attacked his sheep several times, and that he was scared for his children.
I can’t accept these kinds of explanations. It’s not unusual for poachers to target leopards and sell their hides in the markets. In any case, we’ve set up a team that will go to Lawdar to collect evidence and witness statements so that the man who did this – and any accomplices – is punished.
Unfortunately, this takes time, because the security situation in this region is so unstable. There’s not much we can do at the moment, and for the local authorities, the protection of animals just isn’t a priority considering the chaos in the region at the moment.
Since 2015, Yemen has been in the grips of a war between the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, recognised by the international community, and the Shiite Houthi movement. Now, there is a second conflict affecting the south of the country, where the Arabian leopard can be found. In Lawdar, Abyan, the last few weeks have seen violent fighting between Yemeni government forces and an independent movement, the Southern Transitional Council. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters are also present in Abyan, and have carried out attacks against several local tribes.
Abdelslam Al Jaabi hopes that a stricter law will be put in place to protect animals, even if it will be difficult to apply it in a country at war.
I think that the law meant to protect animals is obsolete. A 2014 ministerial decision on the protection of the environment sets out that any person who kills an endangered animal should receive a fine of 60 dollars [50 euros]. It’s too small a sum. We have to make the punishment harsher, impose even bigger fines, to try and stop people from doing these sorts of things.
The leopard can be found mostly in the governorate bordering Ad Dali' [a town in southwestern Yemen], because there are very few inhabitants and little human activity in this region.
Since 2014, we have documented 10 cases of leopards killed in Yemen, and two instances of leopards captured. Those responsible have never been found.
According to the most recent official estimations, there are around 200 leopards left 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 mostly nocturnal animal. It only goes out and hunts at night. That’s why it’s hard to film it when it’s in the wild. We’ve recently obtained a rare video where we can see it in daylight.
In April, a video showing the capture of a female leopard in the Abyan governorate scandalised environmental activists in Yemen. Two videos show the leopard shut in a cage and then tied to a log.
This video, published on April 3, shows the female leopard trapped in a cage by people in the region of Lawdar.
The same animal was tied to a log to be transported, as the video here shows, put online on April 4
The Agency for the Protection of the Environment explained in a press release that it had sent officials to ask the person who had captured the leopard to set it free, but he had refused. The Agency then called on security forces to intervene, without success.
According to the NGO Holm Akhdar,18 leopards have been killed between 2015 and 2018.