Reclusive leopard stars in celluloid


The crew found evidence of around 20 leopards in Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve; they also discovered evidence of other leopards outside the park.

Muscat: A film shot in Oman on the world's smallest leopard: The Arabian leopard has won an award for best foreign category film in the Third Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (WFCC.org) which will run from January 30–February 2, 2013.

Speaking to Times of Oman, Producer of the film, Kevin Rushby said that the film was shot in Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve in Oman and in Yemen for over a period of three weeks.
"While capturing camera trap pictures of the leopard in Oman we came to know that there are around 20 individual leopards in Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve, but we also discovered evidence of other leopards in areas outside the park," he said.

Saving the Arabian Leopard film tracks the efforts of a small group of Yemeni conservationists led by American David Stanton as they battle to start a programme that will rescue the Yemeni leopard from the brink of extinction.

"He knew it was a Herculean task but he is a particularly enthusiastic and optimistic character with a real love for Yemen and its people. The film starts with David persuading various local men to get interested in the idea of leopard conservation. There were two guys who stood out as characters: Ibrahim Al Wahdi and Nasser Al Milhani.

We followed their preparations to go on a training course in Oman where they would learn a bit about the work that goes into conservation. Since both these men were from rural backwaters, it was a fantastic experience to see them go on their first trip abroad and then find that they had skills and knowledge that were truly valued in the wider world," he said.

The 24 minute film will make its world premier in 3rd Annual New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival on February 2.

Actual numbers
Kevin Rushby, however, refused to specify how many Arabian leopards are there in Oman. "Actual numbers are very difficult to ascertain: this is a reclusive and shy animal living in a huge and inaccessible region. We spent our days walking long distances, searching for tracks and signs and also checking camera traps. The area is stunningly beautiful, very dry and mountainous. At night we camped under the stars and tried to keep warm - it was very cold. Khalid, our guide from the Arabian Oryx Project, was superb, helping us find all kinds of wildlife and amazing locations. The leopards here are vitally important if the animal is to survive. It represents the world's only known viable population of this animal and certainly the only place where it gets any kind of protection. We were hugely impressed by the work being done in Oman," he said.

Regarding choosing Arabian leopard as a subject, the director said what drew him to this was the fact that it is an animal that many people don't even know exists. "Not only that but it is in a country with almost no environmental protection record. I knew immediately that this combination, together with committed and interesting characters, would make a great story," he said.

Regarding the most interesting part of making the film, he said that shooting in Yemen is a very challenging place. "I think at one point we had 26 soldiers and two armed vehicles protecting us from... well, we never found out quite what it was. But for me the long treks we did in Oman in the most remote and uninhabited desert mountains were incredible experiences. There was one spot where we found ourselves walking along a ledge on a cliff a thousand feet above the sea, following leopard tracks in the dust," he added.

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