Entrepreneur, philanthropist and conservationist Haitham Alaini understands that continued positive changes in his home country are the result of an ongoing commitment to safeguard its resources. One of its most revered natural inhabitants, the Arabian leopard, was only recently considered nearly extinct before the Foundation for Endangered Wildlife intervened to combat the dire situation with its extensive grassroots education efforts. A living emblem of the Yemeni people as it is legally recognized as the official national animal, Alaini sees the magnificent species’ struggle as representative of the current environmental issues adversely affecting his fellow countrymen. By slowly remedying the plight by replenishing its numbers in the wild, he insists that the indigenous will serve as an inspirational symbol of national resurgence.
Haitham Alaini works diligently with the not-for-profit organization, the Foundation for Endangered Wildlife, and its specialized sister team, the Foundation for the Protection of the Arabian Leopard, to defend the critically endangered subspecies. The ultimate goal of the group is to create the conditions for a sustainably managed population of the felines that will flourish and live in harmony with local communities. As their population of roughly 200 is severely fragmented throughout the country, it is imperative that citizens recognize the connection between the great cats’ survival and their own in order to assist with the movement. Among all the dangers influencing the revitalization of these rare animals, arguably the largest challenge is defending them from the illegal trade for private pet ownership or for their skins. While spreading information on the subject and installing cameras in their habitats have become powerful tools for the foundation, ultimately, lobbying for the establishment of secure areas and staunch government defense against poachers remains paramount to the program’s success.
Beyond securing the feline’s native populace in in the Arabian Peninsula country, Haitham Alaini and the members of the foundation also hope to improve the breeding record of the captive individuals in the zoos of Yemeni cities Sana’a and Taiz. There are currently four resident Arabian leopards at the former institution that have bred at least twice, but none of the cubs have survived to adulthood; happily, the latter has been much more effective, with nearly 20 cubs descended from four wild-caught individuals that now call the zoo home. The captive breeding program at the Taiz Zoo has brought five specimens to the Al Bustan Zoological Centre in UAE, showing promise for future integration into the regional captive breeding effort throughout neighboring countries as well. Wildlife specialist Hadi Al Hikmani, from the Office for Conservation of the Environment in Oman now says the native species has a fighting chance for survival: “Thanks to the efforts of many national and international organizations’ early steps were taken to protect leopard core areas, so I believe extinction won’t happen, but we have to be careful and take the right measures to maintain the population.”
Haitham Alaini has been an active member of the Foundation for Endangered Wildlife’s Board of Trustees since June 2010. The founder and CEO of the Griffin Group has provided vital technical, moral, and financial support to the NGO since its inception. An active conservationist for many years, Alaini spearheaded Arabian leopard preservation in Yemen after confiscating four captive leopards from private hands in the 1990s; this brave act increased awareness of the trade’s illegality and made significant strides in undermining Yemen’s black market for wild felines. Alaini also supports the Acacia Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on education, cultural heritage, public health and environmental stewardship.