News – Postgraduate Research Student meets UK and UAE Royals

 

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Hadi Al Hikmani, a PGR student with DICE, recently met Prince Charles at the Anglo Omani Society 40th Anniversary celebration which took place on January 27th. More than 300 guests joined HRH Princes Charles and HH Sayyid Shihab bin Tariq Al Said for the Anniversary reception at Lancaster House, London. Hadi, whose research focusses on population genetics of the Arabian leopard in Oman, was honoured to talk to His Royal Highness about Arabian leopard conservation in Oman and his studies at the University of Kent.

Following this Royal encounter Hadi attended the 17th annual international conservation workshop for Arabia’s biodiversity on February 8th. The workshop, hosted by the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA) at the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife in Sharjah, was opened by His Highness the ruler of Sharjah. The Emirate of Sharjah is the first to bring together experts from around the world to assess the status of endangered species in the region according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, Red List. The four-day workshop, held in collaboration with the IUCN, aimed to expand its cooperation with regional and international bodies and provide information and analyses on the status, trends and threats to species in order to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation.

Hadi is supervised by Dr Jim Groombridge, Dr Simon Tollington and Dr Simon Black. His project looks at the Arabian leopard Panthera pardus nimr, a subspecies of the leopard that is endemic to the Arabian Peninsula. Phylogenetic studies consider it an ancient distinctive subspecies. It once to occurred throughout the mountainous region of Arabia from Jordan in the north-west to Oman in the east. However, rapid development in the region, which caused both habitat loss and fragmentation of the Arabian leopard range, has forced the species to the brink of extinction. The IUCN has classified it as critically endangered with an estimated population of less than 200. In Oman, it is confined to small parts of its former range where an estimated 44-58 adult individuals remain in the Dhofar Mountains. However, nothing is known about the genetic status of this tiny relict population.

The aim of Hadi’s study is to use non- invasive DNA extracted from fecal samples to provide much-needed information on the genetic status of the Dhofar population. Samples from individuals within the Dhofar Mountains between 2010 and 2015 are being analysed as part of this project to determine the number and sex of genetically distinct leopards, levels of neutral genetic diversity, and extent of gene flow and inbreeding within the Dhofar population. These datasets will be used to enhance future conservation initiatives to save this critically-endangered subspecies from extinction.

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