A Brazilian in the Arabian leopard’s den

Biologist Marcelo Mazzolli went to the Dhofar mountains, in Oman, to study the animal. The conclusion, pointing to smaller numbers of the creature, will be disclosed to the scientific community.

Isaura Daniel

São Paulo – Early this year, Marcelo Mazzolli, from the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, arrived in Oman, in the Gulf region, to go camping for one month in the Dhofar mountains. Mazzolli is a biologist and was invited by international organisation Biosphere Expeditions to work as a scientist on research on the Arabian leopard. Mazzolli adopted an unusual methodology for carrying out field work, and the conclusions of his research will be published in the scientific journal Zoology in the Middle East.

According to Mazzolli, one of the main conclusions made during the trip is that the presence of the Arabian leopard is decreasing in the North region of the Dhofar mountains, regarded as the animal’s largest refuge in the Arabian Peninsula. Among the vestiges collected, the most recent ones date from three to six months earlier. The research showed that more detailed studies are required in order to detect the causes, which might range from a shortage of prey to retaliation against the leopards from the population for their attacks to herds.

Mazzolli also proposes the hypotheses that the animals may have migrated to other places, that they have fled from the region during the driest period, which is the beginning of the year, when the research was conducted, or else that the number of leopards is decreasing due to extinction. The Arabian leopard is considered to be critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Mazzolli’s article should attract public attention worldwide to the situation of the leopard in the Dhofar mountains.

In his research, Mazzolli used a differentiated, recently created methodology called occupation by quadrants. The method, according to him, enables systematised data collection, as the region may be divided into quadrants. A total of 54 quadrants – each with 4 square kilometres – were studied in Oman. This division, according to Mazzolli, allows for more information to be collected in a larger area. Without it, the search for vestiges is done randomly, and the same data may be collected more than once.

The research also used GPS navigation. The system would indicate what quadrant the researchers were in, and which ones had already been investigated. According to Mazzolli, the Arabian leopard is an animal that moves across a large area, therefore studying only one or two extensions would not be enough for obtaining relevant information on its survival. The data were collected by volunteers from different parts of the world. Mazzolli worked with two groups.

Mazzolli stayed in Oman to conduct the research in January and February. Biosphere Expeditions got in touch with him as a result of a partnership between the organisers and Project Puma, an environmental non-profit organisation of which Mazzolli is the founder and director. Representatives of Biosphere participated in a survey about the presence of the puma in mountain range Serra do Mar, in the state of Paraná (southern Brazil), along with Project Puma.

He claims that he would like to continue working with the Arabian leopard through Project Puma, which works for the survival of the cats. In addition to forging ahead with Project Puma, Mazzolli, 43 years old, is a professor at the University of Planalto Catarinense (Uniplac), where he coordinates the Ecology Laboratory. Project Puma has a cooperation agreement with the university, which is located in the municipality of Lages.

Born in the state of Santa Catarina, Mazzolli graduated in Biology from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) and then headed to the Amazon to do research in the jungle. “I have always been attracted to nature,” explains the scientist. When he returned to Santa Catarina, he decided to explore nature in his own state, and came upon news of puma attacks to herds. Mazzolli then collaborated with technicians at the Brazilian Environment and Renewable Natural Resource Institute (Ibama) who were working on the subject, became involved in the field, and wound up creating Project Puma, in 1988.

*Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum

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