Tailing Arabia’s Last Leopards: An Environmental Reporting Road Trip through Yemen (FULL SERIES)

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Presented in full: Gaar Adams’ five-part series detailing his weeklong 2014 expedition in Yemen to track the Arabian leopard – one of the rarest animals in the world.  From the Western Highlands to the depths of the Southern Mountains, join the 1,000-kilometer journey from rusted-out pickup trucks with rifle-wielding mango farmers to cave-homes hewn out of sheer cliffs in search of the elusive big cat. With stories of extremism and conflict dominating media coverage of Yemen, take a rare inside look at the ecological surprises nestled amidst the country’s isolated valleys as Adams investigates the barrage of threats assailing some of the most remote and least studied natural environments on the planet.

By Gaar Adams | Beacon | January 10, 2015beacon

Read the full series here.

Tailing Arabia’s Last Leopards: An Environmental Reporting Road Trip through Yemen (Part V – Final Installment)

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In early 2014, I joined a weeklong expedition through Yemen’s Haraz Mountains and Western Highlands to track the Arabian leopard – one of the rarest animals in the world. This is the conclusion to my five-part series detailing the 1,000-kilometer journey that took me from rusted-out pickup trucks with rifle-wielding mango farmers to cave-homes hewn out of sheer cliffs in search of the elusive big cat. With stories of extremism and conflict dominating media coverage of Yemen, take a rare inside look at the ecological surprises nestled amidst the country’s isolated valleys as I investigate the barrage of threats assailing some of the most remote and least studied natural environments on the planet.

 

By Gaar Adams | Beacon | January 9, 2015beacon

Read ‘Part I: Sana’a’ here
Read ‘Part II: Wadi Sharis’ here
Read ‘Part III: Jebel Milhan’ here

Part V – Final Installment: Ibb, Yemen

We chased the light of dawn over each crest in the mountain, hunting for any stray beams of sun that might peak over a ridge before darting behind another rocky outcropping. As our car journeyed higher into the mountain range, we watched the faint gray outlines of men fixing bundles along the edge of the steep switchbacks in the road. Dr. Al-Duais slowed to a crawl as one hulking figure pierced the early morning mist, approaching our car with a bulging satchel and a toothless smile.

After exchanging extended Islamic greetings and a couple of coins, Al-Duais passed the large bundle back to us. Dirt crumbled between my fingers as I opened the dewy bag, filling the car with a sweet, earthy smell. Carrots. The leafy greens atop the vegetables bounced and swayed as Al-Duais sped off again and reached back to grab a particularly hefty one from the bag.

“The best vegetables in the country are here!” Al-Duais grinned before taking a large bite.

Despite the pervasive mist and the early morning hour, Al-Duais was in high spirits, pointing through the haze to each new type of plant he could spot lining the road or tucked into the valleys below us. Fennel. Anise. Euphorbia. “Smell them all!” he encouraged, rolling down the windows with haste, lest we should miss the unique aroma of any particular bouquet.

After a nearly 1,000-kilometer journey, we were nearing our final stop: Ibb, a wet, fertile region of Yemen cradled 2,000 meters high by the immense Southern Mountains. For Al-Duais, who was born and raised in Ibb, it was the lushness of this province that first inspired his love of biology.

But as Yemen struggles with a plummeting water table and the population of the Ibb governorate swells past 2.5 million, the so-called “Green City” is becoming less “green” and more “city.” And for the Arabian leopard, this means that time is running out: despite its omnipresence in the oral history of elder hillside farmers, the animal hasn’t been definitively spotted in Ibb in a decade.

Read the conclusion to this series here.

Tailing Arabia’s Last Leopards: An Environmental Reporting Road Trip through Yemen (Part IV)

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Early this spring, I joined a weeklong expedition through Yemen’s Haraz Mountains and Western Highlands to track the Arabian leopard – one of the rarest animals in the world. Join this five-part series detailing the 1,000-kilometer journey that took me from rusted-out pickup trucks with rifle-wielding mango farmers to cave-homes hewn out of sheer cliffs in search of the elusive big cat. With stories of extremism and conflict dominating media coverage of Yemen, take a rare inside look at the ecological surprises nestled amidst the country’s isolated valleys as I investigate the barrage of threats assailing some of the most remote and least studied natural environments on the planet.

By Gaar Adams | Beacon | December 17, 2014beacon

Read ‘Part I: Sana’a’ here
Read ‘Part II: Wadi Sharis’ here
Read ‘Part III: Jebel Milhan’ here

Part IV: Jebel Bura, Hodeidah, Yemen

It felt like something out of a zombie film.

Leaping out from the depths of a boulder-strewn ditch, a hulking baboon scrambled up the hood of our car and released a mighty, agitated scream. I hastily rolled up my passenger window as the bullish figure squatted down in front of us, his piercing cry still ringing through both of my ears.

Sitting in stalemate along a wide bank of eroding asphalt, I nervously eyed a prominent crack running the length of our windshield, imaging 70 pounds of unbridled aggression smashing through the glass. That couldn’t happen, I tried to reassure myself in the jittery silence. But only once he scurried down our bumper a few moments later did I finally let go of my white-knuckled grip on the armrest. We watched in silence as the baboon joined a troupe of six others darting past our car.

As we tentatively continued our drive deeper into the valley forest, we soon rounded a sharp bend and found the source of the commotion – a convoy of two Yemeni families stood in the middle of the road 10 meters ahead, throwing packets of potato chips onto the tarmac for a congress of baboons. Over a dozenHamadryas had assembled – with several more still scurrying in from different directions – including one that hurled itself from the overhead canopy to a spot mere inches from a small, gleeful toddler. Dumbfounded, we watched as a scrawny adolescent girl took a moment to snap a photo and adjust her niqabbefore kicking the monkey away from the boy.

Though this scene could have understandably been mistaken as some kind of petting zoo gone terribly wrong, we were actually in Jebel Bura – an isolated granite mastiff 60 kilometers southeast of Jebel Milhan and the closest thing Yemen has to a bona fide national park. The importance of this woodland is difficult to overstate: Bura is home to a dazzling array of both endemic flora and rare migratory fauna, and – outside of Hawf Forest in extreme eastern Yemen where FEW captured the only photographic proof of the leopard in the country – it’s also the largest forest in all of Yemen. But the fact that a relatively modest 4500-hectare region holds this distinction speaks volumes on the scarcity of this ecology: indeed, Hawf, Bura, and Milhan are three of the very last viable forests left in the Arabian Peninsula.

Read more here.

Tailing Arabia’s Last Leopards: An Environmental Reporting Road Trip through Yemen (Part III)

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Early this spring, I joined a weeklong expedition through Yemen’s Haraz Mountains and Western Highlands to track the Arabian leopard – one of the rarest animals in the world. Join this five-part series detailing the 1,000-kilometer journey that took me from rusted-out pickup trucks with rifle-wielding mango farmers to cave-homes hewn out of sheer cliffs in search of the elusive big cat. With stories of extremism and conflict dominating media coverage of Yemen, take a rare inside look at the ecological surprises nestled amidst the country’s isolated valleys as I investigate the barrage of threats assailing some of the most remote and least studied natural environments on the planet.

By Gaar Adams | Beacon | November 8, 2014beacon

Read ‘Part I: Sana’a’ here

Read ‘Part II: Wadi Sharis’ here

Part III: Jebel Milhan, Al Mahwit, Yemen

I rolled down the passenger window but immediately wished I hadn’t.

Dust and heat and oppressive humidity flooded into the car. Even after rolling the window back up, I watched moisture collect on the dashboard; tiny beads of water streamed down its peeling vinyl as the air conditioner struggled to kick back to life. Too sweltering to talk, there was nothing to do but wipe our foreheads with the backs of our hands and continue driving – lumbering on through the scorched, featureless plain.

Read more here.

The Strangest Sport No One Knows

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In the highlands near Mumbai, practitioners of Mallakhamb perform curious acrobatic feats using poles, ropes … and castor oil.

By Gaar Adams | Slate / Roads & Kingdoms | July 11, 2014s-SLATE-largesquare_logo_new

MUMBAI—

In 1936, a troupe of 35 acrobats from a small town in Central India traveled to the Berlin Olympic Games to demonstrate the ancient sport of Mallakhamb. At a formal gala convened by the International Olympic Committee, athletics officials and eager media from around the world gathered to witness the 900-year-old exotic sport’s global unveiling. The team’s intricate feats of contortion, strength, and death-defying gymnastics atop a skinny, eight-and-a-half foot pole thrilled Adolf Hitler; the Führer personally bestowed each acrobat with an honorary Olympic medal before the group returned to India.

The world’s first real glimpse of this curious athletic form was also its last. But today, in the lush highlands that hug sprawling Mumbai, this peculiar sport with apparatuses that look uncannily like medieval torture devises is still practiced. It is in these few ramshackle gymnasiums scattered throughout India’s Maharashtra—the same region where Mallakhamb’s origins are traced back to 12th century Sanskrit texts—where a strange tradition that features swinging clubs, rope burn between toes, and copious amounts of castor oil—is kept alive.

Read more here.

Tailing Arabia’s Last Leopards: An Environmental Reporting Road Trip through Yemen (Part II)

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Early this spring, I joined a weeklong expedition through Yemen’s Haraz Mountains and Western Highlands to track the Arabian leopard – one of the rarest animals in the world. This month, I’ll be publishing a five-part series detailing the 1,000-kilometer journey that took me from rusted-out pickup trucks with rifle-wielding mango farmers to cave-homes hewn out of sheer cliffs in search of the elusive big cat. With stories of extremism and conflict dominating media coverage of Yemen, take a rare inside look at the ecological surprises nestled amidst the country’s isolated valleys as I investigate the barrage of threats assailing some of the most remote and least studied natural environments on the planet.

By Gaar Adams | Beacon | July 8, 2014beacon

Read ‘Part I: Sana’a’ here

Part II: Wadi Sharis, Hajjah, Yemen

Well after dark, we arrived in Hajjah choking on diesel fumes.

The stench of burning fuel hung heavy in the air – opening our car doors, we pulled keffiyehs up over our stinging nostrils to ward off the fetid haze. Deafening growls belched out of generators that lined the streets, rumbling across the thick concrete sprawl of the hilltop town. That morning, as we breezed north from gridlocked Sana’a, we had left one power cut behind. One-hundred and fifty kilometers to the west – and nine hours later – we were greeted by the same low, wounded moan of old engines puffing filth into the sky.

Our arrival was later than we had anticipated. Nestled 1,800 meters high amidst some of the tallest peaks of the Haraz Mountains, Hajjah’s strategic location as a fortified stronghold of the former Imamate made sense: reaching the town was a precarious journey by any standards. Even traversing the modern asphalt road that dangled over the craggy range proved perilous – with no shoulders or guardrails, each tight switchback served as a reminder that just one careless turn meant careening off into an abyss. Between unrelenting white-knuckle driving, a blown tire, and a back-road bypass to avoid the security situation in Amran, it had been a long day. Fortunately, our time spent among the pungent generators of Hajjah was only for a night’s stopover.

Early the next morning, the team would head down the edge of the mountain into Wadi Sharis, a secluded valley east of town. There, in 2009, FEW associates found Arabian leopard scat, positively identified through DNA testing. The discovery had built momentum for the nascent organization after their success in lobbying the government to declare the Arabian leopard as Yemen’s national animal. But as an insurgency strengthened in nearby Amran and the fever pitch of the revolution’s political and social unrest limited FEW’s ability to mine for additional funding, the team pulled the plug on their exploratory Sharis research in 2011 to focus their limited resources in Hawf. But now – half a decade after they had found the last definitive proof of the leopard in the region – the foundation was hoping for another miracle in proving that the elusive animal still roamed this far west in Yemen.

Read more here.

Tailing Arabia’s Last Leopards: An Environmental Reporting Road Trip through Yemen (Part I)

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Early this spring, I joined a weeklong expedition through Yemen’s Haraz Mountains and Western Highlands to track the Arabian leopard – one of the rarest animals in the world. This month, I’ll be publishing a five-part series detailing the 1,000-kilometer journey that took me from rusted-out pickup trucks with rifle-wielding mango farmers to cave-homes hewn out of sheer cliffs in search of the elusive big cat. With stories of extremism and conflict dominating media coverage of Yemen, take a rare inside look at the ecological surprises nestled amidst the country’s isolated valleys as I investigate the barrage of threats assailing some of the most remote and least studied natural environments on the planet.

By Gaar Adams | Beacon | June 12, 2014beacon

Part I: Sana’a

 

Our tires had been slashed.

Standing on the edge of the Old City, the five of us squinted through the darkness at our beaten up Suzuki while inky midnight hues enveloped our huddled group. We let minutes ghost by in silence as though our stillness might coax the embattled SUV to spontaneously reinflate its own tires.

It was a miracle we desperately needed right about then.

At the crack of dawn a mere five hours away, this team of environmental researchers from Yemen’s Foundation for Endangered Wildlife (FEW) was due to depart Sana’a for a weeklong fieldwork expedition. I was set to join them as they snaked through formidable terrain gathering any evidence of the Arabian leopard (Panthera pardus nimr) – one of the rarest animals on the planet – among the daunting ranges and secluded valleys of the Haraz Mountains and Western Highlands.

Four years earlier, similar fieldwork in Hawf – a distant eastern region along the Omani border – yielded spectacular results: FEW researchers recorded the first photographic evidence in history of the critically endangered animal in Yemen. It was a landmark moment for the preservation of the Arabian leopard – a majestic big cat that once roamed the entire Arabian Peninsula, Egyptian Sinai, and parts of the Levant as little as a half century ago. Before FEW’s work in Hawf, scientists thought that a sustained population probably only remained in a smallsouthern corner of Oman. And though fewer than 250 leopards survive today, FEW’s work had given a little more hope for the animal’s survival by proving that its habitat still extended into Yemen – albeit just barely…

Read more here.