Meet Zainab Almubarak

Meet Zainab Almubarak

the pioneering Saudi woman helping protect the Arabian Leopard

At the heart of AlUla's evolution into a premier tourist destination lies an unwavering dedication to its natural landscape, encompassing the sustainable conservation of the environment and the cultivation of a deep sense of stewardship for future generations. This commitment is apparent in Royal Commission for AlUla's (RCU) steadfast efforts to protect the critically endangered Arabian Leopard.

Through a captive breeding programme, robust funding, and a shared passion for wildlife and the environment, RCU is working tirelessly to bring Arabian Leopards back from the brink of extinction in the hopes of seeing the big cats once again roam AlUla’s wilderness.
A key member of RCU’s conservation team who is also making history in her own right, Zainab Almubarak is the first Saudi woman to work as a leopard keeper.

Playing an integral role in ensuring the safety and comfort of these big cats, Zainab credits a life-long fascination with animals as her inspiration for entering this field, where she stands out as a true trailblazer.

“I’ve always been curious to understand the behaviours of animals. This curiosity is what led me to travel to New Zealand and study animal management and welfare. After graduation I worked as a veterinary technician taking care of pets, not realising that I was the first Saudi woman to have this job,” said Zainab.

Zainab hopes to inspire other Saudi women…

"It is such a privilege to be the first Saudi woman to do this job, and it honestly feels unreal. Saudi women are strong and ambitious, and I truly hope that my career inspires other women in Saudi Arabia."

Zainab joined RCU in 2022 as a leopard keeper, behaviourist, and researcher. While her job is strenuous, requiring long hours outdoors in the heat, she says it is a dream come true.

“Working with such a unique and extraordinary animal is a privilege that many people do not get to experience in their lifetime,” Zainab said.

A day in the life of a leopard keeper

  • My day starts early in the morning when I arrive at the centre and immediately check on all the leopards. It is very important to do the first walk in the morning as you can interact with the leopards face-to-face.
  • I spend most of my mornings doing maintenance work with the keeper team, feeding, cleaning, providing enrichment and preparing the leopards' meals for the following days.
  • After that, I head to my office in the monitor room where we have cameras for all the leopards and their enclosures. I monitor their behaviour and record daily and weekly reports. I love reporting positive behaviours and interactions between leopards and the enrichments we provide.
  • I always do a walk in between the leopard enclosures before I leave work, making sure each leopard is happy and healthy. I personally like to just sit and talk with them. To me interacting with the leopards is a very important tool to build a trusting relationship between us humans and the animals we take care of.

About the Arabian Leopard Fund

With fewer than 200 wild Arabian Leopards remaining in the Arabian Peninsula, RCU aims to reintroduce this species back into their natural habitat as part of a broader initiative to reestablish diverse flora and fauna in the wilderness of AlUla County.

By establishing the $25 million fund for Arabian Leopard conservation, the Arabian Leopard Programme and the RCU Breeding Centre in Taif, in addition to initiatives such as Arabian Leopard Day, RCU supports endangered species, habitats, and local communities. There are currently 20 leopards at the Taif Breeding Centre, with three cubs born last year.

“RCU’s efforts along with many other worldwide organisations is what could possibly save this amazing species from extinction. Our Arabian Leopard breeding programme ensures that the few numbers that are left in Saudi Arabia have the best welfare and husbandry practices to be able to reproduce and increase their numbers.”

Fast facts about the Arabian leopard

  • It is the smallest subspecies of the leopard family, and their natural habitat includes deserts and mountains.

  • The Arabian Leopard once thrived in the Hijaz Mountains of AlUla.

  • They have very long tails that help them balance and climb, and they have very unique rosette spots on their bodies.

  • Introduced by Saudi Arabia in 2022, Arabian Leopard Day was officially designated by the UN to be held annually on 10 February.