The high pass of Naqb al-Dhirwa gives access to the Sinai’s beautiful mountains; it’s the grand gateway between the highlands and lowlands, where the thought of scaling the towering peaks ahead might encourage intrepid explorers to quicken their step. Pause for a moment, though, and you’ll spot a pile of rocks on the pass. Look closely, and you’ll discover that this pile actually has a small doorway leading to an inner chamber. This is an old leopard trap – one of many scattered over the Sinai’s high mountains today. Traps like this date back hundreds of years to an era when leopards roamed these high, remote parts of the mountains much more widely. The high mountain passes were the perfect locations for these traps: leopards wandered through these passes while strong winds swept across them, blowing the scent of the bait over the landscape.
Hunters would place a live goat kid inside the trap with a string tied to its leg on one end and to a stone over the door on the other; the kid would instinctively begin to run as the leopard entered, jerking the string to pull the stone down and trap the leopard inside with it.
There are three leopard traps on the Abraham Path’s route through the Mt. Sinai Region, including a trap atop the al-Dhirwa pass, a little known one in the desert lowlands, and a more famous one on Abu Jifa, the last pass high above St Katherine.
It’s said that the last leopard of the Sinai was shot in the 1950s. The species’ decline in the Sinai has been mirrored across much of the Middle East in recent decades: only a handful of leopards are thought to remain in the region now, probably in Yemen, Oman, the Negev, and perhaps Saudi Arabia. Leopard sightings are occasionally reported in the Sinai, and some people believe the creatures may still exist in the most remote and mountainous parts of the peninsula.