Eight Iranian conservationists who were studying Asiatic cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) – of which only 50 are thought to remain in the wild – were arrested in January of 2018. A new National Geographic story by Kayleigh Long covers their plight in disturbing detail.
The conservationists are associated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), and they were arrested for allegedly using camera traps – vital tools for studying elusive animals like cheetahs – for espionage. The Iranian government’s spying claims have been rebuked by practically everybody, including an investigation that was prompted by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Cannon, 2018).
Nevertheless, four of the eight conservationists have been charged with “sowing corruption on Earth,” which could carry the death penalty. One conservationist, Kavous Seyed-Emami, died in custody under suspicious circumstances.
New details in the National Geographic article might link comments by the Panthera Corporation’s co-founder and chair, Dr. Thomas Kaplan, to the plight of the jailed conservationists. Kaplan is a billionaire investor who specializes in precious metals and mining, as well as a philanthropist.
In addition to co-founding Panthera, a wild cat conservation organization, Kaplan helps to fund United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI): a lobbying group whose mission includes ensuring, “the economic and diplomatic isolation of the Iranian regime in order to compel Iran to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons program, support for terrorism and human rights violations.”
In September of 2017, Kaplan made a series of controversial remarks about “the Iranians” at a UANI summit. Unfortunately, the PWHF occassionally worked with Panthera.
The next month, PWHF staff sent a letter to Panthera in which they expressed concern that Kaplan’s comments would make it difficult for the PWHF to continue being associated with Panthera. Approximately three months later, the eight conservationists working with the PWHF were arrested.
Let me be clear: there is no concrete evidence linking the Iranian conservationists’ arrests to Kaplan’s speech. In fact, according to the National Geographic story, persecuting environmentalists was a ‘thing’ for Iran in 2018. However, Kaplan’s remarks highlight the need for diplomacy when one has associates living in countries that do not enjoy the same freedoms as other parts of the world.
As always, the original story contains more information. Please click the button below to read it.