The Plight of Imprisoned Cheetah Conservationists in Iran

Asian Cheetah by Behnam Gorbani. CC BY-SA 4.0

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.

Dr. Thomas Kaplan’s speech at a UANI summit in September 2017.

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.

15 Thoughts

  1. Its interesting that your post includes the issue with the photographers (Panthera) I just read the National Geographic article a couple of days ago and was saddened that these wonderful and resourceful conservationists lives are threatened for doing what is common in the conservation world to protect wildlife and track wildlife. Thank you for sharing this article, I believe that sharing this story may help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Laura,

      I had to include the issue with Panthera, because I’ve never tried to hide the fact that I support them and their work. If I had shared the NatGeo article and glossed over the issue with Panthera – while my blog is full of endorsements of them – it would’ve constituted a conflict of interest that would’ve harmed my overall integrity. So, that’s why I included that info, even though it’s not in my short-term best interest.

      I really hope that this story helps the Iranian conservationists somehow. The charge of spying is complete BS, and even elements within the Iranian government say so.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, Its in everyone’s best interest that the Nat. Geo full story be shared to hopefully bring justice into the situation, and yes it is BS, those cameras are not equipped to spy and it is a well-known fact. Thank you for sharing, I did the same in the hope that it will make a difference for them.

        Liked by 1 person

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