On June 4th, or World Environment Day, Jane Goodall led a team of 49 conservationists to petition for governments across the Near East and other antagonists to put aside their differences and allow for species-saving work for the Persian leopard to continue uninterrupted.
Included in the letter signed by conservationists from Holland to Afghanistan, a call is made for the release of 7 imprisoned Iranian wildlife biologists, who in 2018 were arrested and charged with espionage while studying the Critically-Endangered Asiatic cheetah, which World at Large has reported on before.
Originally a team of nine conservationists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, their founder Kavous Seyed-Emami, died during this imprisonment under unknown circumstances. Seyed-Emami was described to WaL as “the Iranian version of David Attenborough” by Dr. Thomas Kaplan, the founder of the wildcat conservation group Panthera.
By October of 2019, 20 months after their arrest, death penalty charges were dropped against some of his colleagues, including Niloufar Bayani, Taher Ghadirian, Houman Jowkar, and Morad Tahbaz. Two of them were later moved to the public ward, where they could see family and make phone calls.
Abdolreza Kouhpayeh has since been released.
Owing to its namesake, the Persian leopard is also present in Iran, a country which a pair of U.S. presidential administrations have devastated with their policy of “maximum pressure” through economic sanctions, which are “not only hurting and isolating the people of Iran, but also indirectly hurting conservation initiatives, and some of the very people leading them,” the letter writes.
Indeed, Iran is the stronghold for this cat, with perhaps as many as 800 of the animals alive in the northeastern mountains.
“In August 2021, the Taliban surged back to power in Afghanistan, sending into exile many at-risk conservationists, and the National Environmental Protection Agency into disarray,” the letter continues. “The continued freeze of Afghan funds has precipitated an already dire humanitarian crisis which the nature and wildlife of Afghanistan are also paying the price for”.