Eric Warner Staff Writer
In times of crisis, humanity should often look in on itself to examine if it will be the heroic, caring beings we so often make ourselves out to be, or if we will stand by while innocents are punished from unwarranted crimes. This is a question that has been brought up lately revolving around the conservation efforts of the Asiatic Cheetah.
In January of 2018, eight researchers from the Tehran-based Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF) were arrested by the Iranian government and were charged with “corruption of the Earth”, espionage, and collusion to espionage after conducting research of the native cheetah species. Since then, most of the research team has been in jail or were killed.
In February of 2018, Managing Director Kavous Seyed-Emami was found to be dead after his wife was brought to Tehran’s Evin Prison for questioning. Prison authorities told her that he committed suicide, but neither she nor her sons believed them. The remaining conservationists include Niloufar Bayani, Houman Jowkar, Taher Ghadirian, Sepideh Kashani, Amir Hossein Khaleghi, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, and Sam Radjabi – who have all been suspected of espionage for placing cameras in Iranian national parks.
However, the cameras they used were camera traps – these are a type of camera that have short-ranged sensors equipped that take photos of any animal that comes close to it. Frans Lanting, the National Geographic photographer who has worked with this team of researchers, stated, “You can only capture low-resolution images of animals passing by at close range [with these camera traps]. That is what they are designed for, and you cannot do anything else with them even if you wanted to.”
The Asiatic Cheetah is a subspecies of cheetah that is critically endangered. According to the research conducted by these conservationists, less than 50 exist in the wild. The Asiatic or Iranian Cheetah used to be found territories such as India, Pakistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Iran, and majority of the Middle East, but due to hunting, habitat loss, scarcity of prey, and construction of walls, roads, or fences that impede the species migration patterns, the predator has all but become extinct in the twentieth century. The species usually lives in wide-open areas such as plains and semi-desert areas, but due to the decline of the gazelle population, the cheetah species has retreated to mountainous areas of Iran. In fact, the Iranian national parks are the only places where the Asiatic Cheetah could be found.
Despite this these claims and the rulings of multiple Iranian agencies and committees in May of 2018 that there was no evidence supporting these charges, the government has decided to continue researching their case and has kept all of the researchers in prison. In response, many conservationist organizations and human rights groups, such as World Wildlife Foundation, Amnesty International, the European Parliament, and National Geographic, have called for the Iranian government to give the researchers a fair trial, if not set them free.
Frans Lanting has been an avid supporter of this and has helped spread awareness of a petition urging the Iranian government to provide the detainees with the opportunity of a fair trial. In a recent post of his Instagram account Frans Lanting said: “I am thankful to my friends in Iran for their help and devastated that two of the people shown in this photo have been in jail for more than a year now, accused of using camera traps for espionage: One of them may face the death penalty.” To help these researchers and, in turn, help the longevity of the Asiatic Cheetahs, you can sign the petition at ThePetitionSite.com and become one of the 180,000 supporters of the innocent researchers.