Iran releases Cheetah conservationist Niloufar Bayani from prison after six years

Niloufar and seven other conservationists were accused of spying and arrested in January 2018 and later held guilty with sentences ranging from four to 10 years.
Niloufar Bayani
Niloufar BayaniPhoto | X - @BayaniNiloufar

Iran released Cheetah conservationist NiloufarBayani and three other conservationists from prison after six year as they were accused and arrested of spying. Cheetah conservation gained traction in the recent past after India re-introduced African Cheetah species after declaring extinction in the 1950s.

Global community of scientists and conservationists welcomed the move. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme welcomes announcement of the impending release of Ms. Bayani along with Taher Ghadirian, HoumanJokar and SepidehKashani.

Niloufar and seven other conservationists were accused of spying and arrested in January 2018 and later held guilty with sentences ranging from four to 10 years.

The verdict was condemned across the globe by scientists and conservationists. All they warned of mixing politics and conservation.

The eight are all affiliated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a Tehran-based conservation organization that works to save the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) and other species.

The eight conservationists have been imprisoned since their arrests in January 2018. A colleague arrested at the same time died in custody.

Cheetah conservation gained global traction after India reintroduced African Cheetah after seven decades of its extinction.

India’s locally extinct cheetah subspecies was known as Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus). Its nearest subspecies survives only in Iran, and sometimes it was also sighted in bordering regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Before approaching African nations Namibia and South Africa for the re-introduction of the cheetah to India, the Indian scientists first approached Iran to rely on the Asian population of the carnivores.

However, Iran refused to give cheetahs to India as their numbers are dwindling fast.

According to a 2017 research report there were only 26 cheetahs left in Iran. Moreover,  the number further declined to 15 in 2022, says former Wildlife Institute of India Dean Dr Y V Jhala.

The UNEP in its press statement said between 2012 and 2017, Ms. Bayani worked as a consultant based out of UNEP’s Geneva office.

In 2017 Ms. Bayani returned to her home country to work on efforts to conserve the Persian or Asian Cheetah, one of the most endangered large cat species in the world.

Bayani was arrested in Feb 2018 along with other internationally recognized experts in the field of nature conservation, who have all dedicated their lives to the conservation of wildlife in Iran. 

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