Environmentalists filmed Iran’s vanishing cheetahs. Now they could be executed for spying.

Environmentalists filmed Iran’s vanishing cheetahs. Now they could be executed for spying.

A guard with the Asiatic cheetah conservation project in Iran reviews photos from a nearby camera trap. Eight conservationists charged with espionage could face the death penalty or up to 10 years in prison. (Frans Lanting/National Geographic Image Collection)

By Erin Cunninghamand

Ben Guarino

ISTANBUL — The nine conservationists had embarked on one of the most ambitious wildlife projects in Iran in recent years, setting camera traps in seven provinces to monitor the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah, whose dwindling population stalks Iran’s central plateau.

They worked with the government, secured the right permits and received funding and equipment from abroad. But the researchers, all Iranian, soon drew the suspicion of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of Iran’s armed forces, and were arrested last year for alleged espionage…