Ocelot--Least Concern The charitable mission of Panthera (founded by billionaire Tom Kaplan) is to protect the world’s 37 species of wild cats from habitat degradation, retaliatory killing and poaching. It operates or is developing “rangewide” programs to help the big 8, while its Small Cat Action Fund supports and runs projects on the remaining species like the ocelot pictured here. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists ocelots in the least concern category, because they face a relatively low extinction risk compared with cats that are assessed as threatened or near threatened. (Photo by Steve Winter for National Geographic)
What happens when a billionaire shakes hands with a prince? When I interviewed billionaire mining investor Thomas Kaplan last fall about Panthera, the wild cat conservation charity he founded in 2006, he was on a mission to bring others into the fold to make a bigger impact. Panthera works around the globe to help save all 38 species of wild cats, with a focus on the big 8: tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, cheetahs and cougars. Kaplan and his wife Daphne Recanati Kaplan, were providing half of the charity’s $10.5 million annual budget. With more support, Panthera could do more to save the big cats and their ecosystems.
Well, Kaplan’s on a roll. He’s just announced the launch of a new global alliance bringing together big name philanthropists from India, China and the United Arab Emirates in partnership with New York-based Panthera.
The Kaplans, H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Jho Low, chief executive of Hong-Kong-based Jynwel Capital, and Hemendra Kothari, chairman of Blackrock India, each pledged $20 million over 10 years to Panthera. In terms of wildlife conservation, that’s huge. And it’s not just the charitable dollars that are involved that make it meaningful but the people who are involved who are passionate about getting results.
I chatted with Kaplan, Low and Alan Rabinowitz, Panthera’s chief executive and the world’s leading cat expert, about the ambitious plans for the alliance. “We know how to save cats; they’re very resilient,” says Rabinowitz. “What they need are champions who will stop the bleeding in terms of poaching and save their habitat from fragmentation.” The goal is to find more like-minded philanthropists around the globe to reach $200 million–just $120 million more.
The idea of the alliance began with an agreement between Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed and Kaplan. In the case of the Crown Prince, he’s building upon the legacy of the founder of the UAE, his father, who was a passionate advocate for wildlife conservation and helped save the Arabian oryx. Some of the cats he wants to target for help are the Arabian leopard and the sand cat. He is already a committed conservationist through his Species Conservation Fund whose managing director, H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, will join Panthera’s board.
Once the Crown Prince and Kaplan got together, their friend Low said he was “in” too. Conservation issues are one focus of Low’s newly formed Jynwel Charitable Foundation (he supports National Geographic’s Pristine Seas Expeditions). Low’s donation to Panthera will help ramp up funding for Asia’s second great cat after the tiger—the elusive snow leopard. Half of the world’s snow leopards are thought to live in China. Low also plans to work with Panthera to replicate in China the wildly successful wildlife conservation education program, WildCRU, that the Kaplans established at Oxford University. “We believe conservation is about education and awareness and mentoring the next generation,” Low says, adding, “Tom is my mentor, and I hope to spread the word around those my age.” (Kaplan is 51 and Low is 32.)
Kaplan says he approached Kothari last. “’If you guys are in, I’m in,’” he recalls him saying. “All of a sudden we were able to create something that’s truly special,” Kaplan says.
Kothari is already known as Mr. Tiger in India through his Wildlife Conservation Trust. The idea is to broaden the scope beyond tigers to India’s leopards, snow leopards, and the last of the Asiatic lions that live in the Gir forest. Panthera will work with the scientists at the WCT already on the ground, both learning from them, and providing best practices and technology to assist them. “The coalition is meant to break the mold in every aspect of environmental conservation,” Kaplan promises.