Award winner 2017
Location: Iraq

Hana Raza

Despite a war-ridden start in life, Hana Raza works to protect Iraq’s natural beauties. After four decades of war in Iraq, it was thought that the Persian leopard, just as the Asiatic lion and cheetah, had become locally extinct. Nevertheless, Hana and her team found evidence of the existence of the rare Persian Leopard on one of the mountains of northern Iraq. Together with her team, Hana managed to survey over 200 sites and assess the ecosystems and habitats, becoming the only reliable source of information on Iraqi biodiversity in the process.


When Hana Raza was born, her parents were “Freedom Fighters” living in one of the main Peshmerga camps on Sargalw Mountain, Kurdistan. When she was only four months old, the camp was bombarded by chemical weapons. The mountains of northern Iraq gave her and her family refuge. Now, Hana is a conservationist, working to protect Iraq’s natural beauties living in those same mountains. She began her career in 2009 with Nature Iraq, an Iraqi non-governmental organization. For seven years, she worked as Programme Coordinator, Programme Manager and Mammal Researcher in numerous conservation projects aiming to protect Iraqi fauna. In 2011, Hana and her team found evidence of the Persian Leopard in Iraq. She became a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group (CSG) in 2013. And since 2016, she has been managing a project named “Rehabilitating the Transboundary habitat of the Persian Leopard, through the creation of a Peace Park”. Throughout her career, she persevered through worsening recession, limited budgets, and dismal security conditions in many war-afflicted areas to preserve the amazing and rare biodiversity in her country.

“Growing up and living in a region of the world where instability and war have been the immediate reality, I have always found that the bigger picture has been lost on my nation: that species conservation and the preservation of ecological stability is the uniting concern of mankind; that conservation is necessary for the future well-being of the entire planet.”
Hana Raza

Vision and Approach

The immediate reality of life in Iraq since the onset of the war has been one of instability. Hana Raza believes this is driving the focus away from the bigger picture. One of unity for the well-being of the planet. Four decades of war in Iraq drove the Asiatic lion and cheetah into local extinction. This seemed to have been the fate of yet another iconic species: the Persian leopard. Unexpectedly, Hana and her team collected the first documented evidence of the rare Persian Leopard in the country. This discovery brought renewed hope to make a positive impact on the conservation front. Hana is taking a transnational, multi-stage approach with her project to protect Persian leopards. Her project focuses on mapping the extension range of the remaining leopards, creating a management plan for the natural area, and undertaking advocacy and outreach efforts to bring the Persian leopard back for good. However, due to the instability in the region, nature conservation is not a priority. Hana often has to start from zero to create a structure on top of which she can build capacity for her conservation efforts. To make matters worse, Hana’s work relies on navigating through both the Iraqi and Kurdish laws. As she puts it, Hana and her team are sandwiched in between two governments who are not completely willing to work together.

Read about (and listen to) Hana’s recent vision and developments here, an Earth Island Journal interview and NPR Radio interview.

Impact of the Future For Nature Award

  • With the support of the Future For Nature Award, Hana laid the groundwork for the conservation of the Persian leopard, and expanded the scope of her work to protect other Iraqi species.
  • The impact of the Future For Nature Award continues to give Hana international exposure. Through an interview with a Dutch newspaper in 2017 she was noticed by a Kurdish-Dutch filmmaker who decided to make a film about her and her work called ‘Sidik and the Leopard’ (Sidik en de Panter)
  • Winning the Future For Nature Award opened many doors for Hana. As a result she received a IUCN NL SPN fund for establishing the Qara Dagh protected area for the Leopard.

Hana’s story on paper and video

In 2023, Hana’s impressive conservation story was included in Rebel Girls: Animal Allies, a book from the Rebel Girls Good Night stories series. It has been released as a podcast as well, listen to it here:

"Hana's application gives me hope for our messed-up world. If a woman can spearhead innovative, dynamic conservation initiatives in Iraqi Kurdistan, then many things are possible. She is clearly willing to do the difficult thing, including seeking collaboration with conservationists in neighbouring Iran. Her work with communities and enforcement officials appears to have led to increasing wildlife populations where you would not expect them."
Mr. Simon Stuart, International Selection Committee