Thomas S. Kaplan, Ph.D.

Steve Winter/Panthera
Steve Winter/Panthera
Founder and Global Alliance Chair

Born in New York City, Dr. Kaplan was raised in Florida where he formed a strong passion for wildlife conservation. The iconic Florida panther inspired his dream to one day become a wildlife biologist. Though by his own admission his scholarly pursuits better suited him for the study of history — which he studied at Oxford — he always dreamed of one day working to conserve the world's great felids. Those dreams ultimately informed and inspired Panthera.

Alongside his wife, Daphne Recanati Kaplan, they founded Panthera in 2006 to meet the global challenges of protecting the world's wild cats and their habitats. They subsequently endowed the Recanati-Kaplan Center at Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, or WildCRU, creating the leading university-based felid conservation program. The Kaplans also founded The Orianne Society, named after their daughter, to preserve eastern Indigo snakes and their habitat, the long-leaf pine forests of the Southeastern United States.

Dr. Kaplan is active in community and family philanthropy. He is the former President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the 92nd Street Y, a world-renowned, New York-based Jewish community and cultural center, and serves on the Advisory Board of New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Internal Medicine. The Kaplans have also funded the Lillian Jean Kaplan Renal Transplantation Center at the University of Miami as well as a variety of prizes and grants for medical science research.

In civic affairs, Dr. Kaplan is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and of the International Council of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. In 2011, he established the Recanati-Kaplan Intelligence Fellows Program at the Harvard Kennedy School — an initiative that brings together intelligence officers to learn to “see around corners” by applying historical analysis to contemporary geopolitics. A similar program for special forces officers was launched in 2020 at Yale University’s Jackson School of Global Affairs, alongside Panthera Conservation Council member Gen. (Ret) David H. Petraeus.

In the arts, the Kaplans created The Leiden Collection — the world’s largest private collection of Rembrandt and Dutch Golden Age art, and the only dedicated “lending library” of Old Masters. From 2017 to 2023, Dr. Kaplan served as the Founding Chairman of the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage (ALIPH) — a Geneva-based foundation dedicated to the implementation of preventive, emergency response, and restoration programs for cultural property in danger of destruction or damage on account of armed conflict.

For services to France, Dr. Kaplan was appointed Chevalier (2012) — and subsequently promoted to Officier (2020) — in the National Order of the Legion of Honor, the country’s highest civilian distinction, as well as Commandeur in the Order of Arts and Letters (2017). In 2018, he was awarded the rank of Officier in the Order of Orange-Nassau for his efforts in disseminating Dutch culture and building bridges between people through art.

Dr. Kaplan earned his Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees in modern history from the University of Oxford. He is the Chairman of The Electrum Group, a precious metals-focused asset management firm acting in partnership with sovereign wealth funds.

In September 2021, Jonathan Ayers assumed the position of Chair of the Board of Directors. After serving as Board Chair for 15 years, Dr. Kaplan continues to serve on Panthera’s Board and has assumed the Chairmanship of The Global Alliance for Wild Cats.