Alan Rabinowitz Fights to Save Big Cats

As a child, zoologist Alan Rabinowitz had a debilitating stutter that left him barely able to communicate with his teachers or classmates. He withdrew into a world dominated by animals, often spending his afternoons with the big cats at the Bronx Zoo. Like him, they had “no voices of their own.” So Rabinowitz promised them that if he ever found his own voice, he would help the cats find theirs.

Alan Rabinowitz
(Photo: Kris Krüg)

Rabinowitz’s story about how he learned to control his stutter, and went on to become one of the world’s foremost conservation experts won a standing ovation at PopTech 2010. What is most remarkable about a man who has dedicated his life to protecting big cats is that he has never been willing to accept traditional measures of success.

Rabinowitz, now the CEO of conservation group Panthera, set up the world’s only jaguar sanctuary (in Belize) and the largest tiger reserve (in Myanmar), but was failing to adequately protect big cats. Despite half a century of international conservation efforts, about half of the world’s forests had disappeared and global biodiversity continued to plummet. He had always relished opportunities to slip away to remote areas away from humans, yet corralling animals into safe havens might be doing more harm than good.

The trouble was that trying to isolate animals from humans didn’t provide enough space for the cats. It also didn’t realistically reflect the extent of human development. Then Rabinowitz had a vision: to create a system of interlinked wildlife corridors that could allow animals to roam more freely. It could transform how we think about wildlife conservation.

Jaguar Corridor

Rabinowitz has already established a working model, a corridor that connects jaguar preserves across Central and South America. These wildlife corridors weave through private and public lands, requiring the combined help of governments, local populations, and conservationists. Now, Rabinowitz is tackling the far trickier issue of setting up a tiger corridor across India, China, and Southeast Asia.

(Image: Panthera)

The boy who didn’t have a voice found it in a big way. Through his struggle to save the cats he loves so much, Rabinowitz might well have found a model that could allows us to co-exist more naturally with the animals.

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