Mongabay Features

Alan Rabinowitz: A Legacy of Conservation

On August 5th, the conservation world mourned the death of Alan Rabinowitz, an American zoologist celebrated as the ‘Indiana Jones of wildlife protection’ by Time magazine. He passed away at 64 after a battle with cancer. Rabinowitz’s legacy testifies to a life spent in unwavering commitment to safeguarding the planet’s most majestic and vulnerable species, especially big cats. He leaves behind his wife, Salisa, and their children, Alexander and Alana.

Rabinowitz was pivotal in persuading the government of Belize to establish the world’s first jaguar sanctuary, the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve, marking a significant milestone in big cat conservation. His pioneering field research in Thailand laid the foundation for the protection of Indochinese tigers, Asiatic leopards, and leopard cats. Furthermore, his exploration in Myanmar led not only to the discovery of four new mammal species, including the leaf deer, but also to the establishment of five protected areas, such as the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve.

In 2006, Rabinowitz and Thomas S. Kaplan co-founded Panthera to protect the world’s more than 40 wild cat species. His loss was deeply felt within the organization. Panthera’s CEO and president, Frédéric Launay, noted, “The conservation community has lost a legend…While we are devastated by his passing, we are comforted by the fact that his extraordinary legacy of advocating for the most vulnerable creatures will live on through his legion of students and followers.”

Kaplan, reflecting on Rabinowitz’s passing, expressed a profound sense of loss, likening it to losing a part of oneself. Yet, in the shadow of this loss shines the legacy of a man whose life was a testament to the power of overcoming personal challenges to advocate for those without a voice. Rabinowitz’s journey was shaped early on by his struggle with a stutter, which led him to find solace and understanding in the animal kingdom. This connection fostered a promise to become a voice for animals, a vow he fulfilled beyond measure. His appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show revealed the depth of his empathy and commitment, sharing, “I swore to them that if I ever found my voice…I would be their voice. I would actually try to speak for them and save them.” And speak for them he did, transforming his vow into a global mission to protect the Earth’s wildlife.

Alan Rabinowitz’s legacy is not merely in the sanctuaries established, the species saved, or his research published. It is in the inspiration he leaves behind—a call to action for future generations to carry forward the torch of conservation with as much passion, dedication, and love as he did. Today, we bid farewell to a giant among men, whose voice for the voiceless will echo in the wilderness he worked so tirelessly to protect.

By Rhett Ayers Butler

Rhett Ayers Butler is the Founder and CEO of Mongabay, a non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform. He started Mongabay in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife.