Ruby J Murray on Alan Rabinowitz
Every now and then Dr Alan Rabinowitz will repeat himself: a single, careful, rolling word.
His voice on the phone is deep, forceful, a voice that’s pushed its way through snow storms and flooding rivers, across Southern America, South East Asia, war torn countries and temporary truces, through the corridors of dictatorships and democracies alike, always talking, always insisting on the stories of the animals he’s trying to protect. This man has set up wildlife conservation areas in places no in ever thought possible, including the world’s largest tiger reserve in Burma-Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley. The stutter that plagued him as a child seems long gone. Just those remnant repetitions. And the pause you’d miss if you weren’t listening for it.
Science has been getting a bad rap lately. Scientists are painted as rational to the point of irrationality, cold, removed. Incapable of ethics. But the reality of scientists’ lives is different. It’s us non-scientists who are being irrational. Alan sounds deeply, painfully in love with the world, with his geneticist wife Salisa and their children Alana and Alexander, with the mountains and skies and everything above and between them. And with the big cats he’s dedicated his life to saving.
He can’t afford detachment, anyway. He’s in a battle against time, fighting on multiple fronts. A decade ago, just after the birth of his first child, Alan was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. Not that it’s stopped him. Not that anything would.
In 2006 Alan left the World Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo and moved to continue his work at the newly formed non-profit Panthera, which has rapidly become the world’s leading big cat conservation organisation. The organisation focuses its main efforts on the conservation of the world’s largest and most imperilled wild cats: tigers, lions, jaguars, and snow leopards, with additional programs dedicated to protecting leopards in South Africa, cougars in the United States, and the Asiatic cheetah in Iran.
It’s a grim fight. At the turn of the century there were over 100,000 tigers in the wild. Today, scientists estimate there are fewer than 3,200. Jaguars have been eliminated from forty per cent of their historic range, and while Panthera works to set up a Jaguar conservation corridor spanning thirteen of the eighteen jaguar range countries in Southern America, the struggling species continues to be hunted. Panthera’s motto is ‘Difficulty is the one excuse which history does not accept.’ It’s a phrase that could just as easily describe Alan’s life. New York is flooding, and Time magazine’s ‘Indiana Jones of Wildlife Protection’ has driven through the rains to get back home and answer my call.