Alan Rabinowitz, a prominent conservationist who dedicated his life to protecting jaguars and other wild cats, died on Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
A co-founder of Panthera, an organization dedicated to helping the big cats, Rabinowitz was at the forefront of global efforts to protect various species.
Rabinowitz, who was Jewish, grew up in New York City and had a debilitating stutter as a child. In an interview, he recalled confiding to the big cats at the Bronx Zoo, telling National Geographic that he was always drawn to the cage occupied by a silent jaguar.
“I would go to the bars, wait until nobody was around, and talk to the jaguar — tell it my hopes and dreams, whether it was a bad day at school or how stupid I felt people were because they didn’t try to understand me,” he said in 2014.
And as a child, he vowed that if he ever learned to speak clearly, he would become an advocate for the animals.
“I would never leave that enclosure without promising the cats that if I ever found my voice, I would try to be their voice and help them,” he said.
It was only as a senior in college that Rabinowitz overcame his speech impediment. He then went on to become a leading conservationist, working particularly to save the cats and his beloved jaguar.
In 1981, he earned his doctoral degree, and shortly afterwards went to Belize to begin his research on wild jaguars. He eventually convinced the government there to create the world’s first jaguar preserve.
“The conservation community has lost a legend. Alan was a fearless and outspoken champion for the conservation of our planet’s iconic wild cats and wild places,” said Panthera CEO, Fred Launay. “As a lifelong voice for the voiceless, he changed the fate of tigers, jaguars and other at-risk species by placing their protection on the agendas of world leaders from Asia to Latin America for the very first time.”
In addition to becoming an advocate for animals, he also served as a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation.
He published over 100 popular and scientific articles and wrote seven books on wildlife, including the children’s book “A Boy and a Jaguar.”
In 2001, he was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia, but continued fighting for the animals. He remained as CEO of Panthera until 2017. Just months before his death, he brought together a coalition of 14 South American countries to collaborate on jaguar protection from Mexico to Argentina.
He is survived by his wife Salisa and their children, Alexander and Alana.