February 2014 Newsletter

Remembering a Conservation Champion – The Life and Legacy of Art Ortenberg

The wildlife conservation world has lost a champion. On February 3rd, 2014, Art Ortenberg, the brilliant business partner behind the legendary fashion designer (who was also his life partner) Liz Claiborne, passed away at the age of 87. While his family and friends at Panthera mourn his passing, we also remember a life well-lived, with meaning and cause, and celebrate the legacy Art Ortenberg has left on some of the world’s most magnificent and endangered species.

In 1987 on an inspired trip to Africa, Liz and Art created the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation, “dedicated to the survival of the natural systems that produce the richness and beauty of this earth”. Shortly after their founding, Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz (while at the Wildlife Conservation Society) formed a life-changing relationship with both Art and Liz, that would pave the way for creating and implementing the world’s largest carnivore conservation network in the world: The Jaguar Corridor Initiative.

“It’s difficult to talk about Art without talking about Liz because their thinking and passion was of one mind. They were the ultimate visionaries, long before their time, realizing that saving species like the jaguar, the tiger, and the elephant, would take time, passionate individuals on the ground, and sustained financial backing, all of which was in short supply. Art and Liz were each other’s best friends, unparalleled partners, both in the fashion industry and for saving wildlife,” said Rabinowitz. “After Liz’s passing, Art carried the torch and remained dedicated to the people, projects, and species that they had fostered over the decades. While it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to my friend and collaborator, I can’t help but smile when I think about the impact this one individual has had. For me, he helped change my life. He helped me follow my passion and through that he changed the future for jaguars and tigers. His support for my work and for that of Panthera has helped us build the world’s leading organization to save wild cats. That’s impact. That’s a life to honor. That’s a life to remember.”

Since Panthera’s founding in 2006, the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation not only continued with their critical support of the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, they supported Panthera’s Tiger and Lion programs, and also launched the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation Jaguar Research Grant Program in 2008, awarding grants to 25 research scientists across 16 countries in Latin America (jaguars are found in 18 countries in Latin America). These grants have been instrumental in conducting in some places the first ever research on the elusive jaguar, setting strong foundations for building large-scale jaguar programs in places like Colombia and Panama, and for finding and cultivating young, local scientists who are becoming leaders in their field in their own countries.

Panthera’s Vice President Dr. George Schaller said, “my wife Kay and I knew Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg for over two decades and greatly admired not only their passion for wildlife but also their wisdom and insight about how to do effective conservation through research and by involving local communities. Their interests spanned the natural world, from Alaska’s Arctic to the high Tibetan Plateau, from the wildlife of Patagonia to the rainforests of Laos. With the death first of Liz and now of Art, the Foundation has lost its two founding and dynamic leaders. I personally miss them both, and we shall all strive to fulfill their vision.”

Art Ortenberg, like some of the species he dedicated his later life to saving, was a giant. And giants leave large footprints. His friends at Panthera are deeply grateful for his unwavering commitment, foresight, and his vision, and vow to build upon and expand the impact he and Liz have made to big cat conservation. We thank him for his fortitude and generosity of spirit, and say farewell, but not goodbye, to our dear friend, a true champion for wildlife.


A New York Times Op-Ed by Panthera’s George Schaller: Saving More Than Just Snow Leopards

On Sunday, the New York Times published an op-ed by Panthera’s Vice President, Dr. George Schaller, and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asia Program Deputy Director, Peter Zahler, entitled ‘Saving More Than Just Snow Leopards.’

In this hopeful editorial, Schaller and Zahler describe how conservation of the endangered snow leopard across Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and China has helped spawn new community conservation programs, international diplomacy initiatives & what Schaller and Zahler describe as "ecological civilizations."

Local communities, countries, and the international community, are joining together to protect their wild landscapes and wildlife, including the snow leopard and its prey. The snow leopard serves as a keystone species, helping to maintain the health of its ecosystem and uniting countries to work together to protect their shared ecological resources and heritage. Because of this trans-boundary collaboration and the multi-national snow leopard conservation programs Panthera and others have underway, the remaining 3,500-7,000 snow leopards stand a fighting chance.

In addition to the Op-Ed, Dr. Tom McCarthy, Executive Director of Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program, shared, “Panthera is working in key sites across much of the snow leopard's vast range in central Asia to save this still poorly understood and persecuted cat. State of the art research, such as satellite-GPS collars and automated camera traps, are providing the insight we need to design effective conservation measures. Those measures must not just take people's needs into account - they must include local people in the entire conservation planning process. From the Tibetan Plateau to the Gobi Desert, from the flanks of Mount Everest to the Pamirs of Tajikistan, Panthera is using science and community-led conservation projects to ensure a future for this iconic cat and the people of this remote region.”

Panthera’s Dr. George Schaller continued, “I feel that the most important long-term result of the various snow leopard studies is that we’re cooperating with and training nationals in their own country who have accepted the responsibility of protecting and managing the mountain environment, for the benefit of all species of plants and animals including the livelihood of the local people.”

Today, while huge challenges exist for the snow leopard, Schaller and Zahler explain that “one thing is clear: Changes are afoot in the high mountains of Asia. And a mysterious, secretive and snow-colored cat appears to be leading them.”

Read The New York Times op-ed, ‘Saving More Than Just Snow Leopards.’

Learn about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program.

See The New York Times graphic accompanying this article, entitled “Elusive Cats and their Endangered Prey.”


A Day in Belize with Glenn Close and the Jaguars of Cockscomb - Part 1

Nestled in the Central American country of Belize, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary exists as a sacred refuge - a home and passageway for the jaguars of Central America, and a source of pride and achievement for the people of Belize, and the scientists of Panthera.

Back in the 1980’s, when the world was first recognizing the concept of wildlife conservation, Panthera’s CEO, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, set out to study and radio-collar the first jaguars in Belize. Demonstrating that Cockscomb Basin contained the highest density of jaguars ever recorded at the time, anywhere in the wild, Dr. Rabinowitz’s research was instrumental in the establishment of the world’s first jaguar preserve, and what is now known as Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.


Panthera CEO Dr. Alan Rabinowitz examines a jaguar track in Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

Initially declared a national forest in 1984, with a “No Hunting” ordinance to protect the region’s large jaguar population and other wildlife, the government of Belize soon declared a portion of the Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986.

This past December, nearly thirty years after the establishment of Cockscomb, was excited to host a celebrity conservation champion in her own right, and long-time supporter of Panthera's Jaguar Corridor Initiative - actress and Panthera Conservation Council Member, Glenn Close.

In search of the elusive jaguar, Ms. Close joined Panthera’s biologists for a day in the field, trekking through dense jungle to check camera traps and search for signs, including cat scat, scrapings or tracks, indicating the presence of the Americas’ largest wild cat. Unfazed by the jungle’s intermittent rain, slippery mud and unmerciful mosquitoes, Glenn and Panthera’s team studied and documented the fresh jaguar scrape marks (used to mark territory) and the jaguar, puma, and tapir tracks found along the way.


A camera trap snaps a photo of Panthera Conservation Council member & actress, Glenn Close, & Panthera Research Fellow, Bart Harmsen. The night before, this camera snapped a photo of a male jaguar.

Finally, on reaching one of Panthera’s camera traps, the team found more jaguar tracks, nearby – a promising sign that this cat had been caught on camera. After being captured themselves in Panthera’s camera trap, (left), the team was excited to discover back at headquarters that this camera had successfully photographed a male jaguar in the same place the night before.

As it turns out, Ms. Close was photographed – within a 24-hour period – in the exact spot as one of the oldest wild jaguars ever recorded in Belize. This individual, known as M04-21, is now a twelve-year-old male who was first photographed in 2004.

Today, due to strict protection afforded to the wildlife of Cockscomb Sanctuary, this region maintains a stable jaguar population, making images like these common. Over the last ten years, with the help of Panthera’s camera traps and other research methods, our field team has continually monitored a large number of individual jaguars, like this male, that have occupied the Cockscomb region.


A 12 year old male jaguar, known as M04-21, is one of the oldest wild jaguars ever recorded in Belize. Panthera Conservation Council member, Glenn Close, was photographed in the same location within a 24-hour period of this image being taken.

Through the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, Panthera is working to protect jaguars and their habitat within Cockscomb and the Central Belize Corridor – a region that serves as the critical link between jaguar populations in Mexico and Guatemala, and all jaguar populations south of Belize. Working closely with the Belize Audubon Society, the Ministry of Forestry, Fishery and Sustainable Development, and the University of Belize's Environmental Research Institute, Panthera’s scientists are monitoring jaguar populations and their prey, collaborating with local communities to mitigate conflict, and partnering with local governments and communities to secure and link jaguar habitat, so these wild cats can roam and fulfil their ecological role in the fabric of Belize.

Beyond Belize, Panthera’s scientists are working in 13 of the 18 jaguar range states to carry out the Jaguar Corridor Initiative - the most comprehensive and transformative species conservation program in existence, using a range-wide approach to ensure the future of this magnificent carnivore.

Thanks to the help of generous individuals like Ms. Close, Panthera is able to continue our jaguar conservation work in Belize and throughout the Jaguar Corridor.

Learn more about the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, and stay tuned for Part Two of this story, when Panthera Conservation Council member and actress Glenn Close will share her experience, in her own words, on searching for jaguars in Cockscomb.

Read Panthera’s press release – Belize Officials and Panthera Scientists Score Another Huge Victory for Wild Cats; Secure Protected Jaguar Corridor

Learn more about Panthera’s Conservation Council – an expert advisory board that contributes to the direction of the organization and the implementation of Panthera’s mission.

Cockscomb Photo Gallery



Lion Conservationist Shivani Bhalla Awarded 2013 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation

Panthera is excited to announce that lion conservationist and PhD candidate, Shivani Bhalla, has been awarded the 2013 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation.

A fourth-generation Kenyan, Bhalla has carried out lion conservation initiatives in the Samburu-Isiolo ecosystem in northern Kenya since 2002. Beginning with research conducted for her Master’s thesis at Scotland’s Edinburgh Napier University, Bhalla produced the first accurate estimate of the lion population in Samburu, and demonstrated that lions move frequently between the region’s National Reserves and adjacent areas of human settlement - a recipe for increased human-lion contact and conflict.

Recognizing the significant need for mitigation of human-lion conflict plaguing the region, Bhalla founded Ewaso Lions in 2007 – a community-based lion conservation and research organization that now includes a team of 26 local Samburu employees. Today, Ewaso Lions monitors all lion prides in the region (including the Samburu, Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves, along with adjacent community lands) and works with stakeholders to implement innovative conservation initiatives that reduce human-lion conflict and raise awareness about the importance of conservation.


Shivani Bhalla and a Samburu warrior practice predator track identification.

Founded in 2010, Warrior Watch is one such initiative launched through Ewaso Lions that harnesses the traditional, protective role of Samburu warriors, or morans, and trains them to become warriors for wildlife. While receiving lessons in English and Kiswahili (the Swahili language), local Samburu morans are employed to promote human-lion coexistence, mitigate conflict, monitor lion populations, collect ecological data and raise community awareness about the importance of conservation.

Another ‘citizen science’ project founded through Ewaso Lions is known as Lion Watch. This project connects the communities of conservation and tourism by training local safari guides to collect ecological data on lions using customized smartphone applications. This partnership allows safari guides to contribute to the conservation of the species generating eco-tourism business and better educate tourists about lion conservation and ecology while on game drives. These tourists, too, can participate in Lion Watch by uploading photos of lions to the Ewaso Lions database.

Panthera’s Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation, totaling $15,000, will support conservation initiatives like these carried out through Ewaso Lions. This award has been conferred annually since 2007 to a special individual under the age of 40 who has made a significant contribution to conserving wild cats, and who represents the next generation of scientists, conservationists, policy makers, politicians and planners who will pave the future of wild cat conservation.

Now on track to complete her PhD thesis at Oxford University, entitled “The ecology and conservation of lions within the Samburu-Isiolo ecosystem in northern Kenya,” and collaborating closely with other lion conservationists in eastern and southern Africa, Shivani Bhalla exemplifies the expertise, dedication and impact on the future of wild cats that the Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize was created to honor.

Learn more about the Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation.

Ewaso Lions Photo Gallery


First Ever Photos of Wild Snow Leopards Taken in Uzbekistan

In November and December of 2013, a team of rangers and biologists led by Bakhtiyor Aromov and Yelizaveta Protas, in collaboration with Panthera and WWF Central Asia Program, conducted a snow leopard camera trap study in the Kizilsu area of Gissar Nature Reserve.

True to its name – ‘Asia’s Mountain Ghost’ – snow leopards had long been reported in this region, on the border of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but never confirmed with photographs.

Recently, however, Panthera and our partners were thrilled to discover that camera trap images taken through this study confirmed the presence of at least two individual snow leopards in the region, serving as the first photographic evidence of the species in Uzbekistan. The photographs also show these snow leopards persisting in the westernmost part of the species’ range.

Today, scientists estimate that between 3,500-7,000 snow leopards remain in just 12 countries in Asia. This latest development, and the substantial availability of prey documented through the study’s camera trap images, including ibex, wild boar, and hare, serve as hope for the future of the snow leopard, not only in the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan, but throughout the species range.

Read Panthera’s press release to learn more about this story.

View photos of snow leopards and other species in Uzbekistan.

Learn more about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program.


The Silver Lining for the Lions of West Africa

In a press release published last month, Panthera outlined the results of a new report confirming that lions are now Critically Endangered and face extinction across the entire region of West Africa.

Led by Panthera’s Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Dr. Philipp Henschel, the study required a massive survey effort extending across 21 parks and 11 countries over a six year period. The results, unfortunately, are somber: today fewer than 400 lions remain in four isolated populations in West Africa, with only 250 of these being breeding adult lions.

While daunting, the silver lining of this study is the knowledge our scientists now have on where lions persist and the critical areas that Panthera and the international community must target with new resources to allow these populations to recover. Also encouraging, our scientists found that the genetic health of lions in West Africa remains sound enough, with protection from poachers and habitat loss, for these populations to recover.

Panthera, along with our partners from West Africa, the UK, Canada and the United States who contributed to this study, now have a clear picture of the state of lions in West Africa and a roadmap outlining where we must dig in to improve and increase law enforcement efforts protecting these populations.

While in the field, Panthera’s Dr. Henschel found a direct correlation between the amount of funds invested in law enforcement for protected areas and the number of lions existing in those regions – proof that proper investment and effective law enforcement can help save the lions of West Africa.

Donate to Panthera’s Project Leonardo to help West Africa’s lions recover before it’s too late.

Read Panthera’s press release – Lions in West Africa are Critically Endangered.

See photos of lions in West Africa and a map of the region.


World's Rarest Otter Photographed in Sumatra by Tiger Team

Home to hundreds of mammal and bird species, the Indonesian island of Sumatra is most often renowned for its magnificent mega fauna, including the Sumatran tiger, rhino, elephant and orangutan.

Here, situated in the southern tip of the island, Panthera works in close partnership with Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation (TWNC) – a 450km2 privately managed concession - and the Ministry of Forestry of Indonesia to carry out a significant Tigers Forever conservation initiative on behalf of the Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger.

Last year, however, during a field trip in TWNC to survey local tiger populations, the joint Panthera-TWNC field team was thrilled to encounter an altogether different species, and the rarest of its kind – the hairy-nosed otter.

This unusual sighting, captured on camera, serves as only the second observation of the hairy-nosed otter, alive and in the wild, in Sumatra in the last 50 years! Even more, this otter was photographed 350km south of the species’ estimated range – a finding that challenges scientists’ beliefs about the extent of the hairy-nosed otter’s habitat in Sumatra.

Read a report on this sighting published by the IUCN Otter Specialist Group.

Having spent months following and studying groups of giant otters in the Amazon for his PhD, Panthera’s wild cat scientist and post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Rob Pickles, had developed a fondness for otters, the most playful members of the weasel family.


The hairy-nosed otter groomed itself on a sand bar after scent marking a log in the Cukuh Babui estuary, Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation

He shared, “The otter had clambered onto a pile of logs wedged on a sandbar at the mouth of an estuary and was busy scent marking when we spotted it. It leapt down, had a good roll on the sand and enthusiastically groomed itself, before swimming across the river and into the swamp. Thankfully I always keep a compact camera rigged to my chest for lucky encounters such as this, and was able to document the sighting!”

Dr. Pickles continued, “Going by the size and shape, I initially thought it was a Eurasian otter. It wasn’t until we blew up the photos several weeks later at headquarters that the large slanted nostrils, strikingly white dabs on the lips, and the fuzzy conk rang bells of recognition and excitement. It was indeed the fabled hairy-nosed otter. I thought I’d have as much chance of seeing a hairy-nosed unicorn as I would of ever watching this notoriously rare otter in the wild!”

After the observation, and using a bit of Indonesian ingenuity, the field team commandeered a floating log and paddled upstream looking for further sign of the otter. The scientists found a log marked by otter spraint, or feces, on the edge of the lagoon, and set a camera trap in this position in hopes of recording footage of the hairy-nosed otter.

Unfortunately, soon after the team departed, the lagoon was saturated by monsoon rains, washing the camera trap into the sea. A local villager, however, amazingly discovered the camera trap on a beach several months later and turned it in to TWNC headquarters. Although full of water, the camera’s SD card was still functioning, and revealed a short, but wonderful, 3-second video of this hairy-nosed otter!

A camera trap set on a latrine log in the Cukuh Babui Estuary captures the moment when an adult male hairy-nosed otter scent-marks, before disappearing into the mangrove swamp.

Today, the hairy-nosed otter, Lutra sumatrana, is the world’s most elusive and endangered member of the otter tribe, and apart from a penchant for dining on fish and snakes and living in swamps, very little is known about its behavior and ecology, or even how widespread the species is today. Old pelts and observations made by early explorers suggest that its range extended from northern Myanmar, down into the Malay Archipelago as far west as Borneo.

However, this species of otter is so rare that there was debate in 1998 regarding whether to classify the hairy-nosed otter as extinct, as no observations of the animal had been made in over 10 years. In Sumatra, the island after which the species was named, one has to search old accounts dating back to the 1960s to find the last observation of the otter. The only recent observation of the species was made in 2005, of a deceased animal, near a road in Jambi Province.

A sign of hope for the future of the hairy-nosed otter, these latest findings have demonstrated that Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation could serve as a significant conservation area for the species. TWNC forms part of a peninsula that juts into the Sunda Strait, and along the southern and western coast are numerous swamps and estuaries, winding forested creeks and upland streams offering prime otter habitat. Lagoons that form in the dry season offer excellent hunting and prey species for hairy-nosed otters as well.

The most significant factor about Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation, however, is the protection given to local wildlife. Unlike much of southern Sumatra, otters are not poached for hides or persecuted as pests of fishermen in Tambling. The mangroves are not threatened with development, and the strong security team, which regularly patrols deep into the park and has enabled the area’s tiger population to exist at high density, also protects the otters, providing hairy-noses with the chance to survive and thrive in this region.

Check back with us for updates on sightings and conservation of Sumatra’s hairy-nosed otter.

About TWNC
Artha Graha Peduli (“AGP”) supports the management and conservation of Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation (“Tambling”), a four hundred and fifty square kilometre (450 km2) concession in the south of Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park (BBSNP), Indonesia. This concession provides a permanent refuge for tigers and other wildlife, and represents a model for conservation leadership in Indonesia and around the world. BBSNP is managed by the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation (PHKA) of the Ministry of Forestry of Indonesia. Visit Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation.

Read Panthera’s press release – Hope for Tigers Lives in Sumatra – on preliminary camera trap data from Tambling Wildlife Nature Conservation indicating the highest tiger density estimates across all of Sumatra.

Hairy-Nosed Otter Photo Gallery



The Moth Book Hits New York Times Best Sellers List

In late 2013, The Moth - an acclaimed, New York non-profit organization dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling - published a book featuring fifty enthralling stories, including a soul-bearing contribution by Panthera’s CEO and Moth regular, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz. Now, we are excited to share that The Moth book was recently selected for the prestigious New York Times Best Sellers List.

In his Moth story, entitled ‘Man and Beast,’ Dr. Rabinowitz describes his childhood struggle with stuttering, the solace he sought in speaking to animals and his promise to these animals, that if he ever found his voice, he would use it to protect them. Told live at The Moth, aired on international radio stations and now featured in the best-selling Moth book, Dr. Rabinowitz’s story was also the inspiration for a short film produced by Canon.

Watch Canon’s ‘Man and Beast’ Film

Along with Dr. Rabinowitz’s contribution, the book’s stories include writer Malcolm Gladwell’s wedding toast gone horribly awry; legendary rapper Darryl “DMC” McDaniels’ obsession with a Sarah McLachlan song; poker champion Annie Duke’s two-million-dollar hand; A. E. Hotchner’s death-defying stint in a bullring with his friend Ernest Hemingway; former Clinton Press Secretary Joe Lockhart’s tale of missing an Air Force One flight after a hard night of drinking in Moscow; and Dr. George Lombardi’s fight to save Mother Teresa’s life.

Learn More about The Moth book.

View Dr. Alan Rabinowitz’s Storyteller page on The Moth.

Watch Dr. Rabinowitz share another incredible story entitled ‘The Last Taron,’ in which he describes his encounters with an isolated community on the verge of self-imposed extinction, while working to create the world's largest tiger reserve in Myanmar's Hukaung Valley.

More on The Moth
Inspired by friends telling stories on a porch, The Moth was born in small-town Georgia, garnered a cult following in New York City, and then rose to national acclaim with the wildly popular podcast and Peabody Award– winning weekly public radio show The Moth Radio Hour. Learn more at http://themoth.org/


Photo of the Month

One of the world’s least-known and most endangered wild cats, the Bay Cat, was recently photographed for the first time in high resolution in Borneo by wildlife photographer Sebastian Kennerknecht, while working on assignment with Panthera. Read the LiveScience article on this photograph.


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