A Tribute to Dr. Alan Rabinowitz from Panthera Chairman and Co‐Founder, Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan
I am blessed to have had a few close friends that have been to me as brothers. My fraternal bond with Alan, however, came under a different classification. Our relationship was more akin, in our lexicon, to a unique sub‐species of affinity, respect, and profound love. Distinct from anyone I've met, Alan was the closest thing to a biological brother that I have ever had. The two of us were like long‐lost twins who, from the time we met in the flesh, realized that we were meant to come together to complete one another. In time, we came to refer to each other as Big Brother and Little Brother. In time, together, we fulfilled for the other one what each was missing individually in order to lift and execute the sacred mission we shared. And now, not surprisingly, with his loss, I feel what it must feel like to lose a twin. It is beyond mourning. It is a loneliness framed only by the gratitude that our souls were granted an opportunity to meet and share a very special kind of joy – whether we were together, or apart.
For those who became part of his astonishing and inspiring journey to save the big cats and their ecosystems, the impact of experiencing the intellectual and animal spirits that defined Alan Rabinowitz was, not unlike the moment one sees a big cat in the wild, simply unforgettable. Alan was himself, as he wrote affectionately of the jaguar he so potently championed, an “indomitable beast” that was as astonishing and charismatic a figure as the carnivorous megafauna for which he advocated with every sinew of his being right up until his final breaths. For those who were fortunate enough to get to know and spend time with Alan, the impressions he left of his life force were as indelible as the stripes of a tiger or the rosettes of a jaguar. This impact was not solely visited on colleagues and partners who had the privilege to share their lives with him as I did, but on everyone who was actuated by the awareness he nurtured about the fragility of the natural world. For the vast untold admirers who read of Alan Rabinowitz’s trials and triumphs, watched the documentaries and films of his journeys of discovery and conservation, or saw him speak on behalf of the causes that touched him, Alan came to define the ideal of a life well-lived.
I have often said that, awakened by the great George Schaller, my boyhood dream was to grow up to be a big cat biologist. Fortune had other plans for me, however, giving me the opportunity to do far more for the cats I so loved by being the humble enabler of George Schaller’s equally great protégé, a man that I might have become had I been as talented, as magnificent and as good a person as Alan was. Within his own lifetime, Alan Rabinowitz was widely acknowledged as the most accomplished cat conservationist of his age, the arc of his still active career having yielded more “wins” for the species he was committed to understanding and preserving than any individual before him. So influential and iconic did this force for nature become that one of our earliest projects at Panthera was to create scholarships to nurture “a Next Generation pipeline of Alans”. It is a testament to Alan’s own leadership and generosity of spirit that, due to the talents he galvanized and mentored, we are accomplishing this tall order. Through these young people, standing upon Alan’s broad shoulders and implementing his vision, the trajectory of cat conservation that Panthera has succeeded in changing for the good will endure and indeed thrive. Moreover, Alan felt that, under the leadership of Fred Launay that he championed, our common enterprise will reach the “escape velocity” for which he and I strove when we, together with my wife Daphne, created Panthera some twelve years ago.
Like many of his close friends, for Daphne and me Alan’s passing leaves an enormous void. Sharing in the victories and sacrifices of the noble mission of cat conservation with Alan and his wife Tae, and his children Alana and Alex, has been a constant in our family’s daily existence for as long as we can remember. It has been one of the finest joys of our lives to know that, with the exception of the real heroes – the “tips of the spear” represented by Alan and Panthera’s staff on the ground in more than 50 countries today – as lay people we have been devoting as much of our energy and resources to the ideals of cat conservation as anyone could. Energized by our engagement with Alan, we simply live and breathe the cause. Through Panthera, his friends and colleagues, as well as the legions of those whom he has moved and influenced, Alan’s legacy is more than secure; it will span generations. For ourselves, Daphne and I express our supreme gratitude for the life‐changing partnership and camaraderie that he brought to our lives, and pledge to keep the abiding faith that he never lost and always inspired.