Panthera Founder and Renowned Conservationist, Dr. Alan Robert Rabinowitz, McDaniel ’74 was one of the world’s most visionary and widely admired wild cat scientists.
Alan was a fearless and outspoken champion for the conservation of our planet’s iconic wild cats and wild places. 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 a career spanning more than three decades, Dr. Rabinowitz was, above all, a protector and global advocate for wild cats and other threatened wildlife, the diminishing lands in which they roam, and the often-impoverished people living near these cats and other wildlife.
He attended Western Maryland College (now called McDaniel College) in Westminster, Maryland, earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry in 1974, Rabinowitz then entered graduate studies at The Life of a Conservation Legend, 1953-2018 Rabinowitz then entered graduate studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. In Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, he cultivated his passion for the wild, studying species like black bears, raccoons, and bats. Thriving in his pursuits of wildlife biology and zoology, Rabinowitz went on to earn his M.S. in ecology in 1978 and was awarded his Ph.D. in 1981 for his dissertation “The Ecology of the Raccoon (Procyon lotor) in Cades Coves, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”
Following his Ph.D., Rabinowitz began work to change the trajectory of the world’s wild cats. He landed a job in New York City at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) as a research fellow and staff zoologist. Invited by the legendary conservationist Dr. George Schaller, he traveled from New York to Belize to conduct some of the first research on wild jaguars in 1982. During his sojourn in the jungle, Rabinowitz witnessed firsthand the devastation that poaching was inflicting on the nation’s jaguars—and persistently petitioned the government to protect them.
In 1986, only a decade removed from his debilitating stuttering, Rabinowitz spoke eloquently for over an hour before the prime minister and his cabinet, ultimately convincing them to create the Cocks-comb Basin Jaguar Preserve, the world’s first jaguar preserve. Years later, Rabinowitz was struck by how the preserve had truly blossomed for both wildlife and local inhabitants
He was promoted as the Asia Program Director in 1993 and served as the Director of Science for Asia from 1997 to 1998. Later, from 1999 to 2005, Rabinowitz directed WCS’s Global Carnivore Program, from which he was promoted to Executive Director of the Science and Exploration Program, a position he held from 2006 to 2008. His research subjects over the years included a veritable menagerie of creatures: jaguars, clouded leopards, Asiatic leopards, tigers, Sumatran rhinos, bears, leopard cats, raccoons, and civets.
His work in Thailand’s Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, later designated as a World Heritage Site, generated the first scientific research on Indochinese tigers, Asiatic leopards, and leopard cats there. Moreover, his intrepid work in conflict- laden Myanmar, and a willingness to engage some of the world’s most feared and inaccessible figures, led to the creation of five new protected areas there. Jewels in this crowning conservation achievement include Myanmar’s first marine national park, their first and largest Himalayan national park, the country’s largest wildlife sanctuary, and the world’s largest tiger reserve. In addition, Rabinowitz discovered four new species through his work in Myanmar, including the leaf deer, the most primitive deer species in the world.
In 2001, while establishing the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve in Myanmar, Rabinowitz was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia. Suddenly, after a life spent defending the lives of animals, Rabinowitz was in a fight for his own life. Cancer only hardened his resolve, though, to do everything he could to ensure he could leave his two children, Alexander and Alana, a world still teeming with big cats. The next leg of Rabinowitz’s journey positioned him at the forefront of the fight against tiger poaching—and at the helm of a new non- profit organization that saw wild cat conservation through a different lens than what had previously been the status quo. In 2006, he co- founded Panthera with his close friend Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan, guided by the philosophy that wild cats hold the key to conserving vast landscapes and all the life within them. The group continually proved itself in the field, evolving from a conceptual start- up to the world’s only organization focused on the conservation of the world’s 40 wild cat species.
Under Rabinowitz’s leadership, Panthera has created model conservation programs for all seven big cat species: cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards, and tigers. One such program, “Tigers Forever,” was born of teaming up conservation science with the world’s leading law enforcement experts. The now world- renowned Tigers Forever program emphasizes the lessons on partnerships that Rabinowitz has mastered. Collaborating with governments, local NGOs, and community members, Tigers Forever recovers critically endangered tiger populations by intensively monitoring the world’s most important tiger sites and locking them down from poachers with world- class site security and law enforcement.
While leading Panthera’s global programs, Rabinowitz also returned to his roots to ensure jaguars have strong voices in their corner. One of his greatest achievements was the creation and implementation of Panthera’s Jaguar Corridor Initiative, an unprecedented effort to safeguard a series of biological and genetic corridors across the jaguar’s range, protecting the genetic continuity of the species and ensuring its survival for generations to come. Rabinowitz even virtually brought Panthera’s supporters along on this quest, realizing his vision to cement safe passage for jaguars through the “Journey of the Jaguar,” a multi-year conservation initiative he spearheaded to shine a light on the efforts to protect the Jaguar Corridor. Some surprises along the way, such as witnessing a jaguar dragging a dead caiman out of the water in the Brazilian Pantanal, have astonished even him. With “Journey of the Jaguar,” Rabinowitz endeavored to expedite progress and secure the commitment of all the Corridor nations to research, protect, and mitigate conflict for the iconic cats.
He wrote more than 100 scientific papers and popular articles, drawing attention to the complex issues surrounding wildlife. Various outlets, including The New York Times, Scientific American, Audubon, Men’s Journal, Outside, Explorer, The Jerusalem Report, and National Geographic Adventure Magazine, have profiled him and his exploits. He was the subject of an acclaimed PBS/National Geographic television special called “In Search of the Jaguar.” Rabinowitz also starred in Tiger Tiger, renowned documentarian George Butler’s film about Rabinowitz’s journey into the Sundarbans – a tidal mangrove forest spanning the India- Bangladesh border and the one tiger habitat Rabinowitz had never visited. Furthermore, Rabinowitz authored eight books that bring the reader along for his experiences in conservation, inspiring new generations of conservationists. These include Jaguar: One Man’s Struggle to Establish the First Jaguar Preserve (1986/ 2000), Chasing the Dragon’s Tail: The Struggle to Save Thailand’s Wild Cats (1991/ 2002), Beyond the Last Village: A Journey of Discovery in Asia’s Forbidden Wilderness (2001), Life in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed (2008), and An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar (2014). His autobiographical children’s book, A Boy and a Jaguar, reminds youngsters and adults alike that one can overcome hurdles and keep promises that may seem impossible. The book has received the Schneider Family Book Award, embodying, per prize criteria, an “artistic expression of the dis-ability experience for child and adolescent audiences.”
In 2017, Rabinowitz stepped down as Panthera’s CEO and took on a new adventure as its Chief Scientist, taking his passion and expertise to scale by strategizing range-wide conservation programs and advocating for thought leaders and decision-makers to prioritize wild cats.