A novel about Vivian, a young Irish girl sent by rail from a New York City tenement to Minnesota in the early 1900s. She was one of thousands of abandoned children sent to live with rural families for a better life. But not all ended up in loving homes.
Jaguars are the world’s third-largest wild cat – after tigers and lions. They have distinctive black rosettes on their fur and can weigh up to 250 pounds. Jaguars have been eradicated from 40 percent of their historic range. Today they live along a corridor from Argentina to Mexico. Their future is threatened by illegal hunting, deforestation and a loss of prey. One of the world’s leading big cat experts is responsible for creating a jaguar preserve in Central America, the first of its kind. In a new book, he shares why he’s committed to giving a voice to jaguars and how they helped him find his own voice.
- Alan Rabinowitz zoologist, wildlife ecologist, chief executive officer of Panthera, a wild cat conservation group; author of “Life in the Valley of Death: The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed.”
Read A Featured Excerpt
Excerpted with permission from An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar By Alan Rabinowitz. © Island Press. All Rights Reserved
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Alan Rabinowitz has spent most of his life working to save the world's big cats, tigers, leopards, and jaguars. Many are endangered, but the jaguar holds a special place in Rabinowitz' heart. It was an encounter as a child with a jaguar at the Bronx Zoo that gave his life purpose and helped him overcome a debilitating stutter.
MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled "An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar." Alan Rabinowitz joins me in the studio. I'll look forward to hearing your questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Alan, it's good to see you.
MR. ALAN RABINOWITZThank you, Diane. It's great to be here.
REHMTalk about this feeling you've had for jaguars for such a long time, and other cats, but how it first began.
RABINOWITZWell, I've always loved animals. When I was a young -- for as long as I can recall in my childhood, I had a terrible stutter. I couldn't speak. It was what they called frozen mouth at the time. When I tried speaking, my body would spasm. The air would block. I couldn't get any words out whatsoever. And I realized when I was fairly young, about four or five, that the one thing I could speak to relatively fluently were animals.
RABINOWITZStutterers can sing without stuttering, but I never really got into singing. And I could talk to my little pets, to hamsters, gerbils, New York style pets. My father realized that a place I felt at home, a place I felt comfortable, when I would come home very stressed from school, which was all the time, was the Bronx Zoo.
RABINOWITZAnd he would take me to the Bronx Zoo. And the one building I would always want to go to first, and sometimes just stay there the whole day, was what was called the Lion House, the big cat house at the Bronx Zoo, where there was cage after cage after cage of big cats roaring, powerful, all that energy. And in those cages, there was one cage towards the end with one lone jaguar in it. While all the other cats were charging the bars and roaring and screaming, the jaguar always stayed quiet and always was towards the back.
RABINOWITZIt didn't want to come close to the people. It stayed away from people coming up to the bars. And that's where I would go, and I would stay at those bars until the jaguar came up close to me. And I would start talking to it. And I spent hours and hours of my lifetime talking to that cat as a young child.
REHMSo you're saying that that cat, which for the most part stayed near the back of the cage and not wishing to engage with the public, somehow would come toward you.
RABINOWITZYes. It didn't want to be near most people, just as I didn't want to be around people. And I always wondered, what if you had a voice? I don't have a voice either. You don't have a voice. How would people treat you differently if you had a voice and could say, I don't want to be here, I don't like you, please let me go? And because I didn't have a voice as a very young child, people treated me terribly. People thought I was retarded, put me in special classes for disturbed children, wouldn't allow me to even try to speak. So I realized -- or I felt that this cat was just like me. It was strong. It was powerful. I felt great inside. I felt strong as a young kid. But I didn't have a voice.
REHMDid you speak at home?
RABINOWITZI tried to. My parents were sympathetic as they could -- they didn't know what to do back then.
RABINOWITZStuttering was believed then to be purely psychological. So they took me to a hypnotist. They took me to therapists. They gave me drug therapy. I even once had shock treatment to my head, thinking they could reset the brain. And, of course, nothing worked. They -- so I could try to talk to them. But the more nervous I got, the more there was expectation -- like, come on, come on, or, calm down, or speak slower -- the worse it was for me. But the jaguar, the animals, had no expectation of me. They accepted me as I was. So though I wasn't totally fluent with them, I could speak. Words would come out. Sentences would come out. I couldn't speak a full sentence to a human being.
REHMThat's extraordinary. But to this silent cat, you could speak fluently?
RABINOWITZI could speak.
REHMThe difference between a jaguar and a leopard and a panther may not be clear in all our minds. Help us distinguish the three.
RABINOWITZWell, the leopard, there's reasons that people think leopards and jaguars may even be the same animal. They look very similar outwardly. The leopard has these open circular spots or patterns on them.
RABINOWITZThe jaguar does not though. It looks similar, but it has rosettes. It's got circular spots within a spot inside of that circle. No other cat is like that. And once you look closely, if you were to see a leopard and a jaguar standing side by side, you wouldn't think they were the same cat. The jaguar is like a little sumo wrestler. It's bulky. It's big and huge.
RABINOWITZAnd the leopard can get fairly -- that's the fourth largest cat. That gets fairly large as well. But it has a much smaller skull. It's more lithe than the jaguar. Now, panther, there is no particular cat which is a -- panther is a common name used a lot of times for a black cat. So sometimes there can be black jaguars, and it's just a melanistic phase of a jaguar.
RABINOWITZAnd that black jaguar is sometimes called a panther. Usually, the word panther is most commonly used for the leopard, for the black leopard, which is not an uncommon animal. But if you say the word panther, I don't know what species you're talking about because it could mean numerous things. But it usually means a black phase of one of those cats.
REHMIn your book, "An Indomitable Beast," you write really about your quest to define jaguarness. (sic) What do you mean by that?
RABINOWITZWell, it's almost ironic that I ended up studying jaguars. And here I am considered the world's expert on jaguars. I never set out to really do that as a child. I was -- it was about me as a child. There was hoping that someday I would overcome my debilitating speech and be able to speak. But I did promise the jaguar, and the other cats at the Bronx Zoo, I promised them, every time I left them, I'd say, if I find my voice one day, I will try to be your voice.
RABINOWITZAnd I never forgot that. It's not what set me on my life's path towards cats, per se, but it is what set me on my life's path towards studying wildlife and other animals. I ended up going to cats later in my career because they were the top predator. I could save everything by saving big cats.
REHMYou know, one thing, before we go any further, I'd like listeners to hear the voice of the jaguar.
REHMNow, in contrast to another recording we have, that one sounds like a pretty relaxed, mild-mannered jaguar. Am I wrong?
RABINOWITZNo, you're not. That's my baby. When I hear that voice, believe it or not, I feel calm inside. I feel an overwhelming happiness. That voice, that's a jaguar not about to attack. That's a jaguar sitting back and trying just take a...
RABINOWITZ...yeah, saying, this is my space here. Just honor my space.
REHMNow, when you would approach that cage and a jaguar would come toward you, would the jaguar be seated or standing? And would you be looking into the eye of that jaguar?
RABINOWITZOh, I would spend all my time looking into the eyes of the jaguar. That's where I've learned to look into the eyes of humans as well in order to really see what their intent is, what's inside. Whether the jaguar was standing or pacing or sitting, that varied. It varied especially if there were other people around me. When other people would leave, I would always stay around long enough so I could try to be alone with the jaguar. When there are other people, the jaguar would often pace, pace back and forth. When I was alone...
RABINOWITZ...and talking quietly to it, it would sit down.
REHMAnd how old were you when you were able to get out that first sentence?
RABINOWITZI was able to -- I don't really recall. I was able to speak a full sentence the first time I ever went up to the jaguar. I have no recollection of speaking a full sentence to another human being until I was in college.
REHMAlan Rabinowitz, his new book titled "An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar." Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAlan Rabinowitz is my guest in this hour. His new book is titled, "An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar." He's also written a children's book. It's titled, "A Boy and a Jaguar." Can't wait to look at that one. How dangerous is the jaguar?
RABINOWITZThe jaguar is the least dangerous of any of the big cats, which is pretty amazing. That's a very important part of my book. There's a chapter in my book I call "The Reluctant Warrior." That's what I call the jaguar. We could learn from this animal. Here you have this massively powerful predator, an animal that can kill in a single bound. It usually kills its prey by crushing bone. Its muscles around its jaws and its canines are so strong that is kills by crushing into a skull or crushing the vertebrae of even a 2,000-pound bull.
RABINOWITZThis massive beast, which is so strong and so dangerous, has never been known in history to be a man-eater. There have been several jaguars which have killed people, but as far as we know, less than a dozen. And they were all in some way provoked. All the other big cats, tigers, lions, leopards, even snow leopards…
RABINOWITZYes. Even mountain lions, they've been known to have killed, hundreds, thousands, in some cases tens of thousands of people with lions and tigers. Jaguars have never. And they -- when it comes to fight or flight, when they're in a dangerous situation, they evaluate that situation. And if it doesn't endanger them they won't go and try to attack an animal or a person for no reason.
RABINOWITZIf they have to, if they're backed into a corner or if they're making a kill, then they kill swiftly. Then they make that decision and kill swiftly and leave. But their choice is non-aggression.
REHMSo they've been known to attack dogs who were chasing them or to run from those dogs?
RABINOWITZWell, that's the most fascinating thing about it. Early hunters and explorers called the jaguar a coward because they thought it was cowardly because even little dogs -- you could chase it with a poodle and a jaguar, which could turn around and eat that as an appetizer, would still run from it and would run up a tree. Not because it can't turn and kill the dogs or the other animals, but because it's not a good way of life to have a lot of battles, to have a lot of encounters.
RABINOWITZBecause if you get hurt in the jungle, even from a scratch you can't clean, you could die. So the jaguar will run and climb up a tree to escape. And that's why it's so easily hunted by people.
REHMHave you held in your arms a baby jaguar?
RABINOWITZI have held young jaguars in my arms. It's not -- I've held adult jaguars, but only when they've been tranquilized, when they've been sleeping clearly. It's got to be a very young baby. That's one of the very interesting characteristics of jaguars. Even people in zoos who have raised jaguars will tell you that their behavior -- they become more unmanageable, harder to control, younger than any of the other big cats. There's a wildness. There's a standoffish, a resilience, a wildness in jaguars that I think really sets it apart from the other big cats.
REHMHow much does a baby jaguar weigh at birth?
RABINOWITZAt birth it'll weigh about half a kilo or so. It'll weigh a pound at birth.
RABINOWITZA pound, a pound and a half, yes.
REHMAnd how quickly does it grow?
RABINOWITZOh, it grows -- within -- well, within a year it'll be almost as large as the adult. Within a year to a year and a half, it'll actually leave from the adults in a year and a half or so. It grows very, very rapidly in the first few months.
REHMAnd let's hear the sound of a baby jaguar.
REHMSounds almost like a human baby.
RABINOWITZIt really does. In fact, sometimes when indigenous people or people roaming in the jungle have heard that sound, that's what lent credence to the idea that there are certain kinds of human spirits and other kinds of things in the jungle because it sounds so humanlike.
REHMAnd yet here you discuss jaguars as the least likely to kill a human being, but they become hunted for their fur.
RABINOWITZThey are hunted generally for their fur. They are hunted because many ranchers or people who live among jaguars have considered them pests or vermin. And yet the indigenous people who grew up with them thousands of years ago, they revered jaguars. They realized that jaguars were not only a crucial part of the world in which they lived, but made their own culture stronger. So I found it fascinating when I was doing this book, interviewing some young people who no longer live with jaguars. Jaguars had been killed off in some areas in Costa Rico and Panama.
RABINOWITZBut their ancestors had lived with jaguars. And even these young people felt that though they were happy not to be afraid of walking in the jungle, they felt that their life was weakened somehow, that their culture was not as strong as it once was because jaguars no longer walked among them.
REHMIt's interesting that when Jacqueline Kennedy was first lady she sort of started a trend, did she not, with that jaguar fur coat?
RABINOWITZShe did. In the '70s. She started -- it wasn't done on purpose. She came out wearing a jaguar coat and spotted coats became a major, major fashion trend that led to hundreds of thousands, literally hundreds of thousands of jaguars and leopards and other spotted cats, smaller ones, ocelots, all being killed for the fur trade. It almost drove some of those species to extinction. It's now become a little better. But there are still places in Europe and other parts of the world where amazingly you can still see people wearing a snow leopard coat.
REHMSo how did that fur trade get stopped?
RABINOWITZWell, it became so bad that finally an international convention was signed by many of the jaguar countries that banned the trade in spotted cats. And now that's been signed by almost all the jaguar range countries. And it's very much looked down upon. Now the fashion, of course, is faux fur, is fake leopard -- especially leopard is really popular. And it worries me a bit because even with fake, that still makes people who can afford it and can get it want the real. And I don't know where that's going to lead us. I'm not sure that's a very good trend.
REHMNow, you spent time as a boy in the Bronx Zoo talking to the jaguars. And then you actually went to work in the Bronx Zoo.
RABINOWITZThat was -- I don't know if that's called fate, serendipity, what it was. I grew up with the Bronx Zoo as a major place of solace for me. I ended up, when I went to college and graduate school, going away from home as far as I could get. I went to Maryland and then I went into Tennessee. And I was working on black bears, actually, in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee when I met my mentor, who was running the international programs of the Bronx Zoo at the time, George Schaller.
RABINOWITZAnd George Schaller had come down to Tennessee to meet me and my professor because he was studying giant pandas at the time. And I ended -- George and I met for the first time and two weeks later he called my major professor and asked if I'd like to go to this tiny country called Belize, formally British Honduras, and study jaguars.
REHMAnd that's what you did.
RABINOWITZI didn't even know when he -- I remember…
REHMYou didn't know where Belize was.
RABINOWITZI had no idea where Belize was. In fact, I was at my going away party for my PhD. when my major professor came with a smile and said, "George Schaller just called and he'd like to know if you'd like to go to Belize and study jaguars." And I remember thinking, "Where the hell is Belize?" But what my voice said was, "Tell him yes."
RABINOWITZI didn't care where it was.
RABINOWITZI'm going. I was -- it was my calling.
REHMAnd to study them in the wild.
RABINOWITZIn the wild. It was a tiny -- he -- Schaller had taken an interest in it because this tiny little country with only one dirt road at the time, running along the coast of the country, were actually having jaguars hit by cars on the road. So we thought nobody by -- nobody at that time had ever studied jaguars in the rainforest. And he wanted me to go down and take a look. I thought, this was it. I knew it was it. I knew as soon as I said yes, that this was going to change my life.
REHMI want our listeners to hear the sound of an adult jaguar, who sounds a little less than friendly.
REHMAnd that's hardly a purring sound, Alan.
RABINOWITZNo. That's a warning sound.
REHMYeah, big time.
RABINOWITZThat's saying back off. If I heard that I would start backing up. I would start backing off until that sound stopped. That -- but amazingly, I've been with jaguars -- even if you pursue, the jaguar still will end up turning and running away if it has space to run, rather than attack you. Because that's the behavior, that's the nature of the jaguar.
REHMHow close did you come to an adult jaguar in the wild?
RABINOWITZThe closest I ever go -- apart from actually capturing them when I would tranquilize them and, in fact, one jaguar woke up prematurely from the drug and it literally knocked me down and ran over me and stepped on my face, but -- and it could have killed me, easily. But it just ran over me and ran into the jungle. And then once I set free -- once I thought a jaguar was still sleeping from drug and I opened up the front and it was fully awake.
RABINOWITZIt was just resting. And it charged out, it chased me. And I knew I couldn't out run it. And I turned and just screamed, no. Because I didn't know what to do.
RABINOWITZAnd the jaguar just stopped, saw it had terrified me and turned and walked off in the jungle. But the best encounter, Diane, I've ever had, the best one, which I wrote about in my children's book, was when I was tracking a jaguar in the jungle by myself, which I didn't usually do. I saw these big male tracks of a jaguar I'd never seen before. And I just took off thinking, okay, I'll track it a little while, but I shouldn't be alone.
RABINOWITZBut I ended up tracking it for hours. And it was getting dark and I didn't have a flashlight. And I thought I can't be alone in the jungle without a flashlight. So I turn around and there's the jaguar in back of me. The jaguar I thought I had been tracking, had circled…
REHMWas tracking you.
RABINOWITZ…around and was tracking me, for quite a ways. I could tell from the tracks.
RABINOWITZAnd it could have gotten me at any -- it was curious. That's how cats are. Anybody who knows them, cats are curious. People say, oh, I was almost attacked by a -- you're not almost attacked. That cat will either attack you or not. They're usually curious. And it had followed me. So I was scared, because here it's blocking my way back. I'm in front of -- I'm blocking its way. And I thought, what do I do?
RABINOWITZSo this time I did the opposite, I sat down. I squatted, thinking if I make myself small and subdominant maybe it'll just walk away. And the jaguar did an amazing thing. The jaguar sat down also. So now I'm sitting and the jaguar's sitting and we're looking at one another. And I'm thinking this can't go on. Something's got to happen. And I'm not the more powerful one here.
RABINOWITZSo I got scared again and I stood up and stepped back. And I actually tripped and the jaguar just stood up and started -- and I was sitting now on my rump. And the jaguar just walked off towards the forest, looked back at me, and that's when I remember thinking we're both okay now. We're both gonna be okay.
REHMWow. Alan Rabinowitz. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How endangered are these cats at the moment?
RABINOWITZWell, they're classified as threatened. What that means -- they're doing better, much better than tigers and lions. Tigers are doing terrible. I've spent quite a bit of my career studying tigers also. And I still am involved in tiger conservation. And tiger numbers have been plummeting. We're down to about or less than 3,000 wild tigers in the entire world, in the wild. More than 20,000 in captivity.
RABINOWITZBut 3,000 left in the wild. And they're in very small fragmented reserves throughout Asia. It's going to be very difficult saving them, but in fact, we are moving forward in some places. Lions are also doing very badly. People see wonderful shows on TV, but the fact is there's only about five major lion populations, areas of lion populations left. And their numbers are plummeting and their habitat is plummeting.
RABINOWITZJaguars, we have several tens of thousands left, but they've lost, as you said earlier, they've lost 60 percent of their native habitat. And their habitat is now being squeezed more and more and more as more people come into -- are born and need land in Latin America. And they are being hunted still. Tigers are the worst because tigers are hunted for the Chinese medicinal trade. But now, as tigers become so scarce, people are turning to lion bones and lion parts. And we even have evidence of people turning now to tiger (sic) bones for the Asian medicinal trade.
RABINOWITZSo we have a lot on our plate. We've actually done a good job in helping save some of these big cats, but it's a war. We win battles. A battle at a time, but it really is a larger war that we have to fight and it's a war that goes along the same lines with some of the same perpetrators as drugs, weapons and human trafficking. So, in fact, now, groups like INTERPOL are even involved in wildlife trade.
REHMAnd what about the ivory from elephants?
RABINOWITZWell, that's -- exactly.
REHMWe'll take a short break here. When we come back we'll open the phones for your calls, your comments. We're talking about the jaguar and a brand new book titled, "An Indomitable Beast."
REHMAnd welcome back. I'm going to go to the phones right away, 800-433-8850. First to Linda in Ann Arbor, Mich. You're on the air.
LINDAHi. Yeah, I grew up south of Tucson, Ariz. And I wanted to mention that a lot of people think that jaguars are only found in the jungles, but they're also found in the mountains of Arizona, New Mexico, northern Arizona -- I mean, northern New Mexico. And there's a conflict right now going on out in Tucson about a mine that wants to be developed in the mountains. And a lot of people are saying that it is going to impact the jaguar. But the option other than a mine is more housing developments.
LINDAAnd mines actually leave thousands of acres undeveloped providing habitat for the jaguar versus having these housing developments where there's no land for them to roam, and humans and dogs to scare them off.
REHMI'm sure you know about that area, Alan.
RABINOWITZI believe she's talking -- are you speaking of the Rosemont Mine?
RABINOWITZYes, I know of it well. And I've been somewhat involved in that in the controversy of jaguars in the United States. You are very correct what you first said, that jaguars don't just roam in the jungle. They roam in some desert habitats. It's not their optimal habitats but they will be found in desert areas. They will be found in upland areas. They're found in open grasslands. So they do cross a variety of habitats.
RABINOWITZGiven that there have been signs of jaguars there used to be breeding populations up until the early 1900s in the United States. While there's evidence of jaguars crossing over and even being in the southwest U.S., there has still, to date, been no evidence in recent times of a jaguar breeding population in the United States.
RABINOWITZHowever, if they want to get reestablished and if they -- either that they establish themselves there or they're reestablished in some other way, I completely agree with you. We work with mining companies in many places throughout jaguar range and Central and South America. I work with mining companies with tigers throughout Asia.
RABINOWITZWhile mining can be very destructive, mining is always very, very limited in scope usually, legal mining, miners that stick by the law and do things right. If you work with a mining company, especially if it's bound by laws in the United States, jaguars are still very able to coexist with development like mines and bridges and even roads and even some dams.
RABINOWITZBig housing developments, when you take over the land and have them clear-cutted for large agricultural or housing, that actually can be -- can block jaguar passage and usage of that area much more than a controlled mining operation.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Joe in Richmond, Va. Hi there, you're on the air.
JOEHello. I got a couple questions. Isn't there a distinction between the jaguar and the leopard? The leopard is an African Continent cat only? And also I don't believe I've ever seen or heard of a black leopard from Africa. But, you know, the puma panther, whatever you want to call it. That's actually like a subspecies of some sort of a cougar -- I mean, a jaguar. Is that not correct/
RABINOWITZWell, it's not a subspecies. It's just a melanistic variant. It's the same with -- it's almost like with human beings how there can be a gradient in skin color to black to white. You are absolutely correct in that the leopard is completely African and Asian. It's not just African. The same species of leopard that's found in Africa also roams throughout Asia. In fact, I used to capture and radio collar them in Thailand.
RABINOWITZSo leopards have the largest range of any of the cats but they are very geographically separated from the jaguar, which only roams throughout the -- through Central and South America while leopards roam through Asia and Africa.
REHMAll right. To Andy in Sarasota, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
ANDYHi, Dr. Rabinowitz. My name is Andy Stein and I live most of my time down in Costa Rica. I'm visiting my mom in Sarasota. And your book inspired -- your first book about jaguars inspired me many years ago so I set out to learn as much as I could. I went down to Belize and had Bader Hassan reach me how to track jaguars and stuff. But in Costa Rica when I try to volunteer, because I don't have a PhD or a Master's degree or anything, I get met with skepticism, even though I have worked many hours in the field as an amateur. What can I do to do some more volunteering down in Costa Rica and get met with less skepticism?
RABINOWITZWell, Andy, I -- you should contact Panthera because we actually have a very significant Costa Rica program. We have an office space in Costa Rica. And we have a significant program there creating the jaguar corridor. It's been one of our best partner countries.
REHMAnd how does he get in touch with Panthera?
RABINOWITZOkay. Our website is www.panthera.org. The best way to get in touch with Panthera is I guess to contact me. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please don't have a zillion people contacting me. Andy, you're a special case. And I'd like to see what you have to offer. Having a PhD or not does not necessarily stop you from being a terrific field scientist.
REHMAll right. That's great to hear, Andy, and I hope you'll follow up. Here's an interesting posting on Facebook from Diane. She says, "It's very interesting to hear that Alan could speak without stuttering when talking to his jaguar. There is a reading program in Lewes, Del. where children who have trouble speaking, read to dogs in a nonjudgmental, non-stressful environment. It works," she says.
RABINOWITZIt sure does work. I can't say I was 100 percent fluent because we now know that stuttering is not purely psychological but is neurological as well. But I could speak. I could speak full sentences. I am still a stutterer now as I'm speaking to you but I have learned how to control it. And I've learned not to care about what other people think of me.
REHMWell, I think you're terrific.
RABINOWITZThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd here's an email from Mike who says, "The jaguar is also known as the king of the Amazon rainforest. What gives the jaguar such an advantage to climbs trees and kill a sloth even that high?"
RABINOWITZThat's a terrific question. That actually goes to a whole section of my new book where I try to tell why the jaguar is so different, so special than the other large cats, even though anatomically it looks very similar. Because of its structure, because of how it's built, it's actually considered the largest of the small cats and the smallest of the big cats. It's able to use its body size -- its musculature allows it to swim extremely well, to climb trees and to use the terrestrial surface in a way it could use all three of those in a way that no other large cat can. So it can take advantage of every aspect of the environment, making it much more of a survivor than any other big cat.
REHMNow haven't you created a special area for jaguars?
RABINOWITZI did. That was the first thing I ever did when I went to Belize. I was sent down there by George Schaller just to get the first research ever done on jaguars in the rainforests. But I couldn't turn my back on the fact -- this was in the early '80s -- on the fact that they were being killed everywhere, and that even though I could walk away with great research and research papers, it might mean nothing. The jaguars would all be gone.
RABINOWITZSo that's when I appealed to the government of Belize who at the time -- believe it or not, now Belize is a major ecotourism destination but at the time Belize had no national parks, no protected areas. Ecotourism wasn't even a word. And I begged them to set up for the future to try to look into the future and save an area for the jaguars. And due to the amazing prime minister at the time, we were able to set up the world's first jaguar preserve in Belize.
REHMDoes it still exist?
RABINOWITZIt still -- it's doing better than ever. Hundreds of Mayan Indians now have jobs in the ecotourism industry. It's created -- there's now -- all of the new protected areas which stem from the coxcomb, from that jaguar preserve is now the major cash input for the country.
REHMHere is an email from Mel. "Is it possible to artificially inseminate wild jaguars?"
RABINOWITZYes. And that's a very, very good question. One of the -- that's -- we don't -- fortunately we haven't needed to get there yet because there's enough wild jaguars and enough habitat to be saving. We are actually considering that alternative in possibly the not-too-distant future for tigers.
RABINOWITZBecause tigers are becoming so fragmented in such small numbers we might have to go in and artificially inseminate.
REHMSo you now have U.S. designated land in both New Mexico and Arizona as critical habitat for the jaguar?
RABINOWITZYes. It was a small area -- I forgot how large it was -- put aside as critical habitat for the jaguar. Just to be clear, I opposed that. I actually opposed it.
RABINOWITZBecause critical habitat is -- because I believe that weakened the endangered species law because critical habitat was defined as protecting an area that was critical to a breeding population of the species. There is no breeding population of jaguars currently existing north of the Mexican border. So to declare critical habitat where there's no more than a few jaguars documented possibly crossing over from Mexico, do I think it's a bad thing? I only think it's bad in that it could weaken the need of other true endangered species.
REHMI see. All right. Let's hear from Debra in St. Louis, Mo. Hi, you're on the air.
DEBRAHi. I used to stutter when I was a kid. I've always been the school and family reject. I eventually stopped physically, you know, with stuttering but I still do mentally. A lot of times if I'm under a lot of stress I'll just forget the words altogether and just nothing there. But I found out if I write it down a lot of times I'll remember. But to look at it but still I'll forget things. And it's gotten to the point where my caseworker has to come along with me to the doctor appointments so that everything gets explained. And I don't know what to do about that -- you know, to do -- fix it up any better but if you have any suggestions I'd appreciate it.
RABINOWITZWell, you brought up an incredibly good point. How old are you, by the way?
RABINOWITZYou know, what you said about you can speak now externally but you still stutter mentally, you're the first person to have ever said that to me in a way that I can't explain it to other people. When people look at me and tell me, Alan, you're an -- I don't even hear your stuttering now. You're an amazing person. You've gotten beyond that. I said, no, I haven't. That stuttering broken boy, who everybody called a retard or tried picking on, that's still inside of me. That's in me every day. That's in me right now as I'm talking to you.
RABINOWITZWhat helped me with that was to come to terms myself with who I am and who I want to be inside, and stop caring about the way the outside world looked at me. I can't say I'm the most sociable person now. I still don't like being with people a lot. I'd rather be with animals but when it comes down to it, when I feel bad I look in myself and say, am I the person I want to be? I don't care what other people think. Am I who I want to be and have I made a difference in this world? That's what you have to do.
REHMDebra, I must say you sounded terrific as you presented on the program today. I hope that what Alan has said to you will help you as you go forward. She mentioned, Alan, sometimes not being able to remember because she gets so hung up on whether it's going to come out right. Have you ever had that problem?
RABINOWITZYes, I have. You get so caught up in your head -- other people just take speech for granted. You just speak.
RABINOWITZBut -- and it doesn't have to be a stutter. It could be all kinds of things.
RABINOWITZPeople like you and I. So you -- especially when something's important or you want to impress and you care about what other people say, you get so wrapped up with the scene in your own head of how you want it to go that very often it breaks down or it gets mixed up or you forget. You start losing your point.
RABINOWITZThat's why I said what really helped me beyond learning the mechanics of how not to stutter when I don't want to, as I'm doing now, beyond that it was much more than that. It's mental. It's mental all the time for me now thinking, what is it I want to get across, more than am I going to impress this person in front of me. I don't care anymore. I know that if I speak from my heart and get across what's right and what's important, that will change things.
REHMAlan Rabinowitz. His new book with the most gorgeous jaguar on the front titled "An Indomitable Beast." Thank you for being here.
RABINOWITZThank you, Diane. It's been wonderful.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
An estimated 11 million Americans could see their disability benefits slashed next year if Congress fails to take action. The White House and Republican lawmakers have opposing solutions. Social Security's disability fund and how to keep the program solvent.
There's a renewed push for apprenticeship programs in the U.S., one supporters say can address a shortage of skilled workers and the financial burden on young people today.
The Centers for Disease Control reported the number of Americans who died from heroin overdoses quadrupled in the decade ending in 2013. We look at what's behind the nation's surge in heroin addiction and what some communities are doing to fight back.