Alumnus to discuss life’s work as wildlife conservationist

September 08, 2009

Alan Rabinowitz, world-renowned authority on conservation of endangered big cats and a 1974 alumnus of McDaniel College, returns to his alma mater Sept. 21 to be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and to present the talk, “Saving the World's Endangered Big Cats: Why Science is Not Enough.”

Three panelists – Dianne Briggs Martin ’65, Kenneth M. Short ’81 and Kristen Purcaro Welch ’94 – will discuss the relevance and value of the liberal arts in preparing them for their varied careers at 4:45 p.m. in McDaniel Lounge. Following the panel discussion, Rabinowitz will be inducted into the Delta of Maryland chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. (more information at the bottom of this page)

The lecture will be held at 8 p.m., in McDaniel Lounge. The panel discussion and lecture are free and open to the public.

Rabinowitz has earned his reputation as the world’s foremost authority on jaguars and other big cats during nearly three decades spent mostly in the field, studying jaguars, clouded leopards, Asiatic leopards, tigers, Sumatran rhinos, bears, leopard cats, raccoons, and civets. He has persuaded governments – some of them dictatorships – around the globe to set aside vast areas of land to help save these endangered species.

Currently the president and CEO of Panthera, a nonprofit organization devoted to saving the world’s 36 wild cat species, Rabinowitz served as executive director of the Science and Exploration Division for the Wildlife Conservation Society for nearly 30 years before founding Panthera. In 1999, he was honored with the Trustee Alumni Award.

His life’s work has focused on fulfilling his goal “to find and survey the world’s last wild places, with the intention of saving as much land in protected areas (as he can) and securing homes for some of the world’s most endangered large mammals.” His most recent projects include creating genetic corridors for jaguars and tigers.

A summa cum laude graduate in Biology of then Western Maryland College with a master’s in zoology and a doctorate in wildlife ecology from the University of Tennessee, Rabinowitz has had a major impact in his field. His work as a conservationist and as a diplomat of sorts has resulted in the world’s first jaguar sanctuary in Belize; Taiwan’s largest protected area, its last piece of intact lowland forest; the first field research on Indochinese tigers, Asiatic leopards, and leopard cats in Thailand in the region’s first World Heritage Site; and the creation of five protected areas in Myanmar, including the country’s first marine national park, the country’s first and largest Himalayan national park, the country’s largest wildlife sanctuary, and the world’s largest tiger reserve.

In recent years, Rabinowitz and other wildlife conservationists have changed their tactics. They know now that it is not enough to preserve habitats to save animals from extinction – they must also preserve gene pools. Islands of land isolate populations of animals, resulting in inbreeding and weakening the gene pool.

Rabinowitz now works to create corridors – forested passageways – for wild cats to roam to other groups of their kind, where they mate and thus diversify the gene pool. His current project, Paseo del Jaguar or Path of the Jaguar, to secure these pathways through Central and South America, was profiled in the March 2009 National Geographic magazine. Success may eventually bring jaguars back into the U.S. as well.

In April, Panthera launched a groundbreaking program in partnership with Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute to create a link between health in rural communities and protection of critical habitats. The program is part of Rabinowitz’s Jaguar Conservation Project in the Brazilian Pantanal region, home to the world’s largest cattle ranching area and also where Panthera manages more than 270 square miles of habitat crucial to jaguar survival.

Panthera’s Pantanal Project is aimed at establishing one of the world’s largest, intact protected jaguar corridors and creating within that corridor a model in which cattle ranching is both profitable and compatible with jaguar conservation.

Author of 80 scientific and popular articles, Rabinowitz has also written six books, including “Jaguar: One Man’s Struggle to Establish the First Jaguar Preserve,” “Chasing the Dragon’s Tail: The Struggle to Save Thailand’s Wild Cats,” “Beyond the Last Village: A Journey of Discovery in Asia’s Forbidden Wilderness,” and, in 2008, “Life in the Valley of Death: The fight to save tigers in a land of guns, gold, and greed.”

Profiles of Rabinowitz have appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, Audubon, Men’s Journal, Outside, Explorer, The Jerusalem Report, and National Geographic Adventure Magazine, and he is the subject of an acclaimed PBS/National Geographic television special, “In Search of the Jaguar.”

McDaniel College is one of 276 U.S. institutions with a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. The Delta of Maryland Chapter at McDaniel was established in 1980. Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest academic honor society. Its goal is to support, foster, and recognize the excellence of liberal arts scholarship in the institutions of higher education in America.

Three alumni will discuss “The Liberal Arts – Still relevant after all these years” at 4:45 - 5:45 p.m. Sept. 21 in McDaniel Lounge. Each panelist will spend a few minutes reflecting on their own liberal arts education at the College, with a special emphasis on how it prepared them for what they are doing today (and for the jobs that preceded their present positions). They also will project to the future for the need for liberally educated individuals in their fields.

The panelists are:

Dianne Briggs Martin '65, professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and associate vice president of Graduate Studies & Academic Affairs at George Washington University, majored in Mathematics at WMC. She recently returned from a two-year assignment in the United Arab Emirates as Dean of the College of Information Technology at Zayed University, a federally funded institution preparing young Emerati women to become industry leaders in the IT field. A pioneer as a woman in the IT field, Martin has held positions with IBM, Geotrust and the National Science Foundation.

Kenneth M. Short '81 graduated from WMC with a double major in History and American Studies and wrote his senior thesis on the barns of Carroll County. During his master’s work at Columbia University, Short concentrated on historic building technology and construction techniques. He has served as an architectural historian and historic preservation consultant for Baltimore city, Carroll County, and Howard County and as a private consultant to government, museums, businesses and individuals in Maryland and Virginia. Short has also taught a course on local architecture several times at Common Ground on the Hill.

Kristen Purcaro Welch '94 joined the CIA in 1999, with a B. A. in Political Science from WMC and an M. A. in International Relations and Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University in D.C.  She served for 10 years in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center where she was a counterterrorism analyst covering terrorism issues in a variety of regions, including the Balkans, Latin America, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.  She served for three years as Chief of the Europe and Eurasia team and, most recently, joined CIA’s University faculty to teach courses on leadership and management.