Rabinowitz Passes; Legacy Lives On
At the start of the news we told you about the murder of Richard Foster, the British Film-maker who’d called Belize home for 45 years, and made this country famous in his nature documentaries, going all the way back to the 80’s. At that time, surely his path would have crossed with Alan Rabinowtiz, who set up the first jaguar reserve in the world back in the early 80’s.
Rabinowtiz died on Sunday at 64 in a hospital in Manhattan. But, 8 years ago, we interviewed him and asked him to go over the history of how that reserve was set up. It’s a fascinating story as told to Jules Vasquez:…
http://www.7newsbelize.com/sstory.php?nid=11596&frmsrch=1 - (July 3, 2008)
He first came to Belize in 1978 – at that time no one had studied jaguars in the rainforest.
Dr. Alan Rabinowitz
“What I saw shocked me. There were jaguars everywhere, there were jaguars right outside of Belize City, there were jaguars coming into the edges of Belize City. When I first came into Belize, I ended up going to meet the Chief Forest Officer, Henry Flowers at the time, and I said to him I would like permission to study jaguars, capture jaguars. He said what do you want to do that for, you don’t need permission, people are shooting jaguars, there are lots of jaguars – if you want to go capture jaguars, go do it.”
And that’s just what he did in the Cockscomb Basin finding a healthy jaguar population, but one under sustained threat from hunters. So he had the at that time outlandish idea to set up a jaguar reserve.
Dr. Alan Rabinowitz
“Cause at the time Belize had no protected areas system. Guanacaste Park was the only terrestrial protected area, that little park outside of Belmopan. There were no other protected areas in the entire country because why would you need protected areas if there is so much jungle and so much wildlife. I got an audience with not only the Prime Minister but his entire Cabinet and I think I was kind of a sideshow for the Cabinet. They wanted me to kind of make a growling sound like a jaguar in front of all the Ministers and to talk about my adventures chasing jaguars because they didn’t know why anybody would want to chase jaguars back in the jungle."
"The Ministers said why do we need a protected area, you have jaguars all over Belize, why do we have to set aside one area and protect it for jaguars. And I said because I in the future, Belize is going to have to develop, all this forest won’t be here in the future, I don’t what will or won’t be, but we’re going to need protected areas for the jaguars and I think tourists will come to the jungles and want to see jaguars. So the Cabinet voted, it ended up being a split vote and Prime Minister Price actually broke the vote and he said to let’s try it.”
The rest is history the Cockscomb became the world’s first jaguar reserve.
Dr. Alan Rabinowitz
“So it was actually first set up as a forest reserve with a no hunting policy for jaguars. That way they would protect the jaguars but would leave the flexibility if they wanted to use the area, if it didn’t work out. And then it eventually morphed into a wildlife sanctuary and then a national park."
"People actually started coming and then the whole protected area system just boomed in Belize, partly as a result of Cockscomb but it was also because the whole industry was taking off at that time and it was just a phenomenal success story which I never really planned but if you do things the right way I think and for the right reasons then I think it ends up being very much bigger than you could ever imagine.
"I don’t think I did much, I just planted one very small seed in the ground. Now 1,000 things could have stomped on that seed and just wiped it out but the people of Belize and all those people that followed ended up nurturing that seed and growing something very small into something very huge.”
Rabinowitz died of lymphatic cancer, which had spread to his lungs. The New York Times obituary notes, “Dr. Rabinowitz, who had the reputation of a swashbuckler, traveled to jungles, rain forests and mountaintops. He mapped habitats diminished by development; negotiated with governments, some of them dictatorships, to provide safe swaths of land to preserve the wild cats; and argued that their preservation meant saving whole ecosystems.”
Alan Rabinowtiz, dead at 64.