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Known as the “Indiana Jones of Wildlife Protection,” Dr. Rabinowitz helped establish Belize’s Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary as the world’s first jaguar preserve
Cockscomb initiative has monitored approximately 200 jaguars, serves as longest-term jaguar monitoring project in the world
New York, NY - Building upon the extraordinary legacy of Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, the pioneering wild cat scientist dubbed the "Indiana Jones of Wildlife Conservation" by TIME Magazine, Michelle Kwan, the U.S. Ambassador to Belize, and leaders from Panthera and the Belize Audubon Society (BAS) inaugurated the Dr. Alan Rabinowitz Research Centre at the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize earlier this month. British High Commissioner Nicole Davison attended the event as well.
Dr. Rabinowitz, who passed away in August 2018 after a journey with cancer, established the world's first jaguar preserve in Belize’s Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986 and helped create seven major protected areas worldwide – including the world’s largest tiger reserve in Myanmar’s Hukaung Valley; the first national marine park in Myanmar; and the first and largest Himalayan national park. In the process of studying and conserving tigers in Myanmar, Rabinowitz discovered four mammal species, including the primitive leaf deer.
The new Research Centre will facilitate a wide range of research activities by Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, and BAS aimed at advancing wildlife conservation within the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and its surrounding ecosystems. Dedicated to preserving Belize’s natural heritage, the Centre’s work will focus on biodiversity assessment, habitat restoration and initiatives that improve community livelihoods, while enhancing coexistence between local communities and wildlife. The Centre will additionally showcase Dr. Rabinowitz's accomplishments and decades-long commitment to jaguar conservation, educating visitors on the importance of protecting this enigmatic species.
Panthera Belize Country Director, Dr. Bart Harmsen, stated, “One of the most difficult forces to counter in jaguar conservation is the lack of attention the species generates in media, conservation and education. Alan provided an unparalleled voice and spotlight for the jaguar and our team of scientists will continue to be instrumental in continuing a decades-long legacy of jaguar research and conservation in Belize.”
After first coming to Belize in 1982, Rabinowitz blazed a path in the then-nonexistent world of wild cat conservation. His work in the country served as a starting point for the development of the Jaguar Corridor Initiative, which Rabinowitz helped to conceptualize and implement. Seeking to connect and protect jaguar populations, the corridor covers a vast area of approximately 6 million square kilometers, extending from Mexico to Argentina.
In 2006, Dr. Rabinowitz co-founded Panthera and served as CEO of the organization until November 2017, when Dr. Frederic Launay was appointed as CEO and President. Dr. Rabinowitz authored eight books, including Jaguar: One Man’s Struggle to Preserve the World’s First Jaguar Preserve, and more than 100 articles chronicling his career and remarkable accomplishments and experiences in the natural world.
Аmbаѕѕаdоr Кwаn rеmаrkеd, “Тhіѕ rеѕеаrсh fасіlіtу ѕtаndѕ аѕ а tеѕtаmеnt tо Dr. Rabinowitz’s lаѕtіng lеgасу іn thе соnѕеrvаtіоn fіеld. Іt аіmѕ tо dеереn еnvіrоnmеntаl undеrѕtаndіng fоr bоth Веlіzеаnѕ аnd thе glоbаl соmmunіtу, рrоmоtіng а wоrld whеrе nаturе аnd humаnіtу thrіvе tоgеthеr.”
Building upon Dr. Rabinowitz’s legacy, Panthera and BAS have conducted critical conservation work in the Cockscomb Preserve. Using data from the world’s longest-running jaguar monitoring study, Panthera has contributed to more than 30 peer-reviewed publications on the species, along with other wildlife including ocelots and margays. After more than two decades of research and conservation, the organizations have protected nearly 200 jaguars, while mitigating local human-cat conflict and unveiling the felids’ fascinating life histories.
In 2019, Panthera partnered with the British Army to assess repercussions of jungle military training on mammal populations. The initial study found minimal effects and scientists ultimately confirmed that the presence of British Army training units reduced illegal activities, including poaching.
BAS is the Government of Belize’s co-manager for the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (CBWS). BAS President Earl Green stated, “CBWS is well known as the first jaguar preserve in the world. Considered a haven for the endangered jaguar, the preserve spans 128,000 acres or 200 square miles of tropical forest, making it the largest protected area in Belize. It is home to an estimated 200 jaguars. The scientific investigation in Belize led by Alan Rabinowitz revealed that the Cockscomb Basin was a particularly important habitat, not only for the Jaguars in Belize but the entire Central American region.”
The late Dr. Howard Quigley, former Executive Director of Panthera’s Jaguar Program, was a preeminent jaguar and puma scientist and lifelong friend of Rabinowitz. Dr. Quigley, who helped conduct the world’s first comprehensive ecological study on jaguars, continued pursuing their shared vision of jaguar conservation until his death in 2022. Both have inspired countless scientists to continue providing a voice for the voiceless.
Panthera Jaguar Program Deputy Director, Dr. Allison Devlin, stated, “With his vision and drive to save jaguars, Alan blazed the trail while Howard built the bridges. We will carry on their legacies and the torch of wild cat conservation in Alan and Howard’s names.”
Belize is a vital jaguar stronghold with a significant migration passage. The Maya Forest Corridor plays a key role linking essential jaguar habitats, including the Maya Mountains, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Rio Bravo and private forests in the northwest. This area also supports imperiled species like the Critically Endangered Central American spider monkey and the Endangered Baird’s tapir. The corridor, now a 5-6 mile-long bottleneck, remains one of the last squeeze points for jaguar migration between Mexico, Guatemala, and Central and South America. Preserving habitat connectivity is vital for the genetic diversity and health of the future of the species.
About Belize Audubon Society
Belize Audubon Society (BAS) is a non-governmental, membership-based organization dedicated to the sustainable management of Belize’s natural resources through leadership and strategic partnerships with stakeholders for the benefit of people and the environment. Established in 1969, BAS is the oldest and foremost conservation organization in Belize, and holds a co-management agreement for seven of Belize’s national protected areas, including Half Moon Caye and Blue Hole Natural Monuments, located on Lighthouse Reef, and forming part of Belize’s World Heritage Site and Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary established as the world’s first jaguar preserve in 1986. Visit belizeaudubon.org.