Hello reddit! My name is Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, and my book A Boy and a Jaguar (http://hmhbooks.com/boyandajaguar/) is a picture book based on my own experience with a stutter as a young boy, and the remarkable relationship with animals that saved me. I've dedicated my life to animal conservation and advocating for those who can't speak for themselves, so I am looking forward to taking your questions!


Comments: 104 • Responses: 37  • Date: 

whoisbobgalt17 karma

It always strikes me how similar big cats are to domesticated ones. How do big cats truly differ from our pets, besides size?

arabin234518 karma

This is a great question. In truth, small cats are just like the big cats. They show the same behaviors, the same emotions, and often the same kinds of vocalizations. Anyone who has watched their pet cat cough up a hair ball, hide itself in some dark corner, or rub its body against a person's leg has, in fact, watched the same behaviors as those of a big cat in the wild. I have seen tigers and jaguars do the same things.

SlightlyStable5 karma

How do you feel about Savannah cats?

arabin23454 karma

What savannah cat species did you have in mind?

SlightlyStable5 karma

I guess just the whole crossbreeding a wild cat with a domestic one. I have read that some people don't think it's a good thing. I personally think they are beautiful. Especially the bigger cats (F1.)

arabin234512 karma

Okay, I didn't understand your question. I have no strong opinion about crossbreeding cats for pets except that people must understand that these animals have more wild instincts than just pure domestic animals and can be vicious, even dangerous at times. It is not their fault. Also, such cats do nothing to help the situation for wild cats. If we are crossbreeding species that don't naturally crossbreed in the wild than we simply playing games with animal's lives for human pleasure.

Stewpid10 karma

At what weight can a really really fat house cat be considered a "big cat"? Thank you

arabin234510 karma

A "big cat" is very broadly defined as a species averaging more than about 45 kg or almost 100 pounds. I have never seen a house cat reach that size.

arabin23459 karma

Thank you all for coming to visit with me and asking such terrific questions. If you want to know more about me or big cats you can visit panthera.org. This has been terrific fun, just like watching tigers and jaguars.

Onca42424242428 karma

Don't have a question per se, but wanted to thank you for helping me launch a career in cat conservation. While it was apparent that wildlife biology was the field for me, reading Jaguar caused me to focus on felid conservation. Frankly, these animals are so incredible, and the mission so important, that it's now hard to think of doing otherwise.

arabin23452 karma

Thank you for this. It is always heartening to hear such a story. The world needs more people like yourself.

ronson19117 karma

Have you ever chilled with a liger?

arabin234514 karma

I have seen one liger in captivity in my life. Quite an impressive animal. I can't say that I felt too "chilled" in its presence. I have, however, chilled with tigers and jaguars, sitting very close to them and feeling their intense energy.

qualitycuntroll-2 karma

What kinda big cat expert has only seen one liger? Use that status, bro!

arabin234524 karma

The kind that deals in the real world, bro.

qualitycuntroll-7 karma

Yikes. I'm just saying the world is what you make it.

arabin234519 karma

You are right and perhaps I misunderstood what you were saying. The world is indeed what we make it. But if we put money and efforts into creating fantasy animals like the liger, we have that much less to save the few real tigers and lions that are still out there. People who care like yourself could really be a strong force in helping change things.

qualitycuntroll1 karma

Of course, I can see that. It's important to make sure all big cats (and all endangered species) have efforts being made to preserve their growth.

What are your thoughts on ligers, though? I know the likelihood of them existing at all is extremely small without human intervention and they can't reproduce on their own. Would you discourage lions and tigers being kept together in captivity to prevent their creation?

arabin23457 karma

Good question. No I wouldn't, no more than I would discourage humans who perhaps shouldn't breed with one another, from breeding and trying to have a good life.

qualitycuntroll2 karma

Awesome, thanks.

So I guess since tigers and lions exist naturally and can continue their own species in ideal environmental conditions and without human encroachment, they're slightly more important to protect than ligers, yes?

arabin23452 karma

That would be my take on it, yes. You seem to love big cats.

rpo305 karma

Hi Dr. Rabinowitz,

Long time admirer of your work. I too was considered the dumb kid growing up and found solace in animals, and that appreciation has never left. I feel like I owe them something and I'd like to work in the field, be it conservation research or animal care.

I was an NIH-funded clinical research specialist w/ 13 yrs experience at UPenn and Pitt. The rug was pulled out from our industry when congress cut $2 billion in NIH research and I've had trouble finding regular work since, so now's as good a time as any to switch careers because I have literally nothing to lose in trying.

I'm a 36 yo fit and healthy Philadelphian, and will work for free since...well...I'm not making money consistently right now anyway. Any advice to get my foot in the door? Office work, field work, whatever...

arabin23454 karma

I admire your tenacity and I also think someone should move towards what they are most passionate in life. This is a tough road but I never met anyone who didn't get what they were after in my field if they continued to persevere. If you can afford to do so, start volunteering or taking internships for any zoo or wildlife organization in your area. Get to know people and make contacts. Someone else who recognizes your passion will find a way to help you.

AquaFrog5 karma

My SO gave me your book Jaguar to read and I loved it. You inspired him to go to Belize and explore the rainforest. He also has climbed Victoria Peak twice. He hopes to take me to cockscomb to where it all started in your book. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the big cats.

arabin23452 karma

Thank you.

tacella5 karma

Hello Dr. Rabinowitz. Thank you for doing this AMA. I have recently become very passionate about big cats and their future on this planet. My passion however is limited mostly to just learning about them and teaching my children about them. My question is, for a guy like me, what if anything can I do to help out and make a difference in the efforts to save incredible species like Tigers, Cheetahs, Leopards, etc.? I'm not in a place in life where I can just pick up and move to Kenya to volunteer or anything like that. But I do want to help and I think there are more people out there like me who could make a difference if we knew how.

Again, thank you for doing this.

arabin23458 karma

You ask me such an important question and one I don't have an easy answer to. But the fact is, real differences need to happen not from the people like myself or others lost in the field and studying animals in remote places. The real changes have to happen at local and national political levels. Children have to believe, truly believe, that we share the world with wildlife and species like big cats. It is not a choice, it is a necessity. Young people have a better grasp on environmental issues than I have ever seen, yet we are handing them a world that is much less than what we were given. If you bring your children up with right beliefs and right actions, I think that will have more affect than many research studies done to help wildlife.

tacella2 karma

Thank you for your response. I think you're right - education about conservation is the key to protecting what we have. I know you have worked a lot with the Snow Leopards - do you feel like we have done enough to save such a beautiful animal? Also, in species that are facing certain extinction, are we as a human race taking measures to preserve their DNA in the eventuality that cloning techniques become viable? Is this the right thing to do?

arabin23455 karma

Panthera is launching a big snow leopard initiative. The good news is that there are more than we thought because they occupy such vast remote areas where people don't live in large numbers. Now that we are surveying more of these areas, we are finding more populations. But the biggest range of habitat is in China which remains a challenge for conservation. Regarding the DNA, you are right on target. This is hugely valuable and there are a few projects and a few facilities trying to collect and store DNA of not only endangered species but all species. I truly believe this is the right thing to do. If humans cause the extinction of a species, why not try and bring the species back when we are able.

rpo304 karma

I have your National Geographic documentary on DVD. You talk about a bad cancer scare. How did experiencing what you figured was an expiration date at the time affect your work? Did you find yourself cramming as much in as possible?

arabin23459 karma

Yes. I still have the cancer but it is slow and chronic. What that means is that I just have to work faster and harder before my time is up. If the cats can fight, so can I.

pioneer17874 karma

Dr Rabinowitz,

Short-time lurker, first time poster. My wife is a zoology grad and has big dreams of working with big cats. She has volunteered for several months at various big cat sanctuaries here in the states. Link

What course of action should a new graduate take to make a "career" of big cat conservation?

Do most lifetime conservationists take the educational route and get graduate degrees, doctorates, etc. or get experience on the ground?

What species and geography do you see the biggest need for big cat conservation (based on food chain impact post-extinction)?

Thank you so much for the work you do and taking the time for this AMA!

arabin23454 karma

Zoology is a great degree to have. Spending time volunteering is a great first step to garner experience and make contacts. However, if she truly wishes to pursue a career in the field, then she would need to get a graduate degree, as well as perhaps volunteer for a field project. Big cat conservation can be addressed in many ways, more than just studying and focusing on big cats alone. Any endeavor that seeks to set up and save more wild places on earth, address human population and land use issues, and even deal with climate change issues, are all helping the plight of the big cats, particularly in areas where they occur. I, myself, am not working on big cats so that I can just save big cats. The big cats are an umbrella species. I use them - their beauty and iconic nature - to get governments to save big landscapes for lots of wild animals.

pioneer17873 karma

Your description of the broad areas of importance sound not dissimilar from the type of work I can be involved in as a civil engineer.

What graduate programs can you speak on behalf of that would be highly recommended for continuing education, whether US or abroad?

arabin23452 karma

You are right. Your job as a civil engineer could indeed play a big role in helping save wild cats and wild places, given the right focus. I am sorry that I cannot recommend any particular programs because my work keeps me mostly in the field. I am not up to date on what is happening in the academic world as much as I used to be. But there are numerous good schools and good programs in the US. What I have seen among the best people I have worked with is that it is not the school that matters as much as the passion of the individual.

GringoJones4 karma

Conservation obviously has many challenges, but what's something the average person (i.e. me) can do to help out?

arabin23457 karma

There is no average person. If people as a whole truly pushed for politicians and legislation that created protected areas and protected endangered species more, than my job and that of others would be so much easier. It is up to the children now. People must truly understand that a world without wild animals is not a healthy, stable place for us. When politicians or others say that we can't afford to have a cleaner, better environment they are part of the problem not part of the solution.

Prufrock4514 karma

I often hear zoos described as "genetic arks" for big cats and other charismatic species. Are zoos an important part of the strategy for protecting big cats? Is it at all possible to give a zoo lion or zoo leopard a fulfilling life? How hard is it for zoo cats to adapt if released from captivity?

arabin23456 karma

Most zoos are not good genetic arks. The best genetic arks are those few facilities that are actually trying to harvest genetic material from large numbers of individuals of large numbers of species. Zoos do little to protect big cats in the wild. The animals in zoos cannot usually be reintroduced. They are genetic dead ends. Animals, like people, need to be taught how to hunt and take care of themselves. It is not instinctive. As to the question of whether or not a captive lion or leopard could live a fulfilling life, I am afraid I don't have a good answer for that. I would ask a person whether they could lead a fulfilling life if they were under house arrest for their entire lives. Perhaps some people could, while others, including myself could not.

Eternally653 karma

This may be outside of your area of expertise, but I am wondering if you have any knowledge about the possibility that the mountain lion (a.k.a. catamount) is returning to northern New England. Sightings have been reported, but the state's Fish and Wildlife people believe that these sightings are lynx or bobcat, not mountain lions. Are they secretive enough to remain unseen?

arabin23455 karma

Yes, I am absolutely convinced that there have been and probably still are some mountain lions in northern New England. Where I live, 60 miles, north of New York City, I have been shown tracks of what can only be mountain lion. I know bobcat well and I have them on my property. There have been enough good mountain lion sightings in my area by reputable people to convince me that they are likely re-colonizing from the west and midwest. People often say, why haven't I seen one if they are here? I ask them how many bobcat they have seen, which are here in good numbers. Usually the answer is none. Cats are very secretive and very capable of stealth. There is enough good forest in the NE for them to remain mostly unseen.

Eternally651 karma


arabin23453 karma

We have a lot of green in this area. In fact coyotes have made their way into Central Park in New York. Cats have shown themselves to be amazingly resilient.

chooter3 karma

What have been some of your favorite big cat stories?

arabin23457 karma

Some of my favorite stories have been about the man-eating tigers and leopards and lions of Africa and India. I wanted to know why these cats killed people and what happened to finally stop them.

Human_Sandwich3 karma

Pantera rules!

arabin23458 karma

I guess they do. I hear their music is good. But Panthera rules also. I hope that is what you meant.

arabin23453 karma

I am signing off now. Thank you all for sharing this time with me. Alan

pankaj10103 karma

I didn't get it when you said world won't be healthy if there are no wild animals. can you explain.

arabin23458 karma

The forest and the wildlife that inhabits it are the equivalent of computer firewalls for the human world. Most of the emerging or re-emerging diseases that we are now dealing with (ebola, sars, west nile, lymes, etc.) are zooinotic, that means they have an animal host. These are not new diseases, they have been around a very long time. But what has kept them and other diseases from sweeping across the human landscape has been healthy forests and healthy wildlife populations. If big predators like cats are wiped out, and smaller animals like deer, civet, rodents or others get out of control, that contributes to the spread of disease.

pankaj10102 karma

You doing really great work.You have mentioned that animals saved you. May I know how?

arabin234510 karma

I am a stutterer and it was debilitating to me as a child. I closed off from the world of humans at a young age and my only sanctity were my little pets at home that I could talk to at night, in the darkness of my closet. For my entire childhood I thought I was broken because adults thought I was broken, even putting me into special classes for disturbed children. But animals let me be me, they gave me a normal world. To this day I feel more comfortable in the world of animals than the world of people.

pankaj10103 karma

Great answer. What is one thing about wild cats that impress you. Any secret that very few people know about them that you know as well.

arabin23454 karma

They are incredible gentle and caring beasts with an indomitable spirit.

tiger_spots2 karma

Dr Rabinowitz,

I am so very inspired by your life’s work- what you have done and are still doing for the wild cats and their habitats is so amazing. I hope to be doing similar conservation work someday. Anyway, I have a few questions for you…

  1. I just finished reading Life in the Valley of Death (great read, by the way), and I would like to know, how are things going in the Hukawng, are they still mining, are the tiger populations improving?

  2. What is the current outlook for the different species of wild cats? Does the current trend seem negative or positive?

  3. At what point would you consider the fight to save tigers and other wild cats from extinction to be won? Or is it an endless battle?

  4. What advice do you have for a college undergraduate interested in wildcat conservation? Is Wildlife Biology appropriate? Perhaps a Natural Resource Management degree is more relevant? I just want to know what kinds of skills and knowledge have proved most valuable for you in your work.

Thank you for hosting an AMA, and for everything you do!

arabin23456 karma

The war for saving wildlife will never be over. We will always have to be fighting to guarantee that the animals have a home, food, and do not go extinct. But while the war never ends, we definitely are winning battles. More animals are alive now than would be otherwise because of tireless efforts to make new protected areas and get people to stop killing animals.

arabin23454 karma

Most of the wild cats are hold their own, especially a lot of the small cat species. Our biggest problem is with the tiger and the lion. They are still being killed continuously for their parts to use in Chinese medicine. Once when I was working in Thailand, a Chinese druggist came to me and asked to even buy all the tiger feces that I had collected for medicine. That is what we are dealing with. But there is great hope for all the cats. We can win this battle. I need the help of people who care, like yourself.

arabin23454 karma

Sadly, everything is not great in the Hukawng Valley. The people who live there are still fighting with the government so that right now it is too dangerous for us to go deep in the jungle and find the tigers. I think the tiger numbers in there are very low now, but the valley is so big that I believe the tigers will hide and be safe until they can spread out again over much of the valley. This is a spectacular place - so beautiful with such wonderful and interesting people living there. But the tigers are having a hard time because the people are so poor and they still kill a lot of wildlife for food. Mining is still going on but not as bad as when I was there so we are making some progress.

arabin23454 karma

Wildlife Biology is indeed the best degree you could get, or perhaps zoology. While a Natural Resource Management degree is also valuable, I don't think that that will give you enough of the basic science that you will need to truly understand and address all the problems that are out there. The skills I found most useful in my work were the hard science courses that I took.

Creodonta2 karma

Hi, Dr. Rabinowitz! With your expertise in the field, what are the top, critical priorities you identify for long-term conservation of big cats, that your colleagues and future researchers have / should set? Mainly: important focal locations; field studies; key stakeholders to engage? Thanks for doing this, I find your work very interesting!

arabin23454 karma

You have hit on the key issue: addressing critical threats. That is the only way to "stop the bleeding". Critical threats for the big cats involve law enforcement. The laws are in place, the structures are in place, but there is little to no enforcement on a global scale of stopping or punishing people from killing big cats or their much needed food. Things like education are secondary, albeit important. But we we lose the cats unless we treat the people who are assigned to protect these cats with dignity and with appropriate financial backing.

Creodonta2 karma

Thanks for your very informative reply! I've read about the work of Lion Guardians and the seemingly successful projects aimed at tiger conservation in Nepal. Inspiring local communities to help protect the big cats seems to be hugely important. It also seems that key community members are the ones that need most investment. What techniques have you found that worked best for engaging those key community leaders?

arabin23454 karma

People asked to protect or live with wildlife, particularly potentially dangerous wildlife must see benefits to their own lives and that of their families if they are to be expected to do what is asked of them. This is why people living with or protecting wildlife in key areas need to have special benefits such a better schools, scholarships for the kids, extra jobs as rangers or community patrol leaders, etc. - all of which are clearly linked to the continued survival of the animals.

julesknap1 karma

How have your experiences working with big cats influenced your picture book, A Boy and a Jaguar?

arabin23453 karma

A Boy and A Jaguar is an autobiography. So everything in that book, and much more actually, happened to me. The stories I have about being with big cats are endless. I find comfort in their world, and I find meaning in helping save them.

annameier1 karma

Your picture book is a great way to introduce your work to kids! What have you found most rewarding about the process of writing and publishing a book for children?

arabin23455 karma

Writing for children has been the most difficult writing I have ever done because I had to go back to the sad, broken boy I once was. However, it was also inspiring and rewarding because I could speak with complete openness and honesty - no masks, no barriers. You speak with children the way we forget to speak as adults.

rpo301 karma

How often are you recognized on the street by the general public now? Any interesting fan stories? Thanks.

arabin23453 karma

I am only recognized by people who care about wildlife conservation and especially big cats. Perhaps the most interesting fan story is that of a young woman musician who dedicated an album to me.