Having opened the PDF manuscript of Alan Rabinowitz’s An Indomitable Beast: The Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar for one final inspection before it was sent to the printer, I didn’t expect to find myself engrossed in its contents after just a quick skim through the prologue. Rabinowitz begins with a personal history, showing us where and why he started his own remarkable journey through jaguar territory. As his writing moves smoothly from accounts of his personal experiences to the science and cultural history of the jaguar, Rabinowitz invites us to share his sense of kinship and compassion for a species facing the threat of extinction as a result of human society’s growth and development. He reminds us of the importance as well as the potential success of large-scale conservation efforts, the likes of which have been the focus of his own career.
As he examines the dynamic relationship between human and jaguar populations that has been evolving since the arrival of European colonists in the New World, Rabinowitz arrives at a perhaps unexpected message—that, from his point of view, the ability of humans and jaguars to coexist is as essential for the survival of our own species as it is for the persistence and viability of endangered jaguar populations. In terms of wildlife conservation, and particularly the conservation of large carnivores, the question we’re facing is not whether we can preserve enough habitat to support viable populations of endangered species but instead whether we can create enough connectivity between existing isolated habitats to allow for the survival and function of species dynamics on the scale of whole ecosystems themselves. Rabinowitz is the first to point out that we should be careful not to forget the role of our own species within those ecosystems.
What I found most powerful about Rabinowitz’s writing is his ability to bring to life the science of conservation biology. While he emphasizes the urgency we’re facing when it comes to pursuing conservation efforts, Rabinowitz arrives at the largely hopeful conclusion that the survival and prosperity of our ecosystems is possible, although both will require our commitment, perseverance, and ingenuity. An Indomitable Beast provides us with the first step toward such an effort by painting for its readers a portrait of the jaguar species that evokes both fascination and empathy.
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