A ‘frozen mouth’ finds a voice in the jungle

As a child, Alan Rabinowitz had a severe stutter. So severe that he doesn’t remember speaking his first sentence until he was 19 years old. He tried everything to get rid of what he called his “frozen mouth,” including shock therapy at one point. Although he struggled to communicate with humans, Alan felt a poignant connection with big, wild cats.

His stutter, he says, turned out to be his greatest blessing: “Stutters can do a couple things right. One of them is to speak to animals.” And so Alan has spent his life dedicated to preserving and protecting these big cats who provided him comfort and a sense of belonging as child.

Growing up in New York City the only place to find these big cats was the Bronx Zoo, where Rabinowitz wound up working for 30 years. Although Alan still resides in New York, he left the city jungle to spend some time in the real ones in order to create wildlife preserves and sanctuaries for jaguars, tigers, and various kinds of leopard cats. “I loved being away from people in the jungle,” Alan recalls. In Belize, he created the world’s only Jaguar reserve. In Burma, he created the world’s largest tiger reserve. But this wasn’t enough.

After spending much of his adult life working around the clock to save these animals that arguably saved his childhood, he realized he was failing at what he was trying to accomplish. Ironically, this epiphany occurred while he was being lauded and recognized for his success. “I had set up all these preserves and I was failing to preserve [these cats],” he says. “I knew I had to get them more space.” In order to do so, Alan realized he needed to establish safe corridors for these cats to roam.