Alan Rabinowitz — A Voice for the Animals
April 18, 2013

A profound stutter as a child left Alan Rabinowitz virtually unable to communicate and to prefer animals to people. Now a conservationist of tigers and jaguars, an explorer of the world's last wild places, he has extraordinary insight into both animals and the human condition.


21 reflections
read/add yours


Shortened URL

SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)

The Last Pure Pygmy and His Gift [video, 4:52]

In the remote border region between Burma and Tibet lives the Taron people, a "pure-blood" race of Mongoloid pygmies on the verge of self-imposed extinction. Rabinowitz shares his encounter with one family member, Dawi, who saw the "deep, deep hole" existing within both men — and the bounty of that friendship in his own life.

A Pictorial Corridor [photo slideshow]

Explore the world of Alan Rabinowitz in his work that spans the continents — from the jaguar corridors of Brazil to the nature preserves for tigers in Burma.

Maps of Interest

Tiger Corridors and Population Centers

The tiger populations and genetic corridors stretch from Nepal and Northern India to one of Indonesia's islands.

The Jaguar Corridor Initiative

"These animals need to move. They need to exchange their genetic material. Locking up these animals even in a nice big, big park will be no more of a success for them than it would be if you put a bunch of human beings on an island."~Alan Rabinowitz on the need for the Jaguar Corridor

Selected Readings

Alan Rabinowitz In His Own Words

In this speech, given as part of a workshop for Stuttering Foundation, Rabinowitz talks about his life with a stutter and the unexpected gift it became in his life.

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

This here is one of those dreaded cuts we had to make. And it was nearly 10 minutes of quality storytelling about a debilitating stutter and the comfort of animals. But we opened up the unedited interview and excerpted this segment for all ears to listen via this beautiful thing called the In-ter-net.

Compelling video of elephants mourning the death of a calf, and a magnificent segment on the secret language of elephants.

Our producer explores the bond she shares with her dog, Oban.

Smithsonian magazine features stunning images of jaguars in Brazil’s Pantal wetlands.

A video that's so heartbreakingly gorgeous and unswerving in its emotional sway, it'll have you pondering your own station in life.

Travel to the woods of Maine and encounter Kate Braestrup's landscape from a falconer's perspective. Audio producer Samantha Broun and photographer Amanda Kowalski follow the story of a red-tailed hawk on the hunt. It's a hidden world.

Some gems from our live-tweeting of our ISDN interview.

With all that's happened this week, language and images that create places of peace and reflection and connection with our fellow human beings.

Sometimes it takes persistence to pitch a voice you know is right — and the willingness to listen to others around the dinner table.

About the Image

A jaguar peers out from the tall grasses.

Your Comments

Filtered HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><span><div><img><!-->
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Embed content by wrapping a supported URL in [embed] … [/embed].

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


Wow, this is a phenominal show on so many levels. It's also sad that it is so exceptional. A person who truly connects with the seen and unseen world while being wise enough to know it's the process. Certainty can be so impressive and yet so misleading, such as "the right to dominate nature" rather than try to understand it and accept that we are nature. I have always valued meeting and hearing people such as Dr. Rabinowitz. His influence for good does go way beyond helping animals. My story?-trying to understand his insights and looking at my experiences and perceptions. I've been near and met many grizzly and brown bears. If feeling part of the wild entails knowing your in the food chain, I qualify. I've always found the wild to be a harmonious place where I open up with increased sensitivity but not without a degree of fear on occasion. It can be hard for me to go back into the so called civilized world with such a sensitive awareness. I find it's a matter of perception-how you see the world and whether you really see it as it is or some fanciful image. Seeing the world seems to be a never ending work in progress as does understanding myself and my place in it. I found Dr. Rabinowitz's story to be captivating and thought provoking.

Dear Krista, I live in Dublin, Ireland and since I was introduced to your interviews a couple of years ago by a disciple of yours- Padraic Otuama - in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I enjoy and am enriched by listening to your interviews as often as I can. I have been touched and moved to write you a note after reading your account of your meeting with Alan Rabinowitz. Thank you sincerely. You refer to Alan as a stutterer.

For a long time I have tried to address this type of language. For nearly forty years I have heard people "introduce" themselves as "an alcoholic", "a diabetic" or whatever. I feel that such descripts by themselves or others diminish the person. I have heard people with AIDS challenge others for labeling them as "suffering from AIDS" Could people consider using language like this "I have diabetes", "I have alcoholism" or even "he has a stutter" or "he has a speech impediment" or "he stutters". I hope this note might open up a conversation on the matter and of course that we might hear from people with these difficulties or life challenges. With every best wish and renewed thanks for your wonderful work. God bless.

The girl with macaw eyes and tiger stripes

You swim like lions through the crest ... and bathe yourself in zebra flesh

Heyoka squeals softly now to let me know when she doesn't like something, like when I'm inside her cage in the dark and I've got my hand extended over and behind her head. I'm only petting her, but it's not a gesture she trusts. Convincing her to be this intimate with me took some time. I stroke her tail feathers, feet, and wings. She touches me gently. No more pinching. That's a good bird. I wrap both of my arms around her and she wriggles out of my grasp voicing her concern with more intensity. 

"Some day. Some day," she whispers, "I'll do everything you ask. I'll even step on your wrist, but not tonight."

 I scratch her ears and smooth the tiny feathers around her eyes in response.

A day or two ago I put my hand into the African Grey's cage. Wuji was startled. 

Suddenly, I found the skin of my arm in his mouth. He squeezed me pretty hard because he was falling and trying to catch his balance. That got him thinking, 

"Do you deserve a little something for making me lose my cool?"

He considered the prospects and volunteered to play the heavy. As his resolve hardened, the pressure increased. He was committing himself to the action. 

I could, of course, move my arm the opposite direction to escape; if he held on it would make him fall. He would get hurt instead of me. I didn't want that. 

His strategy shifted around my response. 

"Or is your arm in my mouth because you helped me find my balance?" The vice loosened.

Well, in that light we both could see that I was still standing there steady as a rock. I noticed my state of mind. I was a little bewildered at the process, calm, and totally at ease. 

At that point we simultaneously looked into each others' eyes and asked one another, "Why am/are I/you biting her/me?" 

Exerting no pressure now, he held me there a little longer to let me know we both agreed on the future in which I was helping him. THAT is the practice! Spirit to spirit.

The Gift

"A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses." ~ Chinese proverb

Driving for home, it is late and I am tired. My heart begins to vibrate. I am getting close to Elsewhere, that place where my understanding shifts. I can feel it coming.

What's this? The headlights illuminate a large bird lying in the road. Her wing points straight up at the moon, signaling like a flag. Could the wind move her wing that way? I turn my truck around to check on her.

She is unconscious. I pick her up and weigh the situation. She's about the size of a cat. Hollow bones and powder-soft feathers make her look big, but she is very light. Nothing appears to be broken, however, she is not out of the woods yet. Intent on seeing her in more light, I gently set her through the window of my camper top.

I lift a lump of bird out of my truck and hold my bundle close to my chest. My dingo dog, Jake, welcomes us home with a song and dance. Naturally, he is excited. Young, strong, and beautiful, he's got definite ideas. Cattledogs can make their voices vibrate so loud it stuns small animals.

"Let me tell you how I think this should go," he hollers.

"I can't believe you're using this trick on me at a time like this." I shoot back at him.

Halfway to the house, his intensity spurs the owl to heroic effort. An armful of wild-eyed raptor wakes up. Intuition becomes a tumultuous, heart-pounding intensity. A surge of adrenaline shoots up my spine and detonates my focus.

Fragmented and paralyzed, I am suspended between all I know about birds and all I don’t know about owls. That beak is made for tearing flesh. Those toes are equipped with daggers. Is this bird strong enough to put up a fight? Am I her most immediate obstacle? Should I let her go? Everything seems to hit me at once.

"Let her go," Jake dances around my legs, "I'll help you!" He's frothing to solve my problem for me. "We're in this together, he says, "It's you and me. Now that you've caught 'er, let's be wolves together. C'mon, girl be yang with me. I've got you covered."

Dogs are always stopping the action with force. Birds are yin. Females are yin. Darkness is yin. I hand over my puzzle to the Silence. "How am I going to lead the supernatural being in my arms and the hellion at my feet simultaneously?" I ask.

The moment takes on an endless quality. The Silence stretches through time, holds my heart, and catches my breath. It entangle myself with it and squeeze my mind into a space in the world that is humbler, sweeter, and smaller than a bird. I feel light and easy despite my inner turmoil. Now that I'm centered, I'm suddenly aware of all of the things that are not happening. Amidst the cacophony of mental and physical noise, my spirit begins to rise. I'm the best chance this bird has. Years of experience shoots through my skull. I filter out my best intentions and focus on what I'm doing right. I choose the best future and project it forwards taking my friends with me. Inspired, I breathe into my body again.

As the three of us pass beneath the trees and cross my yard, I reconcile things with Jake. "You've never met a bird like this, little buddy. Now let me see what I can do to help her." My adolescent wolf adores my softness so much he easily bends his will to mine and falls in quietly behind me. "Good boy." I assure him.

Then, I send our guest a dose of chi. She hides in my arms. Clearly, she is frightened, but she is not looking to make a getaway. Her tenderness buoys me up. I gently press her close to my chest to comfort and contain her. Time expands again. We relax.

As I take my owl into the house, I think of my own birds. Everything's a power struggle with them. Parrots in cages bite to gain dominance or to defend themselves. They are ever-mindful that they are prey animals and keenly aware that birds who can't hide their weaknesses do not survive long. That's why taming them takes so long. This barred owl, on the other hand, is a predator and a loner. What do owls know about social skills? I might get this bird to follow me if I find out.

Inside a safe space, I become a steady perch. I support my elbows on the floor. My owl presents her back to me. This simple gesture is beyond my ken. No parrot I know would be so brave. I marvel, "Has this bird ever been afraid of anything? What must her life be like?"

I shadow her for awhile to see. Her innocence feels very much like trust. I revel in it. I walk my talk and keep my face very close to her head while we sit together. We are intimate like old friends. It's easy to pretend whatever I want. Her back is to me.

I use her proximity to reinforce my bravery and to get down to business. I scan all the non-verbal signals she sending about how badly she is hurt. How does she hold her body? What condition are her feathers in? I look for the slightest indications. Does she feel threatened? Am I too close? Should I avoid looking directly into her eyes?

Judging by the grip she has on my wrist, she has a few questions for me too. Her talons dig in deeper. Her head begins turning my way. She's bracing herself for what she is about to see. She is turning around. She's turning around! We’re about to meet for the first time!

My heart pounds loudly in my ears. I have no idea what to expect. Since I'm the first human she's met, I wonder how this will go. How will she read my intentions? We have no time for translation. Will she take direction from me?

I sit within striking distance and close my eyes. How else can I show her where she stands? Now that I’m completely vulnerable, sitting in her presence this way internalizes my struggle. A new adrenaline rush ignites my heart. I've never felt so engulfed in flames without trying to escape. I use my mind to direct my chi back down into my dantien and turn my fear to smouldering embers. The sudden release of tension catapults me into a state of heightened awareness. I hold all of my diametrically opposed emotions in limbo and free the energy.

Ahhh! This is the moment I've waited for all my life. I feel a rush of unconditional love. Intensity and detachment strike a balance, the gates between us crumble. It's the most incredible feeling I've ever felt. We are one! I open my eyes and almost burst out laughing.

My owl’s reply is impeccable. Her soft response is unmistakable. Her eyes are closed too! We touch spirit to spirit. She slips inside my head with me. There are no barriers. The thrill is sublime. I feel electric! I share my beauty and vibrant strength with her. She takes it! She gives it! The energy moves between us. I've just mind-melded with a wild bird! My heart pounds through my chest as if I am empty, but I have never felt so full. Nothing could prepare me for the euphoria of it.

More than simultaneous surrender, I catch a glimpse of the infinite transcending even species. For a moment, I am a shaman crossing the valley of death meeting my totem animal--one pure spirit wearing two masks. Complexity melts into simplicity. Timelessness blankets us. I watch that single moment expand until all the moments of my life line up behind it making sense in a new way.

My wrist pulses with pain. I am acutely aware that asking my owl to shift her weight will end our love affair, but it’s necessary. The pressure of her razor sharp claws marks my skin. I hold my breath and try to simply reposition her. Exerting even the slightest force brings out her wild nature. She lets me know my compassion may be weightless, but my willpower isn't. She takes her cue, leaps out of my hands, falls into the corner, flaps against the wall, and loses a few feathers. Heaven fades as Timelessness melts back into linear time.

I scrutinize her body and watch her wings work. She’s breathing well. No broken bones, no blood, bright eyes. I'm certain this owl hit a car while she was flying, not the other way around. Scooping her up again in my arms, I walk out into the moonlight. Somewhere between boldness and reckless abandon, I take a final liberty and kiss her wild, symbolic wings. I can feel the electricity in my fingertips. I can feel it in the wind moving my hair. I am much bigger now than I could ever be by myself. A deep sense of gratitude enfolds me for all the perfect synchronicity that has already occurred throughout time to allow this miracle this to happen.

She slips back into the darkness.

All summer long I listen to a barred owl in the woods behind my house. Low and sweet, she calls, reminding me how to surrender. I am listening with every nerve, every pore to a language I have always wanted to hear. What she taught me in a few moments, I will never forget.

Native Americans put feathers in their hair as a sign of their brave deeds. On special occasions, I wear the ones that owl gave me. They dangle from my ear on a tiny chain. They may look like feathers, but they feel like wings in my heart. Those feathers remind me how I can affect the world. In a moment of grace, I saw it for myself on many levels. What gift could be more precious? The one I give or the one I take? Now, I see, they are both are the same.

Winter Babies

I got home from work and saw a purple finch sleeping beneath my bird feeder. It's very cold. The adolescent baby had his head tucked beneath his wing trying to stay warm.

I wrapped both palms around him and lifted him up to my mouth. As he started to struggle, I let out a long slow warming breath. He liked it. I could feel his icy little toes. He snuggled up.

I stood there for awhile surrounding him with care and then I went up to window where my husband was. I had his attention. He wondered what I was holding. I opened my hands. The finch flew to the next feeder and began eating again. It's going to be zero out there tonight. Say a prayer for all the winter babies.


I wake up on the couch all stiff and sneezy. Oh, I am angry ... still angry. In my aviary there are dishes to clean. I am ignoring my audience—a room full of birds--as I turn my back and stay with my thoughts. Afterall, I have a plan to formulate.

Heyoka says sweetly, “Hi, birdie.” She's using the same intonation I use with her when I’m trying to make her feel better. I don't fall for that trick. Grrr!

A few minutes go by. She makes another attempt. This time, her attention makes me recognize where I am holding the stress in my body so that I can stay angry and “out of my mind." I am rarely able to sustain this much passion indefinitely.

On second thought, maybe I will stop putting my energy into this new future. it doesn’t coincide with my bigger picture. I quickly melt, step back into my body, and find my spirit uplifted in a room full of my familiars. Talk about neural wi-fi! The sanctuary in my aviary helps me recognize how easy it is to reconnect.

Over the last few weeks I've painted four murals. In the process, I left my body behind spending hours pouring over tiny detail, holding myself in strange, uncomfortable positions, not sleeping, not eating, and promising my body it will soon be over. Finally, I don't think it believes me anymore. That makes a strange kind of sense. No wonder my energy got stuck this way after ignoring all but what I wanted to achieve.

Mother Turtle

"Today’s snapping turtles have hardly changed from 215 million years ago when Proganochelys, the most primitive turtle known, lived ...To put things into proportion: humans evolved a mere short 3.5 million years ago."


The turtles live about 3/4 of the way across the lake. I swim through the bubbles. What kind of turtles? Lots of different ones! As the sun rises, I see a head and tail through the mist. What kind? Can't tell. The sun is right in my eyes. She submerges long before I arrive.

That afternoon I swim again. When I get to turtle alley, she surfaces right in front of me a body's length away. Her head is the size of my hand. She must be a hundred years old. I check her jaws. Snappers usually hunt in the shallows eating small weak creatures to keep the pond healthy. Will turtles bite in deep water? The internet doesn't have much to say about that.

I splash some water at her. It doesn't do a thing. She doesn't even blink.

"There is no sense in being afraid," she says. "I just want to get a look at who is making all this noise."

I look into her dinosaur eyes and calculate my response. Then I give her the universal sign that I am not looking for trouble. I turn my head completely around and glide the other direction.

After I move about ten feet, I venture a peek. She is gone. So when she dives back under the water, I figure she has every opportunity to do whatever she wants whenever she wants to do it.

Our very quiet introduction in the middle of the lake is over. I change direction again and finish my swim.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who worked to create "A Voice for the Animals." I loved the unedited production and am thrilled you posted it. His story is incredible. Thank you so much to the speech pathologist who shared with her brother the engineer and got the ball rolling to bring this amazing guest. (I'm a speech pathologist and was laughing and almost crying at the same time when Krista explained the background.) Krista's interview was marvelous. I've been so touched and encouraged by each opportunity to hear Dr. Rabinowitz, and "A Voice" was certainly one of the best pieces amidst a delightful collection. Thank you all so much!

an amazing interview, such an inspiring Man. It made me cry several times.

In the December 2011 issue, National Geographic features Alan Rabinowitz. The story written by Caroline Alexander is about the future of tigers. Since I heard this radio program first, that reading meant a lot more to me.

Now I'm curating the 18 Tigers Art Show at Southern Illinois University and asking viewers to surround themselves with tigers of every description in the library's rotundas this February. It's an art response to the story that broke on 10/20/11 in Zanesville, Ohio when Sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 wild animals including 18 rare Bengal tigers. The owner, a Vietnam Vet with PTSD, threw their cages open and self-immolated.

Initial submissions are coming from as far away as Florida thanks to the magic of social networking. The show will raise awareness about the tiger's plight, educate viewers about various NPO's work, and offer participating artists and viewers a cathartic experience.

When people are able to wall themselves off and see others (in this case monsterous tigers) as separate, it's easy to do horrific things in the name of survival. With the extinction of the tiger so close, transforming our own hearts is paramount. I'm asking artists to wrestle with their own demons as they bring their tigers to life and show viewers how the extinction of tigers charges them emotionally, changes their perspectives, and inspires them to do good work.

To me this is a very deep show, not only did Alan face tigers and other jungle cats, he’s battling cancer and still working to save animals through it. I honestly don’t know if that is something I could do but his story gives me inspiration that I will be able to overcome any obstacle and fight for what I believe in. Everyday we face some sort of battle, whether it is big or small, we try to overcome it, and when we do it makes us a stronger. Alan started with a big battle when he was young and today he is still fighting for what he believes in even though he’s fighting the biggest battle of all, one for his life.

I personally want to help people in this world, Alan wanted to help animals. Both of these are very important to our world and I hope that someday I can be as determined as he is. Right now I am young and there isn’t much I can do to help people in need. I can join volunteer groups and try to help people who I know, but I want to do things all across the world. I’d love to join the Peace Corps someday and help third world countries better themselves so they can live healthily. I also would love if I could have my own non-profit organization, collecting shoes and clothes to give to homeless people here or in other countries and finding ways to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. If Alan can overcome a stutter and fight cancer, while fighting for animals, then there is no reason I shouldn’t be able to follow my goals while being healthy.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to all of you who worked to create "A Voice for the Animals." I loved the unedited production and am thrilled you posted it. His story is incredible. Thank you so much to the speech pathologist who shared with her brother the engineer and got the ball rolling to bring this amazing guest. (I'm a speech pathologist and was laughing and almost crying at the same time when Krista explained the background.) Krista's interview was marvelous. I've been so touched and encouraged by each opportunity to hear Dr. Rabinowitz, and "A Voice" was certainly one of the best pieces amidst a delightful collection. Thank you all so much!

A voice for the animals

To start things off, I like the idea that Dr. Rabinowitz has – which is to do more for wildlife conservation. I think that if conservation of animals, and nature, was on everyone’s list, we would never see it as a problem – it would be natural to us. What I disagree with is when Dr. Rabinowitz describes the pygmies of the Himalayas, and how their population is declining because they do not have proper living conditions, and that we have a responsibility to act upon those peoples’ trouble. I must say that the first thing that comes to my mind is the tendency of the Western “modernized” people to want to “rescue” other, less fortunate groups. I just wonder when we, as a society, will learn that our help does nothing to actually improve the life of these people. It is like helping a homeless person by giving them money (or shoes), and then seeing that they are barefoot and still hungry the next day. People who seem to us as struggling for life, tend to refuse a revolutionary rescue from others.
I wish that instead of trying to save hopeless people, just because it is our initial desire to do so, we would focus on the larger picture. Instead of giving them things, teach them how – those who actually want to improve their life, whether it is Himalayan pygmies, or homeless people, will learn, and will survive. I just don’t think it is right for us to give these people “help” for a day, and just turn back on them tomorrow, when they are still in the same position as they were before.

This is such a heartwarming and exciting show! Especially at this time of so much tragedy and violence and congressional idiocy in our country! What a relief to find it! As always, Krista brings us messages of peace and hope.

Thank you for presenting shows with spirituality,wisdom, and adventure.
Always with interest and something to learn, for the moments I listen to your shows I am in other places.
Yours, Mr. & Mrs. Chris Pecunia

This program was significantly inspiring to me, particularly the bit about his trip into the Himalayas. Despite a huge cultural barrier between he and the native inhabitants, they were able to connect and learn from each other without speaking a word. Through suffering from a stutter in childhood, Rabinowitz seemingly gained the ability to communicate without words. It seems evident that he has since progressed and is able to communicate much better, affording him skills in communicating both verbally and non-verbally. His understanding of the nature of wildlife is impressive, and I find it interesting that he states that living with animals is the same as living with humans, in many ways at least. This was an overall entertaining piece, and it is refreshing to see somebody who really strives to know more of the unknown.

I listened to your program with Alan Robinowitz re: animals and people and stuttering. It was an excellent show. However, I do have one objection to some language he used in reference to individuals with challenges. He referred to their "broken minds". I am a mother of a 31 year old son born with Down syndrome. While there have been numerous challenges and difficult times during these years, never have I considered my son's mind as broken. I do believe his mind is DIFFERENT but never broken. I think this is an important distinction. How an individual processes experiences, thoughts and actions is different with everyone but not broken. Thanks again for your wonderful program. I look forward to it each week.

I have only heard 26 minutes of the unedited interview and I sit with him in the closet with the turtle sharing their voices and I hear this man in intimate conversation sharing secrets with Christa on how he loves the men of 100 years ago going into the wild, tearing at their own fear to plunge into the mystery, and my wild heart bleeds gratitude for it all. Somewhere deep inside I hunger for this, this of substance, of my wanting to touch the pulse, the very blood of the river of me flowing and needing to hear the beat of a wild heart to urge me on into where lies hope, realness, juice of what life really is vs the Disney ride of my life, brushing my teeth, waking to the alarm, shoulder on through my day while in the listening, something in me sits weeping in gratitude for all this that spins out in Dr. Rabinowitz' s vulnerability and Christa knowing, having scraped deeply into what is known of him, and hearing him for all of us. In gratitude, I am Cassandra sitting in my kitchen, Santa Monica, Ca, 11 pm and the quietness of the city seeping in under the door and the sharing goes on into my headphones of "OnBeing" and I am grateful for all it takes, the people and the logistics, to make this all possible.

Today I listened to Alan" interview where he relates his extraordinary journey. I cried so much...I feel the pain of God's creatures; our victims. These creature, all of them are endowed with knowledge that we, mere humans, can not begin to fathom. They are all knowing...self sufficient and in perfect tune with nature. Their pain, I have seen, is profound and, yet, we rip them from their natural homes just to be entertained. I feel deep pain for the birds in cages singing their pain. Do you know that Ruisenores ( mocking birds ) we call them in Puerto Rico; will bring poison seeds to any Ruisenor in a cage? My cousin had one in the porch and covered the cage with a net to keep him from eating the is a pact between these singing birds. I am sure all animals would rather die than live in a cage away from their family and home.
When little Alan told the panther In the zoo that he would find a place for both of them, he was, unknowingly talking about the future. This panther looked him in the eye and understood. Later, when he was followed by this magnificent animal in the Belize jungle, it was a mystic moment...the little boy's promise had been conveyed by the jaguar in he zoo and hovered there, in this jungle, waiting for this miracle become a reality ...the jaguar there was thanking Alan, welcoming him. What a magical moment! You see, God was there, he held Alan's hand all these years and led him to his highest destiny. there is a lesson in this; a child's expressed desires may very well be a prediction of his destiny in life.


The tiger purrs when he sees me. He is stretching out in the sun and feeling retrospective. Curling up next to him is second nature. With my head resting against his warm belly, he explains how his whole existence has been about exploring power and powerlessness up until now.

I close my eyes. How intoxicating it is to have a conversation with him. I am enamored with his voice. Who wouldn't be? The unheard, low-pitched infrasound of his roar can travel long distances – permeating buildings, cutting through dense forests, and even passing through mountains. It doesn't matter that I can't hear frequencies that low. I can still feel them. He speaks softly, giving me a chance to overcome my natural response.

I know he can paralyze even the most experienced tiger trainer with a roar, but I'm trying not anticipate that outcome because some stress hormones don't know when to quit pulling. They remain active in the brain for too long – injuring and even killing cells in the hippocampus, the area of your brain needed for memory and learning. That's why it requires conscious effort to initiate a relaxation response and reestablish metabolic equilibrium. I gain enough power to meet him where he is by not allowing my attention to fragment. That's a skill I learned by meditating.

Humans don't reach deeper understandings by avoiding deep connections. Taking on problems that seem too heavy to hold, much less change, are the key to transformation. Their density is what gives them power. For instance, knowing that tigers are facing extinction isn't enough to get my attention, but witnessing story after story about how they are treated in the wild gives me the energy to strive and stretch further than I think I can. Being willing to see a tiger's point of view is the price I pay to take this trip, but here's the payoff. That openness to change is what empowers a person. It provides a raison d'etre.

Imagination is the alchemy that turns intensity into opportunity. Seeing how far I am willing to follow him opens many doors between us. He rewards me with a taste of real power as we sit together. See that look in his eye? That's timelessness. He's daydreaming alright, but it's more than a conscious trance. He's uses it to re-write his story re-member his body. That is, to release the muscle memory and change the body's chemistry. Relaxation alters the mind. Playing provides insight and inspiration. However, it's the way we actually invest our attention that alters what we believe is possible, and that, my tiger tells me, is how we gain the highest power.

Dreaming is the most important thing we do.

Here's a speech I'm giving at the Buckminster Fuller Future Festival tonight

A few years ago I did a big art exhibit on tigers in response to the story that broke in Zanesville, Ohio when Sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 wild animals including 18 rare Bengal tigers. It blew my mind to think that only 18 cats could represent 1% of the entire population of Bengal tigers and that they were annihilated in a single afternoon because of one man’s PTSD.

This horrific story isn’t what put me in motion though. What got me excited was a radio interview I heard with Alan Rabinowitz. As a child he was crippled with a stuttering problem that was so severe, HIs disability masked his intelligence and personality. He was placed in classes with the kids who had learning problems and forgotten. He was able to be himself, as he tells it, only when he was alone with his pets. Zoo animals, in particular, helped him work through is feelings of being treated callously and dismissed. As this broken child connected with a broken, caged leopard he made a promise. If he could ever complete a sentence, he'd become the voice for the animals.

Rabinowitz went on to learn how to control his breath and now he is doing what he said he would do for the big cats. He's the world’s leading authority on tiger and jaguar conservation and he’s CEO of His programs have had more success than any others because he has a deeper understanding of what the cats need to thrive.

Years later as Rabinowitz is tracking a wild black panther through the jungle, the panther slips in behind him and he comes face to face with it. Now he measures his spirit to this healthy, wild animal and the story comes full circle.

He says this about tigers:

"Spiritually I feel very strongly about the tigers. I think you can drop me off any place in the world and I can tell you if the big cats are around me or not. I have been face to face with wild lions, with wild jaguars, and there is a real energy emanating from them. I've been in jungle and watched as big cats move through the jungle and hear all of the animals go silent as the big predator moves through it. The energy in a jungle with big predators is a very, very different energy, and when you truly merge with it and feel it, it's not a dangerous energy. It's not a negative energy - completely the opposite. It's this huge, positive, overwhelming force which humbles you, makes you realize that there are things much greater on the Earth than you.”

You can hear the interview in the archives at on It’s called “A Voice for the Animals." He has extraordinary insights into the animal-human bond.

Scientists have discovered that whales, rhinos, tigers and elephants can produce sounds below 20 hertz. The tiger uses its roar to paralyze animals. It has an effect on your nervous system whether you can perceive it or not. Even season trainers are stunned by the loudness of this unheard, low-pitched infrasound. It can travel long distances - permeating buildings, cutting through dense forests, and even passing through mountains. Elelphants use it to communicate across long distances with other herds. They can feel the vibration in their feet as they move across the land to join together.

The lady who discovered this is named Katy Payne and she says:

"Animals experience their worlds in ways we cannot understand—with senses we have lost long ago or never had. They define their worlds with exquisite senses of smell and hearing, with vision that sees what we can't imagine, or with responses to chemical or electromagnetic properties that we are insensitive to. By these yard sticks, many animals are far smarter than we are ... and so we find that We are not at the pinnacle of human knowledge like we thought. Rather, we are just beginning.”

With the extinction of tigers so close, I got my friends to explore how we can transform our own hearts. I asked 40 artists of all ages to participate. The ages of the contributors ranged from 6 to 95. They made art to show how losing tigers in the wild forever charged them emotionally, changed their perspectives, and inspired them to do good works. The show raised awareness about the tiger's plight, educated viewers about Alan Rabinowitz's work, and offered viewers a cathartic experience.

It taught me that a lot of people have the same concerns I do about taking care of this spaceship Earth. 150 people came to the art opening. We focused on what we were doing right. We transformed a negative experience into a positive one, and we gained the strength of equanimity.

Equanimity is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind. It is the key to success with difficult problems like the ones we’re going to be talking about tonight in honor of Bucky Fuller. It comes from understanding our outer world is a reflection of our inner filter.

I learned how to see this most clearly by rescuing parrots. Having the strength to hold a space and keep it empty until it can fill up with goodness is a big part of working with another species. I've had birds for more than 25 years. That's a little more than 9,100 days and I'd say about 30,000 good solid hours of hands on experience.

My birds are from Africa, South America, Australia and India. I got my african gray because his owner moved to Alaska. My macaw came to me from a girl who kept him in the utility room beside the washer. That bird plucks her feathers when she gets too warm. A cockatoo came to me after a catastrophe in his owner's life. She’d had him for 30 years. The ringneck, sun conure, parakeets, and cockatiel were given to me by strangers. The senegal I purchased as a baby 25 years ago. And my lovebird is the last of a family of seven I raised. When my lovebirds and cockatiels were young, I had nearly 30 pets because I let them have babies.

The vast majority of my pets have been rescues. That’s what you call it when you take a bird that someone, anyone (especially people who don’t know you) because they don’t want it anymore. I have 14 now.

Most people don’t know what it takes to keep birds healthy. They may understand that large parrots can live 80 years, medium ones can live 40 years, and small ones can live 20 years, but until you’ve tried it, wrapping your head around that much time is difficult. I was reading an article called ...

John Waldman
“The Natural World Vanishes: How Species Cease to Matter”
Yale Environment 360

"Every generation takes the natural environment it encounters during childhood as the norm against which it measures environmental decline later in life. With each ensuing generation, environmental degradation generally increases, but each generation takes that degraded condition as the new normal. Scientists call this phenomenon “shifting baselines” or “inter-generational amnesia,” and it is part of a larger and more nebulous reality — the insidious ebbing of the ecological and social relevancy of declining and disappearing species.

Pat Leonard reports in “Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds“ (2008)

"The Yellow-headed Parrot is arguably the most popular pet parrot with its brilliant green, red, and yellow feathers and its glib tongue. But that popularity has also been its downfall. Native to Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, the wild population of this species plummeted from 70,000 birds in the mid-1970s to an estimated 2,000 today, though an exact number is still to be determined."

--The Gabriel foundation is a non-profit organization that has 700 parrots available for adoption

“This is no longer one person’s problem or even one industry’s problem. It speaks to the entire issue of being responsible for anyone and anything in your life for which you have chosen stewardship. All living creatures deserve respect and kindness. Societies value birds for economic, cultural, ethical and spiritual reasons. Birds are not put on this earth for man to dominate, or “own,” but rather they are “other nations” with which to co-exist. The disposable mentality or throwaway cultural attitude prevalent in our society does not speak well for the lives of animals often viewed as commodities. They are greatly affected by this trend. They cannot fend for themselves when we do not.”

My experiences with birds led me to do what Bucky Fuller urges and that’s to become a trim tab. Like a trim tab, I was a little part of the rudder that changed the direction of an entire ship. I was the trim tab. Greg Harrison was the rudder. The ship we were changing was the pet food industry.

Dr. Harrison is one of the few double board certified avian veterinarians in the world. He publishes medical text books about bird medicine and sells organic bird food worldwide. Before social networking, connecting with like minds on the internet was difficult but I caught a break.

About 10 years ago I wrote a little 54-page book for him. He gave it to 20,000 clients and veterinarians who were looking for the answers we had and it changed the way people fed their birds, cats, dogs, and even themselves. I saw it like a wave moving through the world.

Speaking as a trim tab, I can attest. You don’t change the world. You change yourself and the world shifts around you. You don’t change everyone directly, you only change the people who can already hear you, and let them change the people who can hear them. There is a network of people who love what you love and are looking for the answers you’ve already found.

That’s what we’re all doing here together tonight. You are here at this very moment because you want to help make things right. You understand looking at a problem leads to understanding it. Understanding leads to action. Action leads to hope. There is hope.

That’s why I want to introduce you to Eric Moss.

He’s a remarkable person who is devoted a lot of his time honing the bond he has with an African Gray named Bibi. Day after day he shows up and opens himself up to new possibilities. Parrots have been shown to be remarkably intelligent in a similar way to humans and monkeys. Even though their brains are different than ours, Nature has wired them all the same way. Despite the absence of a neocortex, birds can perform complex cognitive tasks once thought to be unique to primates and some even unique to humans. These tasks include seeing optical illusions, forming concepts, understanding the mental state of another individual, using and manufacturing tools, and communicating specific meanings to achieve specific goals. These discoveries challenge our notion of what it means to be human.

So let’s explore ...

Voices on the Radio

is a zoologist and wildlife conservationist. He is founder and CEO of Panthera and the author of Life in the Valley of Death and Beyond the Last Village.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Senior Editor: Trent Gilliss

Senior Producer: David McGuire

Technical Director/Producer: Chris Heagle

Producer: Nancy Rosenbaum

Associate Producer Online: Susan Leem

Coordinating Producer: Stefni Bell