A Mining Executive, A Missing Millionaire and the Weird Politics of U.S. Jaguar Conservation

21 Feb

By Panagioti Tsolkas / Earth First! Journal Collective


from left to right: Thomas Kaplan, an American jaguar, Alan Rabinowitz

Thomas Kaplan isn’t your average environmentalist, big cat conservationist or your average mining executive. He isn’t even your run-of-the-mill former  hydraulic fracking company executive. He’s a sort of disturbingly post-modern mélange of these: the founder of Panthera, a global big cat conservation organization, the current chairman of NovaCopper and the founder of Leor Energy. He’s rich, influential and “green.” But is there a conflict of interest? His colleague and co-founder of Panthera, Alan Rabinowitz, has been throwing his conservation rock star weight around, adding his voice to copper mining interests in southern Arizona to discredit jaguar habitat protection in the Southwest.

If Kaplan is average, he’d be your average yuppie villain from a Carl Hiaasen novel. You know, the one that throws big parties, acts like an environmentalist, but walks through a sinister subtext just waiting to boil out of the pages.

Recently, following a financial dispute between Kaplan and his nephew Guma Aguiar over the 2.5$ billion sale of their Houston based oil and gas company Leor Energy, the latter’s boat washed ashore in Ft. Lauderdale with the owner’s wallet and phone aboard but no trace of Aguiar. He is missing, maybe even dead.

And like in all of Hiaasen’s books, a group of crusty enviros are onto Kaplan, ready to bring him and his buddy Rabinowitz down, vigilante style if need be, for meddling in jaguar conservation.

Anarchist Biology

According to a recent communique by the Earth First! Jaguar Team, a group of self-proclaimed anarchist redneck conservation biologists spread throughout the Sonoran desert of Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico proper, something sinister is a brew in the world of jaguar conservation in that region.

“Last week, we took Alan Rabinowitz, the man Time magazine has called “The Indiana Jones of Wildlife Conservation”, to task for his recent, uninformed and politically dubious comments submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that claim the Southwest is not suitable habitat for jaguars. Rabinowitz has no solid evidence, and we are unaware of any solid evidence, to support his assumption that jaguars are merely transients to our region. There are jaguars here and historically there have been plenty of documented cases of breeding populations in both Arizona and New Mexico. And now we’ve dug up the dirt on his colleague, another Panthera executive, a f*cking POS mining executive also linked to fracking and the disappearance of his former fracking colleague. These guys are bad news for jaguar conservation and they better stay out of the Southwest.”

Macho B Lives

If you’ve never met an old school Earth First!er, and especially a wily group of them traipsing around the saguaro-ed canyons of the Sonoran, tracking jaguar scat, pulling jumping cholla burrs out of their backsides and reciting stories of where they buried Ed Abbey’s body or burned a rapacious bulldozer, well, then count yourself half lucky. Panthera and its founders could only wish for the same, but it appears to be too late. Rabinowitz made a huge mistake when he brought his New York City, non-profit, environmentalist playboy antics to the Southwest, opening his uniformed mouth on an issue best left to local biologists that know the region intimately. It looks like his buddy Kaplan will fair much the same by proxy. The Jaguar Team claims that they have contacts “working within nearly every large environmental organization in the country, including Panthera” and are “privy to a great deal of information.” They’ve proclaimed that when it comes to the reputation of an environmental bureaucracy and “the legacy and future of the kith and kin of Macho B, we’ll side with the spotted critters every damned time.”

The Missing Millionaire

Did Aguiar fake his own death to avoid the costs of a nasty legal battle with Kaplan that has raged since 2009? Kaplan claims he believes his nephew is still alive. Aguiar was convinced that Kaplan was trying to kill him. According to court documents from 2010, “…Aguiar has stated on multiple occasions that Kaplan was trying to kill him.” Kaplan’s attorney’s claim that Aguiar suffers paranoid delusions. The Jaguar Team says they have thousands of such documents and they’ll be mulling over them over the next few weeks.

Regardless of the outcome, a spokeswoman for the Earth First! Jaguar Team explained in email, the group is intent on uncovering any dubious conflicts of interest involved in “Panthera’s meddling in Southwest jaguar conservation,” adding “and while personal attacks may seem like low blows, nothing could be lower than attempting to stop the protection of 838,000 acres, and millions more if we get our way, of habitat for jaguars in our neck of the woods.” She noted that Kaplan’s role in the copper mining industry may have links to discrediting jaguar habitat in southern Arizona, particularly around Tucson, where a jaguar was recently spotted on a game camera near the proposed site of the controversial Rosemont copper mine.

“Protected critical habitat for the jaguar would give Rosemont Copper and its parent Augusta Resource a real kick in the balls,” she said.

The Jaguar Team does appear to be thoroughly pissed and they don’t plan to be quiet. In their final statement in a communique sent to the Earth First! Journal just this morning, they proclaim:

“We just don’t trust an organization run by a guy that runs a copper mining company and used to own an oil company and is a Wall Street entrepreneur, at least not enough to let him tell us that jaguars don’t belong in the Southwest. We demand an immediate retraction by Rabinoshitz of his ignorant statements submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He needs to admit that his statements are an opinion, not a matter of fact backed by evidence. He’s been published in the New York Times discrediting jaguar habitat in our region, putting the jag back in jag-off. And his is a powerful voice, far too powerful to throw around without evidence. We also demand that Panthera distance itself from Rabinowitz and his comments, and state publicly that they are sorry for his uninformed opinions. If that happens, we’ll go back to the desert. If it doesn’t, we’ll dig it all up, ALL OF IT!”

Jeez, these are some feisty and eloquent biologists.

13 Responses to “A Mining Executive, A Missing Millionaire and the Weird Politics of U.S. Jaguar Conservation”

  1. Joya February 21, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    This has got to be one of the most bizzaro articles I’ve ever read. Thanks Earth First for putting this out there. Its almost too hard to believe. I’ve never read the writer you mention but this really is right out of some strange novel.

  2. WTF February 21, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Wait, did the fracking mining exec environmentalist kill his millionare nephew? I can’t wait to see the movie.

  3. JJ February 21, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    Rabinowitz collared a lot of jaguars in Central America and like the story of Macho B the drugs and the new found electronic collars handicapped them and pushed them towards unnecessary death.

    • Silvan February 21, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

      He also didn’t have a problem kicking indigenous Maya out of there ancestral land in the preserve he helped set up in Belize. Maybe he doesn’t want to do that to poor cattle barons in Arizona.

  4. Jonathan Hanson February 23, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    This would be a much better conspiracy theory if Rabinowitz hadn’t been criticizing jaguar conservation efforts in the Southwest for years before the Rosemont mine issue arose. He’s just protecting his own prime turf.

    • Macho B February 24, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      Its not a conspiracy, there aren’t any studies to support Rabinowitz’s transient theory, its just plain megalomaniacally created ignorance. It is however, as this author seems to allude to, a conflict of interest. Rabinowitz and the other founder of Pantherz have these strange connections with mining money. Copper mining money funds Rabinowitz’s work. Its not a conspiracy just shady. Rabinowitz looks to be a genuine conservationist but with a big stupid mouth and a wallet full of copper money. Its inappropriate.

      • Jonathan Hanson February 24, 2013 at 11:44 am #

        I hope you are not just now figuring out that most expensive conservation projects are funded by extractive mega-corporations. It’s been a fact of life for decades.

        Rabinowitz has been criticizing jaguar conservation efforts in areas other than his own turf for years – even those in northern Sonora, where, unlike the current situation in the U.S., there are documented breeding populations. Claiming it’s to protect his mining buddies needlessly glorifies what is really simple self-centeredness.

        In terms of studies to support the transient theory, we now have over 20 years worth of photographic and video data that does support it. In that time, only male jaguars have been recorded north of the U.S./Mexico border, which is perfectly consistent with the demographics of an edge large-cat population. Does that mean we shouldn’t be working to protect jaguars and their habitat here? Of course not, but if you try to argue for it from a non-fact-based stance, you’ll lose and wind up making all conservation efforts suspect. It’s happened before.

  5. earthfirstdurango February 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    Reblogged this on Southwest Earth First!.

  6. Earth First! Journal Sonoran Office March 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    Not sure why we’d base jaguar conservation on only 20 years of evidence Jonathan. Looks like breeding populations existed historically and could again. 20 years of transient male populations speaks to a larger issues that needs correcting, not a definitive definition of the role of jaguars in the Southwest that should be considered acceptable and unchangeable. I think you probably know this.

    • Jonathan Hanson March 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

      And yet your approach is to base jaguar conservation on wishful thinking? No one would love to have breeding jaguars in the U.S. more than I, but like it or not current and historic climatic and habitat conditions confirm a century or more of anecdotal and photographic records: Southern Arizona and New Mexico represent edge habitat for jaguars and will likely remain so – that is if global warming doesn’t take even that away from us. That might not be “acceptable,” but it is “unchangeable,” unless you propose to have the U.S. throw thirty or forty million dollars into a “re-introduction” program. As I said, we should do all we can to preserve the habitat we have, and to protect breeding populations of jaguars in northern Mexico. If that eventually brings breeding populations north of the border, it would be awesome.

      • Earth First! Journal Sonoran Office March 14, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

        Yes, wishful thinking won’t hurt, that and a longer view of time that sees the last 100 years of the genocidal war on the jaguar in the Southwest as a terrifying but passing blip in the grander scheme of the jaguar’s long destiny, which will continue in the Southwest.


  1. The “Green” Fracking Revolution Is On The Way | Earth First! Newswire - April 21, 2013

    […] more about some of the capitalist crack-pots involved with some of the other big greens? Check out A Mining Executive, a Missing Millionaire and the Weird Politics of U.S. Jaguar Conservations  and also be sure to read Big Greenwashing 101: Or, How the Sierra Club Learned to Stop Worrying […]

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    […] more about some of the capitalist crack-pots involved with some of the other big greens? Check out A Mining Executive, a Missing Millionaire and the Weird Politics of U.S. Jaguar Conservations  and also be sure to read Big Greenwashing 101: Or, How the Sierra Club Learned to Stop Worrying […]

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