Environment Magazine

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

Posted on the 21 February 2013 by Earth First! Newswire @efjournal

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, 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 a oil company and is a Wall Street entrepreneur, at least not enough to let them 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 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.

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