I just finished reading Beyond the Last Village by Alan Rabinowitz, one of the more moving and inspirational books I’ve read in a very long time. Although it describes the author’s journey into the jungles of Northern Myanmar, and details his efforts to save endangered wildlife in that area, Beyond the Last Village is much more than a travel or nature tale. The book does indeed focus on Rabinowitz’s wildlife efforts, but it’s also the story how the author fell in love with the people he met in Myanmar, how he attempts to save his marriage, and how the love of animals helped him overcome a severe stuttering problem as a child.
In Beyond the Last Village Rabinowitz recounts his multiple trips to Myanmar in the mid to late 1990s, hoping to survey the country’s many wildlife species, and also hoping to convince the government (yes, those notorious junta generals) that they needed to establish special zones, and even national parks, to protect those animals. Amazingly, he succeeded in getting all those things done, and also discovered some new species in the process. Call it dedication, perseverance, or just sheer luck, but Rabinowitz had it. Perhaps his style of negotiation, patience, and respect should be emulated by politicians hoping to “engage” with the new leaders of Myanmar.
Although trained as a scientist and researcher, Rabinowitz comes across as a natural explorer and modern adventurer in this book. And he’s also a very good writer. Parts of this book are written so eloquently and are so moving that it literally brought tears to my eyes. Rabinowitz is passionate about his quest to save endangered wildlife, but he’s also passionate about the villagers that he meets during his trips. It’s the accounts of those human interactions that are some of this book’s most memorable moments.
In addition to this book, Rabinowitz has also written Jaguar: One Man’s Struggle to Establish the World’s First Jaguar Preserve, and Chasing the Dragon’s Tail: The Struggle to Save Thailand’s Wild Cats. His newest book, published in 2010, is Life in the Valley of Death. Subtitled, “The Fight to Save Tigers in a Land of Guns, Gold, and Greed,” the book is set in the lush Hukaung Valley of Myanmar, where Rabinowitz plans to create the world’s largest tiger preserve. I haven’t found a copy of this book in Bangkok yet, so it looks like I’ll end up having to do an online order. It’s one I’m very eager to read.
Wanting to know more about this fascinating man, I did an online search. I was shocked to find out that in late 2001 Rabinowitz was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). There is no cure yet for the disease, but fortunately for Rabinowitz it was diagnosed at an early stage and is a very slowly progressing type of cancer. A decade later, he is still going strong, and the disease doesn’t appear to have slowed down his “wild” lifestyle whatsoever. In a recent interview with Charles Siebert, he said:
“It’s now ten years since the diagnosis and I’m still only in stage one. Still, not knowing what the future holds, I’ve sped up, not slowed down. There will be no retirement in my life. Forget the second house. Forget everything. I’m going to keep the candle lit at both ends and spend as much time with my wife and my kids as I can when I’m not sick. I want them to know me as much as possible as I still am, as the person I want them to see.”
Alan Rabinowitz, is truly an inspirational person. Let’s hope he is able to continue his adventures and conservation efforts — and write more books — for the rest of this decade and the ones that follow.