The amphibian conservation community is deeply saddened by the loss one of its greatest and most supportive pioneers. Dr. George Rabb, with his focus on amphibians, stands equal in our conservation world among other ‘giants’ such as Jane Goodall and David Attenborough.
George felt very honoured to have an amazing species of frog named after him (and his late wife, Mary): Rabbs’ Fringe-limbed Treefrog (Ecnomiohyla rabborum). George was very dismayed when the last remaining specimen (named ‘Toughie’) died in 2016 in captivity—it was probably the last one of the species—just as George was the last one of a kind.
On hearing about the frog’s death, George ensured me that the body was quickly transferred to the Frozen Zoo at San Diego Zoo and asked me to convey his thanks to Joe Mendelson and his co-authors Jay Savage, Edgardo Griffith, Heidi Ross, Brian Kubicki, and Ron Gagliardo for naming this species for George and Mary in their wonderfully illustrated description of the species in the Journal of Herpetology in 2008. They named this frog in respect of all the efforts that George and Mary made to conserve the thousands of species of frogs and salamanders threatened mainly by the active negligence of our own species.
During his career, George was a pioneer and worked hard to change zoos from natural history collections to holistically engaged conservation centres. He was instrumental in leading the challenge to stop amphibian declines and was active in amphibian conservation from the time that serious declines were first observed in the late 1980s until shortly before his death.
On a personal note, while I read a lot of George’s papers during my Ph.D. studies, I only got to know him in the last 10 years. When I visited him in Chicago in 2011 I was very impressed that at the age of 81 he collected me from the airport in his own car, lined up the large American beast of a car so that the centre line was in the middle of the hood (bonnet), and off we went through the Chicago traffic! George had a very quiet, unassuming personality but he was incredibly sharp and always knew the exact time to make the most significant point during a meeting.
The amphibians have lost a champion, the strongest champion they have ever had, and it’s up to us to carry on in the legacy of the Great Dr. George Rabb.
Co-Chair IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group
Chief Scientist, Amphibian Survival Alliance