Amphibian conservationist George Rabb (second from the right) with part of the ASA/ASG team.

Dear friends,

Heartbroken. This is how members of the global amphibian conservation community, including the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA) and IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG), have been since  learning that our dear mentor and supporter George Rabb has died this past Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Read the Chicago Tribune’s tribute to George)

George was a passionate, committed and highly respected global conservationist, having significantly influenced zoos and a wide breadth of conservation issues covering many taxonomic groups. However, when it comes to amphibians, George has left a larger-than-life footprint. It was George’s vision that there be an international entity to address amphibian declines, which led to the creation of the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force (DAPTF) during his tenure as IUCN Species Survival Commission Chair. The DAPTF later amalgamated with the Global Amphibian Specialist Group (GASG) to form today’s ASG.

An early proponent and architect of the Amphibian Survival Alliance, George has been absolutely instrumental in the development of the ASA from its inception to its current form, where he was a key member of the ASA’s Global Council. We would not be where we are today in global amphibian conservation had it not been for George.

Characterized not only by his sharpness and brilliance, but also by his modest and unassuming disposition, his generosity, and his complete and utter devotion and concern for the well-being of amphibians, George was an example to all of us.

Although George is no longer among us, he is not lost to us. We will remember George, and his legacy will continue through the efforts of each and every individual whose lives he touched. That theme is evident in the outpouring of responses from those in the conservation community—including in the reflections below from a selection of others in the ASA/ASG community—and beyond. It is up to us to ensure that his life’s work and his legacy continue beyond our own lifetime, and that when future generations hear about George Rabb, may a sense of awe and gratitude grace their own days and inspire them to continue in his footsteps.

Sincerely,

 


Ariadne Angulo

Co-Chair IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group
Interim Executive Director, Amphibian Survival Alliance

Additional reflections

Phil Bishop
Co-Chair IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group
Chief Scientist, Amphibian Survival Alliance

“Dr. George Rabb, with his focus on amphibians, stands equal in our conservation world among other ‘giants’ such as Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. During his career, George was a pioneer and worked hard to change zoos from natural history collections to holistically engaged conservation centers. 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.” (Read more)

Simon Stuart
Global Council Deputy Chair, Amphibian Survival Alliance
Conservation Director, Synchronicity Earth

“He was without doubt the founder and “spiritual” leader of the amphibian conservation movement. It is for this reason that an Amphibian Conservation Fund will soon be launched in George’s honour, something that George agreed to in his usual self-deprecatory manner shortly before his last illness.

What is less widely known is that as well as being the driving force behind the initial establishment of Amphibian Ark and the Amphibian Survival Alliance, he was also a major and faithful donor to both of them, but characteristically did not like this to be widely known. Although George died knowing that the amphibian crisis was far from solved, I hope that he was able to draw some pleasure from the rapid growth to amphibian conservation globally as civil society and academia respond to the crisis. I don’t believe that this would have happened without George’s initial leadership.” (Read more)

Helen Meredith
Executive Director, Amphibian Survival Alliance

“George was immensely kind to me since I started with ASA. I was repeatedly encouraged and comforted by the degree to which he made himself available for meetings, the extra time he spent advising me, and his unwavering support for the amphibian conservation cause. I last saw him in person at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in September 2016. He came out to Honolulu Zoo with members of ASG, ASA and Amphibian Ark to help agree a common vision to bring our initiatives closer together, and met me and Phil Bishop for lunch overlooking the beach to offer guidance on the onward development of ASA. We also attended a heart-breaking reading together on the subject of the current extinction crisis, accompanied by a pianist playing Rachmaninov. George had helped fund the event, and at the end I turned to him disconsolately and said I felt like heading to a quiet corner and having a good cry. He just smiled and said we’d better head off to the amphibian conservation workshop or we’d be late. This epitomised George in my eyes – an attitude of quiet, productive determination, and a huge heart. Above all, he was a wonderful proponent of conservation, and the best friend and ally of the amphibians. He has inspired me on many levels and I will miss him. However, we will take forward his hopes and wishes, and remember him always.”

Don Church
Former Executive Director, Amphibian Survival Alliance
President and Director of Conservation, Global Wildlife Conservation

“George was a conservationist in the purest sense. He constantly reminded us that species have inherent value and that no other reason was necessary to pursue conservation. He humbly dedicated his life to saving species and supporting those who rose to the same challenge. He will be missed but his legacy will continue to grow through the actions of all those he inspired.”

Anne Baker
Global Council Member, Amphibian Survival Alliance
Executive Director, Amphibian Ark

“Many species of amphibians, and indeed the Amphibian Ark itself, would not exist today were it not for George’s vision and leadership. His quiet support and guidance helped frame AArk’s direction over its eleven years and his admonition to “get on with it,” it being amphibian conservation, is forever embedded in my brain. In one of our last conversations, just over a month before his death, George voiced his concern for a group of amphibians we often neglect when he queried “And what is AArk doing about caecilians?”  Unfortunately, the answer is probably not enough. They are now on our agenda, and, in the best way we know to pay tribute to the memory of George’s commitment and passion, we will “get on with it.”

Penny Langhammer
Director of Key Biodiversity Areas, Amphibian Survival Alliance/Global Wildlife Conservation

“Through his example, George inspired a passion for amphibians in countless others. He pushed us to work harder, and think harder, in tackling the most urgent and difficult challenges in amphibian conservation. Although I have only known him for a few years, his impact on my life has been enormous.”

Brian Gratwicke
Global Council Member, Amphibian Survival Alliance
Conservation Biologist,  Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

“George Rabb was endlessly thrilled by his namesake frog (rendered here in Tagua by Lanki Cheucarama). He didn’t have much patience for stalling and always pushed us forward, onwards, together for a big progressive amphibian agenda. RIP George, a conservation giant.”

Paul Salaman
Global Council Member, Amphibian Survival Alliance
Chief Executive Officer, Rainforest Trust

“We are very sad to hear of the passing of George Rabb. He truly was our leader in amphibian conservation having led in the development of the ASG, ASA and Amphibian Ark. As we noted just weeks ago in Canterbury, George had the vision and foresight to launch global amphibian conservation. And we are proud to carry on his great legacy. We will miss him greatly.”

Chris Banks
Conservation Partnership Manager, Zoos Victoria

“George was without question a giant in the amphibian and zoo worlds – a humble and unassuming one, but a giant nevertheless. I had the pleasure of chatting with George on a few occasions and it was always that – a real pleasure. We seem to be losing too many of these wonderful committed conservationists in recent times, but I suppose that’s inevitable with the passage of time. I expect that there are suggestions to remember George in some tangible manner, e.g. a global amphibian conservation award in his name. If so, please add my name to the list of those proposing this. If not, well let me be the first.”