Some Reflections on George Rabb

Prominent conservationist George Rabb, who chaired the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) from 1989 to 1996, passed away on 28 July. Close friend and colleague, and Chair of the Commission between 2008 and 2016 Simon Stuart reflects on George’s legacy for the conservation movement.

Dr George Rabb

I first met George Rabb at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in October 1985 when I was interviewed by an intimidating panel of four men and one woman for the position of Species Programme Officer at IUCN headquarters in Gland, Switzerland. George was on the panel – I don’t remember much of the interview, except that I got the job, and IUCN has defined my career ever since. At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu in September 2016, 31 years later, at the goodbye party to mark the end of my eight years as Species Survival Commission Chair, George gave the final speech and, in addition to saying some kind words about me, told those present: “I hired Simon!”, underlining his constant presence to me beginning with that 1985 interview.

George was already a dominant force on the SSC Steering Committee by the time I joined IUCN. I attended my first Steering Committee meeting in March 1986, and that was when I really started to get to know George, with the first of our many one-to-one in-depth conversations. His extraordinary intellect, his deep ethical commitment to conservation, and his breadth of interests marked him as an influential force to be reckoned with. Soon after, Wayne King resigned as the SSC Deputy Chair, and George was appointed to take his place. When Gren Lucas resigned as SSC Chair in August 1989, George became Chair, and served until 1996.

George assumed his leadership of the SSC while Martin Holdgate was Director General of IUCN. The two men were similar in some respects – very sharp intellects, huge knowledge and commitment, and also both to some extent a little traditional in their mannerisms. They clearly had great respect for each other, and the SSC’s standing within the wider IUCN family grew enormously under George’s leadership. George brought about many changes during his time as SSC Chair. He brought many new and younger people from across the world on to the Steering Committee, improved its gender balance, and established many new Specialist Groups (SGs). Some of the most active SGs in SSC today, such as the Shark, Iguana and Invasive Species SGs, were established under George’s leadership.

George was not a typical leader. In many ways he was a shy and self-effacing man. He never sought to be the centre of attention and always gave great credit to others. But when a topic arose about which he cared passionately, he could speak with passion and conviction. George endeared himself to SSC members across the globe by his straightforward, uncomplicated commitment to saving the world’s species and natural places. George became the unofficial leader of the zoo community within IUCN. He was a pioneer of the movement to bringing zoos more fully into conservation, working closely alongside the likes of Bill Conway, Ulysses Seal and David Jones. George used to go to the IUCN Congress having collected a large number of proxy votes from across the zoo community.

In the days before IUCN introduced electronic voting, George became famous for holding up a fistful of ballot papers whenever a vote was taken! But although he played the IUCN political game, George was never a politician in a scheming or tactical sense. He avoided other people’s controversies and was reluctant to trade votes to get his own way. George was more of a conviction politician, fighting for things he believed to be morally right and opposing things that he believed to be wrong. He also had courage. A classic example arose in 1995 when some of the US Government’s most important conservation funding mechanisms were under serious threat of being reduced, or even closed. George invited the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, to Brookfield Zoo, and the resulting meeting led to the Speaker adopting a pro-conservation stance and defending and saving these funding streams.

George knew that his effectiveness grew from surrounding himself with top-calibre people. Compared with any SSC Chair before him, George built up a significant support team at the Brookfield Zoo, composed of people such as Tim Sullivan, Susan Tressler, Elizabeth McCance, Mena Boulanger, Maria Sadowski and Craig Pugh. This was made possible by the generous support of the Chicago Zoological Society, a recognition of the global importance of the conservation work that George was leading. George and his team worked in seamless unity with the IUCN Secretariat Species Programme team that I was leading at the time. A few weeks after George took over as SSC Chair, the great Sir Peter Scott, also a former SSC Chair, passed away. Sir Peter’s friend, Sultan Qaboos of Oman, decided to give USD 1.5 million to SSC in Sir Peter’s honour. George and his team used the Sir Peter Scott Fund to provide highly strategic grants to SSC SGs focused especially on action planning, thus starting the process to make the SGs much more proactive, as we see today.

During his tenure as SSC Chair, George typically visited Switzerland at least twice a year on IUCN business. He often stayed with my family and me, and we enjoyed the evenings together, as he unwound from the affairs of IUCN by playing with my little daughter Claire. He often brought her soft toy animals from the Brookfield Zoo shop. I often wondered how much sadness George and Mary might have felt at not having children of their own. But as we all know, George was a very private person and avoided talking about himself.

George and I shared a love for classical music. He once took me and some of his SSC team to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert. And he gave me many classical CDs over the years; one by Alfred Deller conducting choral music by Purcell stands out (George noted how a recording from the 1950s could have sound quality just as good as modern digital recordings if the producer knew how to position the microphones properly – an example of George’s broad interests and knowledge!). I also remember in one conversation when George and I had a meeting of minds in agreeing that the greatest piece of music ever written by a teenager is Mendelssohn’s Octet!

George pursued many conservation passions during his long life. He loved the okapi, and this led to an abiding interest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the research station at Epulu. When all the captive animals at the station were killed in 2012 during the terrible civil strife in that suffering country, George was heartbroken, but characteristically also took the initiative in generating a constructive response. He got a late emergency motion on the okapi submitted and adopted at the 2012 IUCN Congress, calling for urgent assistance for okapi conservation. The publication of the SSC Okapi Action Plan in 2016, a joint initiative with the DRC Government, followed on from this call.  George became great friends with the long-term head of conservation in the DRC, Dr Mankoto ma Mbaelele. It was heart-warming to witness them meeting each again at the IUCN Congress in 2012 after many years.

George was also heavily involved in the SSC Conservation Breeding SG. He was a close advisor and supporter of Ulie Seal, CBSG’s founding chair. Most significantly George recruited the leading population geneticist, Bob Lacy, to work at Brookfield Zoo, and made him available to the CBSG. Bob wrote the Population and Habitat Viability Analysis (PHVA) software, Vortex, which became the basis for the CBSG’s many PHVA workshops held in many parts of the world, and is still widely used today. Bob later became CBSG Chair following Ulie’s death.

George was also involved in other organizations. He was a board member of the Center for Humans and Nature, Defenders of Wildlife, and many others. He was a prime mover of the Chicago Wilderness initiative, showing his ability to focus on both the local and the global. His earlier natural history exploits have faded with time, but remain remarkable. For example, he discovered several species of salamander in Mexico in the 1950s, published a paper on wolf social behaviour in 1967, and was one of the last people to see Bachman’s warbler in the field. He had an abiding interest in environmental ethics and was heavily involved in the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law’s Ethics Specialist Group. He was a major contributor to the Draft International Covenant on Environment and Development. And in the past few years he was part of the movement to establish a “World Organization on the Environment”.

Despite all of these interests and achievements, George’s largest single contribution was to amphibian conservation. It is no exaggeration to say that George was the founder of the amphibian conservation movement. As noted above, George was already working on amphibians back in the 1950s. But things suddenly changed at the First World Herpetological Congress in 1989, when the alarm bell of unexplained and dramatic amphibian declines and extinctions taking place around the world was first sounded. This could have resulted in a shocked scientific world with no follow-up action. However, George had the vision and leadership to turn the alarm bell into a clarion call to mobilise action for amphibian conservation and research. As a direct result, the global amphibian conservation movement started to develop, focused on both understanding the science and the scale of the problem, and then working on conservation solutions.

The very first step was the formation of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force (DAPTF) within IUCN SSC, and everything followed from that. The DAPTF demonstrated conclusively that amphibian declines were real phenomena, and eventually the underlying cause of many of these declines, a fungal pathogen, was discovered. George was involved in all of the major steps that subsequently took place: the Global Amphibian Assessment in 2004 (which I was privileged to lead and showed the global extent of the crisis); the founding of Amphibian Ark in 2005 which started the mobilisation of zoos to give high priority to ex situ amphibian conservation; the Amphibian Conservation Summit in 2005 (and subsequent mini-summit in 2009); the transformation of the DAPTF into the SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (2005), the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (2006 and subsequently updated); and the founding of the Amphibian Survival Alliance (2010) which has become the umbrella body for amphibian conservation. Nobody else was involved at every stage in the way that George was. 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 had no interest in this being 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 of amphibian conservation globally as civil society and academia respond to the crisis. I believe that this would not have happened without George’s initial leadership.

Another remarkable characteristic of George was his ability to stay on top of the scientific literature, right up until the end. He was constantly looking forward to the next challenges, and always pushed the Amphibian Survival Alliance to be proactive and ready for the next change. In the last few months of his life he became a strong advocate of exploring the potential of new genetic technology to develop solutions in the fight against amphibian disease. As Phil Bishop wrote recently, he was always ahead of his time. While George was Director at Brookfield Zoo, his wife Mary worked in the zoo’s library. She systematically made photocopies of all the scientific papers that she thought he should be reading, and this enabled him to stay current.

Later on after his retirement from the zoo, Mary’s health started to deteriorate and George devoted more and more of his life to being her carer. As a result, he had much less time for his conservation activities. When she passed away he was devastated and I, along with many others, wondered how he would cope. But instead he threw himself headlong into a whole range of activities in all the organisations named above. He was perhaps the most faithful contributor to the monthly conference calls of the Amphibian Survival Alliance’s Global Council. He was scheduled to come to Canterbury in June this year to take part in the annual meeting of the Global Council but had to cancel. But when he did not show up to participate remotely, his close friend Anne Baker from Amphibian Ark and I knew that this was very uncharacteristic and that something was seriously wrong. Unfortunately we were right. Over the subsequent weeks, George’s faithful office team kept us updated. Sometimes we were more hopeful; other times not. When the news we were all dreading finally came there was much sadness all across the world from the thousands of people whose lives had been touched by George.

George was always a generous man and this showed itself in many ways. He would frequently send well-chosen scientific papers to his many acolytes to make sure that we were focusing on what he saw as the key issues. And whenever a group of people went out for a meal, there was an unstated and unnegotiable rule that George would pay! In 2009 the SSC Steering Committee decided to establish the George Rabb Award for Conservation Innovation. George immediately decided to fund the award at USD 5,000 per recipient. There have been four recipients to date: Bob Lacy; Resit Akcakaya; Penny Langhammer; and Mike Hoffmann.

Probably more people would describe George as their mentor than anyone else I can imagine. I am proud to be one of them. But strangely enough, I don’t think George ever set out to be an intentional mentor of anyone. He just became a mentor by his example, his ethics, his commitment, his constant challenging of us, and his kindness. George was not always easy on his mentees. He could be irascible and impatient at times, but it was all for the greater conservation course. Despite being a very private person, he became close to many of us. I certainly did not agree with him on everything, but on the fundamental conservation issues we were of one mind. It is hard to imagine life now without George. He is irreplaceable, but he also leaves a tremendous legacy.

Thank you George for being there for me every step of the way these past 32 years. I will miss you hugely but count myself as hugely blessed by having you as part of my life.


No one ever described Dr. George Rabb as charismatic. It is amazing that someone who was as shy as George could have had such an incredible impact, but his passion and vision inspired many to join in the battle to save the earth’s vanishing species and habitats. He was one of those rare people whose focus was never on himself, but on what needed to be done for conservation. Often operating behind-the-scenes, George encouraged, and frequently directed, others to tackle difficult conservation issues, always providing the knowledge and encouragement necessary to support their efforts. Those who knew George knew that behind what sometimes seemed to be a gruff exterior there was a kind, generous, and caring man with a heart of gold. Many have described him as a true gentleman and indeed he was.

George’s accomplishments are many and diverse. During his nearly 30 year tenure as Director of the Brookfield Zoo, he established the first zoo research department devoted to conservation, infused science into the practice of animal management, and integrated the concepts emerging from the developing discipline of conservation psychology into exhibit design. He was instrumental in the formation of the International Species Information System (now Species360), the Society for Conservation Biology, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums SSP program, and Chicago Wilderness, a regional alliance of conservation partners. He was always a strong advocate for international cooperation and linking ex situ with in situ conservation – as evidenced by his support for collaboration across continents to strengthen okapi breeding programs and his support for the Okapi Conservation Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

From 1989 to 1996 he chaired the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). He vigorously supported the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (now the Conservation Planning Specialist Group, CPSG), both in his advocacy for its ambitious mission and in his long-time personal support. He was an active board member of the Center for Humans and Nature, Chicago Wilderness, the Illinois State Museum, and the Defenders of Wildlife. Perhaps George’s biggest contribution was as founder and champion of the amphibian conservation movement. Recognizing the alarming rate of amphibian declines worldwide, as SSC chair he formed the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force. This led to the Global Amphibian Assessment in 2004, the formation of the SSC Amphibian Specialist Group (2005) and the Amphibian Ark (2006), the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan (2005), and in 2011 the founding of the Amphibian Survival Alliance. George remained involved every step of the way and many amphibian species persist today because of his efforts. We will miss him very much.

Thank you Simon. A truly eloquent and heartfelt tribute.

George chaired the SSC when I was in my first term as WCPA (then CNPPA) chair (1994-1996). He was a sort of shop steward for all six Commission chairs, and very good at it too – looked up to by all the other chairs. In Council meetings his contributions were always listened to. He was a truly decent  and gentle

person. While he was 100% committed to the cause that IUCN represents, and fearless and outspoken in Council when needed, he was also patient and polite as only the best of negotiators and  leaders can be.

I often thought how fortunate SSC members were to have him as their chair. He was a great advocate for species conservation and for parks – causes that lie at the core of IUCN’s mission . While he defended and supported the many, varied networks of experts that made up his own Commission, his respect for volunteer conservation experts extended to all the Commissions. Indeed he was a passionate defender of the idea that the six Commissions were – and must remain -  an essential feature of IUCN.

I  wish I had been to see him in Chicago after his time a SSC chair. And indeed I regret that I did not get to know him better, but Simon’s richly detailed tribute has helped me to understand the fullness of George’s career and life.

So thank you Simon from all of us: I would guess that very few people knew more than about a quarter of what you told us. As so often happens, it is only when someone dies that we learn all we should know about our departed colleague. We have now learnt a great deal about this good man and conservation leader. He will be much missed.

Adrian Phillips 

Started admiring George Rabb with the pages of 'Species'.
As a pioneer and innovator in SSC he will always remain alive with us.

My first meeting with George Rabb in June, 1960, was memorable and we became good friends, with an early shared passion for tropical salamanders. He was instrumental in my obtaining my first academic position at the University of Chicago in 1964. Even after I left for Berkeley in 1969, we remained friends and professional colleagues. When I became alarmed by amphibian declines in the 1980s I consulted George, and he attended the first workshop that I organized and ran sponsored by the US National Academy of Sciences in Irvine, CA, in February, 1990. An outcome of that workshop was vastly increased activity on amphibians. I worked closely with George in the founding of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force (DAPTF), which would have been impossible without his strong leadership and support. Simon has recounted subsequent events from his perspective and I only will add that George stayed in touch with me and the amphibian community virtually to the end of his life. He played a critical role in recognition of the impact of a chytrid fungus, newly discovered in the late 1990s, on amphibians, and that has proven to be a key component of their decline. There is so much more to be said about George, but for now let us remember him as a stalwart proponent of wildlife, a wonderful and supportive person, and a fast and loyal friend.

I was only lucky to meet with George once, when he hosted two of my visiting Chinese colleagues and I at Brookfield Zoo in 2001. He came in on a Sunday, just to visit with us and talk about giant panda conservation. He made us feel welcome and included in his endeavors. He was sweet to stay in touch with me for years afterward, cheering me on in any conservation project I was lucky enough to be involved in. His presence and impact made a positive influence in my life and I am sad we have lost him.

I became involved in IUCN in 1979 when Peter Scott asked me to found the Tortoise Specialist Group (now Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group), Species Survival Commission. For ten years I chaired this group and dealt with the trade, conservation and ecology of these forty or so species. I had great help from many individuals including Gren Lucas and Simon Stuart when he joined in 1985 but I was struck by George Rabb who I met regularly given my close association with Gerald Durrell and Jersey Zoo, along with Bill Conway and many others. 1989 was a seminal year both for me and George. I directed the First World Congress of Herpetology which took 5 years out of my life, founded DICE (The Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent), created the Herpetological Conservation Trust (now the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation Trust) and the journal 'Biodiversity and Conservation'. George played a significant role in helping me as did Simon and frankly without them I am not sure the Congress especially would have been the success it was but with some skillful management, helped by IUCN, and international cooperation we hosted 1600 people from nearly every country for a week - the largest meeting of herpetologists that had ever met. Delegates especially from eastern Europe arrived sometimes without funds and were helped by their fellow delegates, my American friends foremost. Many herpetologists had collaborated for decades but were never allowed to meet until then and fell on each other's shoulders in tears. Becoming Chair of SSC, George helped me directly, quickly and effectively in the same manner as he directed Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. He was a great conservationist and a great friend; a man of substance.

George was one of my most important mentors and definitely the model I have been looking at since our first meeting. I first met him in Rome, at my university, where I organized the meeting of the SSC to back to back the International Mammalogy Congress. I could not imagine, at the time, that that event would change my life as a conservationist. Soon after the meeting, George asked me to join the Steering Committee of SSC. I was overhelmed by what was, and has remained since, an incredible privilege. Before then, I knew George's name because, in 1967, he had written one of the first papers on wolf social behaviour, my main research interest. We often jocked about that lonely publication on wolves in George's long list of writings. Working with him was easy, terribly easy, and I became addicted to his style of leadership, clarity of minds, effectiveness of his interventions, immense passion and determination for conservation. I often thought he could lead a group or a meeting only with the way is was looking at people, most often smiling but also serious, always listening all voices. I have seen him many times in the last decades as our friendship continued through the changes in our roles and work; but I always found the same smile, those few words that reassured me in my challenges in conservation, IUCN, wolves and whatever else. A sweet, charming person that has deeply changed the conservation world with grace.

I remember George very fondly as a genuinely thoughtful, intelligent and caring man. I also remember him with enormous gratitude. He was an extremely important early mentor for me. At a time when zoos were embarking on a serious role in conservation, George was a deep, moral and ethical thinker, with a strong respect for science. He became a magnet for my emerging interest in conservation because he made it possible to do what seemed to be the right things, many of which were really visionary! He did not baulk at difficult issues, and was more driven by important problems. Over the years, I learned a great deal from him. Early on, he was extremely open and welcoming to me and I felt hugely honoured to be welcomed into the ‘family’ that he fostered in the SSC. He encouraged and supported the work that Simon Stuart and I did on the Red List criteria. His support was unflinching and his guidance was essential. I think his modesty and unassuming manner mean that he is less widely appreciated than he should be. To me he remains a shining beacon for conservation in the real world, and I am so sorry that I cannot attend the memorial in person to pay tribute to him.

I had the great pleasure to meet George and Mary Rabb in 1974, and through their work at Brookfield Zoo was introduced to IUCN, George allowed me access to the Red Data Books maintained at the Brookfield library, already a unique resource at that time. He promoted my interest in nature conservation, and the following year encouraged me to apply to work at IUCN's Environmental Law Centre. Needless to say, that changed my life.

Throughout my conservation career, George provided words of advice and encouragement. He recognised the importance of international cooperation and I was greatly honoured when he presented me with a medal from Brookfield Zoo commemorating the launch of the Ramsar Convention and my designation as its first Secretary General. At a ceremony held at the Riverside Country Club, George spoke eloquently about the importance of international environmental law. Not at all the shy personage that many people remember.

Others have recalled George's many contributions to world conservation. Let me simply note that George provided the vision and the hard work to transform the Brookfield Zoo into a leading conservation institution. And he devoted this same vision and hard work to advance the work of SSC. George was always a very friendly and approachable, despite his heavy schedule. It is a honor to be be able to add my name to those praising and thanking George for his mentorship. A truly remarkable man.

While sad for a gigantic conservationist being not among us anymore, I am thankful to Simon for giving such a fantastic and detailed account of George who I saw in Hawaii for a short while, giving remarks about Simon. I was there to receive my Kenton Millar Award 2016 and was keen to see some of the senior conservationists I had just heard about them. I knew and had met Simon already but not with George Rabb who I knew by his reputation and from people who were mentored by him. The planet do not see such people often but their legacy goes on and guide people like us, working anywhere in the world. I feel his absence right from now in Pakistan like many others would do it in different parts of the world. We shall miss him, always.

I too am saddened to learn of his death. He was Chair of SSC when I first joined. While quiet, he was a very committed conservationist, and also came across as a thoroughly decent and nice friendly man. Simon's obituary highlights the huge impact he had.

it is a very sad news, no doubt, as every life on the earth is precious, especially the human life and above all if a person who has accomplished a lot in his life and was become the beacon of light for others, when such a person leave us forever, there is no more sadness than this. I have never met him, but I am sure, he must have been a very humble person on this earth who worked with great dedication in caring the life, and the day he left, he might not have been sure, that he is departing by himself. I pray for him and strongly acknowledges his role which he played during his whole active life.

I met George only twice. I knew a lot about him and his work of course given my deep involvement in SSC but learned so much thanks to Simon's great tribute. I wished I could have had many more opportunities and realize how much I missed not having the pleasure and privilege to have in depth discussion with him. What stroke me was his humility, a trait he shared with very few other great men and women having such an impact... He is someone who should be remembered and featured as an example.

I am just a new member but I am reading and hearing about you Mr. Rabb. You are a great loss to the organization but your writings, your teachings, your readings will be a well remembered ones. Your greatness will be envied by many and will serve as their guides in their being a member of the IUCN.

I am saddened to hear of Goerge Rabb loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

One every occasion that I met George Rabb at IUCN or CITES he was courteous, interested, enthusiastic and friendly. George hosted me at the Brookfield Zoo during a lecture tour of the States and it was a memorable occasion indeed. It is indeed a tragedy that we lose dedicated individuals like him. What more can one say that he ill be missed but we applaud his life. My thoughts are with his family, the Zoo and its staff.
Well done Simon, an admirable tribute.

The global conservationist community loses a great warrior and mentor. But surely his legacy will remain in our lives and actions. Thank you so much George Rabb.

I met George Rabb in 1994 in Buenos Aires IUCN General Assembly invited by Ulie Seal to do a short presentation of the Pampas deer PHVA workshop in Uruguay. For me was a very good impression a great conservationist taken the time to talk and give support to conserve the endangered pampas deer. From this moment I begin to be involved with SSC, the Breeding Specialist Group and later the Deer Specialist Group. I always will remember the importance to take the time and listen and advice the younger conservationist.

George stood tall and firm to ensure things were well established to save special species in the World. The right policies, strategy and collaboration during his tenure.

We have missed a great man, God shall continue to bless his families, friends and well wishers as he rest in Peace.

George's contribution has been so inspiring and I was today out with my students for plant collection trip in the alpine of Kashmir Himalayas when I heard about his sad demise. We wish we had a conservationist of such a stature in the Himalayas that is beset with serious conservation challenges. I wish his sour rests in eternal peace.

Another giant has fallen. The world has lost one of its most decent and wonderful persons. He was very kind to this very young and inexperienced young faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and while I was with the Bishop Museum in Honolulu our friendship continued during the scientific meetings I was fortunate enough to attend where he also was present. George was truly a legend in his own time and the conservation community has suffered a great loss. Rest in peace, George, you did well and good while you were on this earth. Sy

I was very lucky to be able to work with George both through the time that he chaired the SSC and afterwards, when he promoting the Declining Amphibians Task Force. George was a very humble man, and he treated everyone around him with great courtesy and warmth. But when George spoke (with his characteristic passion), the very floors would shake, and you would know what Authority looked and sounded like. With this combination of "soft" and "hard" diplomacy, it is no wonder that he moved mountains. He will be sorely missed.

George Rabb was one of the pillar of the environmental conservation movement. I have no words to express how deeply sorry I am to hear of his passing. My heartfelt condolences to his survivors, his family and friends and the greater conservation community that he helped create and shape.
I met George Rabb, several times during my research and field work. He used to call me ‘grandchild’. He guided me to devote myself in environment conservation. Back in 2005, when I had just started my PhD at the Syracuse University, he insisted that I write my dissertation on the role of IUCN. He even gave me a tentative title “Role of IUCN on Biodiversity Conservation”. I slightly modified and proposed “Exploring the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN's) National Program Development in Biodiversity Conservation: A Comparative Study of India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh”
He like it. During the interview phase, I had lengthy conversations with him. When, I complete my PhD in 2012, I sent a digital copy to him. He like it and suggested me to convert in to the book format. Currently, I am working on it, but feel so sad, I will not be able to present him the book.
He was a genuine conservationist, a motivator and GURU of environment conservation. We all, who are in the nature conservation field will miss him.
Medani P. Bhandari

I am so saddened to hear of dear Goerge lossing,It was too bad news.
Surely the great men never die. His memory will remain forever in the hearts of all people loving nature.
In the words of the great and famous Persian poet and mystic (Saadi Shirazi): Anyone who is alive to love God and Nature, never dies
Fereidoon Owfi - Iran

In summer 1971, I interned with Dave Mech on his wolf research project in northern Minnesota. That autumn I started graduate school at the University of Chicago. To escape the big city, I often took the train to Brookfield, Illinois, and spent time at the Brookfield Zoo, spending hours watching the wolves. During the breeding season in 1972, I took notes, standing outside the exhibit in the winter weather. I noted when the breeding season started that a small hut had been erected in a place with a good view of the whole wolf exhibit. One morning when I arrived at the wolf exhibit, a man was seated in the hut taking notes. He glanced at me occasionally. Finally he beckoned me to enter the hut and get warm. That began my lasting relationship with George and Mary Rabb. George became a member of my graduate advisory committee. We maintained contact at decreasing frequency since. George was a good advisor and a good friend. So was Mary.

Toutes mes condoléances! Même si je ne connais pas George Rabb, le poste qu'il a occupé au sein de l'IUCN reflète sa qualité d'un Grand Homme dans le monde de la conservation de la biodiversité. Nous sommes très reconnaissants et fiers de vous sur les efforts, le temps que vous avez alloué pour sauvegarder la diversité biologique. C'est vous qui nous a quitté; mais vos travaux, votre ambition restent et resteront toujours un modèle pour nous encourager à continuer le combat. Vous restez et vous resterez toujours dans nos cœurs! Reposes en Paix Monsieur le Président!

My deepest condolences to Mr. Rabb family, I'm sure he will be missed by you and by the conservation community . Although i never met him, it is sad to hear the passing away as we all know even the good people will leaves us behind but with lots of inspirations.

Humberto Wohlers

We join in prayer with your loved ones. Apart from sadness feeling because of your physical absence, I want respectfully to celebrate your great professional career that today serves as a strong guidance for the new members of this task for conservation. Thank you so much for your great legacy!.
Eternal rest for you. Mission accomplished!

I miss George’s dry sense of humour and constant and unfailing support for all species, including plants and fungi. He was a strong supporter of the less charismatic species as well as for species for which it is easier to raise support and I was so fortunate to be working as plants officer when he was Chair of the SSC. I remember his lively discussions and sometimes despair with other conservation giants like Ulie Seal and can only hope that the two are continuing their conservation discussions somewhere up there! He was also a role model for creating a strong and motivated team of people and continuing to support them through good times and bad. He had a strong influence on how I view conservation as well as humanity in general, and I wish that more of our conservation leaders could learn from George. Deepest condolences to all the many people whose lives he touched.

George Rabb was a special man who dedicated his life to the science, conservation, education and environment protection. He was a great mentor and definitely the model to inspire the young generations! My deepest condolences to Mr. Rabb family. he will missed the world academics too!

In two days time (26 August) some of us will visit the recently established Seethawaka Wet Zone Botanical Garden of Sri Lanka. This will be an appropriate occasion to remember the work of George Rabb as recounted in the tribute by Simon Stuart. Thank you.

George and Mary were very special to me. When I was 14 years old I began a student project on fallow deer in the Brookfield Children’s zoo, and began working there when I was 15. So I basically grew up in the zoo, through high school and university. George became my principal mentor and taught me so much about conservation and I would speak for hours on end with Mary in the zoo´s library. They treated me like family, treated me so kindly and were proud of the work I was doing, which was the greatest honor possible and was the force behind my life dedicated to wildlife and conservation in the Amazon. We worked on the Okapi together, which was an amazing and very special time. I think about George and Mary all the time, and they will always be with me.

Like Simon, George also hired me to the position of Species Programme Officer back in 1991 (when Simon became the Head of the Species Programme). I think can relate to much of what Simon expresses in his reflections. To make it short, George Rabb was a man I respected and admired. I had the pleasure of learning from his wisdom, and will remember him for that.

Science is a way of thinking, which can be applied to solving problems at all different levels of resolution. This is what George Rabb, in his most humble form, demonstrated over and over again. His legacy can and should remain as an inspiration to how to solve problems within IUCN. My own interactions with George stem back to 1969, when George was the herpetological editor for Copeia. In the long drawn out process of publishing my first paper (in Copeia), I found myself dealing by mail with this unknown person who was clearly helpful and astute - the perfect respectful editor and encourager. His name always stuck in my mind, as I guess when you take your first walk in the jungle, you remember those who were holding your hand. My next real memory of George was linked to SSC Membership. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Crocodile Specialist Group was itself highly politicised, and had a series of different “classes” of membership, which ensured the business of the CSG could not be interfered with by those who were not in the magic circle club. Under George’s leadership, ALL people connected to the Specialist Groups formally became SSC Members. It was a stroke of genius. On the one hand it stopped various shenanigans with SG “membership”, including "trading" membership for "compliance" to ensure contributors had no power to change anything. But more important, as pointed out by Simon Stuart, with thousands of SSC members it elevated the status of the SSC within IUCN, and gave SSC a character of its own. Mind you, SSC membership is a bit more cosmetic than it perhaps could be - because members have limited power and do not vote. But George’s insights made the SSC a much more formidable and unique organisation, without dramatically the meagre resources needed to manage it. When the first resolution on Sustainable Use was agreed at the IUCN General Assembly in 1990 - the first draft of which I still have somewhere - it looked like SU would be pursued as a core IUCN Program under Steve Edwards. Harry Messel I believe encouraged George to start a Sustainable Use Specialist Group, so the IUCN ended up with two entities, trying to pursue SU. This all came to a head at the IUCN General Assembly in 1994, which George was still SSC Chair. A Task Force was established to find a way forward, in which a new program, under the Chairmanship of Marshall Murphree evolved, with support from George and later by his replacement David Brackett. In any overview, I have often discussed things with George at this or that meeting, because among other things, I also have an interest in amphibians. During the 1960’s I had collected frogs throughout the New England area of NSW, for the Australian Museum. These extensive records have subsequently become very important, because they indicate what definitively was where-when in the 1960’s, and there is simply no doubt that massive changes (including extinction) have occurred since the 1960's. This is “real extinction” - presence changing to absence, and not theoretical predictions of extinction risk, based on assumptions. George Rabb was well aware of the extinction crisis happening with amphibians. The tragedy remains that amphibians just do not rank with "Cecil the Lion" when it comes to public involvement in avoiding extinction. George’s efforts to champion amphibian conservation in the face of real extinctions speaks highly of just how focussed on the real world he was. It is indeed very sad that George has passed on. When I last saw him I thought longevity was was going to be easy for him - he just looked so well in Hawaii. But I guess life is not a dress rehearsal. George was on the international conservation stage, in front of a wide audience, for decades. As stated by Simon, people like George Rabb and Martin Holdgate simply did so much to establish the credibility of IUCN and SSC in the complex world of international conservation.

Even Simon’s fulsome tribute does not record that in his capacity as SSC Chair George sat on the original Sustainable Use Specialist Group of SSC Executive after the group was reconstituted as part of the Sustainable Use Initiative in 1995/96, after the 1994 Buenos Aires General Assembly did not adopt the SU guidelines proposed to it. Marshall Murphree was the Chair, while Dave Brackett and John Robinson were also part of the governing Four who sat above the salt while we regional chairs were definitely below it. As Grahame Webb mentions, Steve Edwards was the leading staff member in what was a high-powered but politically sensitive relaunch.

This is where I got to know George, who was, as Simon depicts, a redoubtable character, calm, wise and humane. As a result I can recall a remarkable day at Brookfield Zoo, in the late nineties.

My wife and I were staying with old friends in a suburb of Chicago, not far from Brookfield. We wanted to visit the Zoo and I asked if during our visit we could drop in and say hello to George. The answer was positive and so four of us arrived at Brookfield around 10am. Much to our surprise we were immediately taken to George’s office and served with coffee and scrumptious cakes. After a reasonable interval we made to rise to start our walk around the Zoo, but George made it clear that he would be escorting us and as we exited there were two buggies drawn up for the party, George being the driver of buggy number one.

Well, we had a marvellous tour of a splendid establishment and much enlightening talk on the way. It was the day after a child had fallen into the gorilla enclosure, provoking much media interest, but that did not deflect George from looking after his guests. Apart from the fascinating fauna the most memorable feature was George’s hands on management. No piece of litter in our path was too small for him to pick up after halting the buggy. "Do what I do" rather than "do what I say" was clearly his mantra.

At the end of the morning we were ushered in to a lunch with more than a dozen of the top Zoo staff around the table. There we learned what an active role George played in the wider community, encouraging local biodiversity initiatives and playing the role of Father Christmas in one of the Chicago museum’s annual Christmas bash for children. I do recall being told how surprised George always was to be recognised when carrying out this avuncular duty, such was his modesty and indeed his naivety about his distinctive profile. And then an afternoon tour…..!

As Simon mentions George was also involved in ethics discussions and I saw him again at a workshop near Chicago when I was the SU rep in a Law Commission initiative on a code of ethics for conservation. Georgina is right to pay tribute to his deep ethical concerns about nature and the place of homo sapiens in it.

A great man indeed and one of the best of IUCN.A great privilege to have known him.

Thank you Simon for this in memoriam of George Rabb. We are all his children.

Thank you Simon for this moving tribute to George Rabb. The world has lost a true leader for conservation, and a leader who was compassionate, friendly and always curious and open to new ideas about conservation. I remember times spent with George with pleasure and I greatly benefitted, and learnt from, his pragmatic approach to conservation and his wise advice, always delivered with a great wit and charm. RIP George and sincere condolences to all family and friends.

I met George while volunteering at Brookfield Zoo during my junior year at college. My first job in conservation was as an intern to SSC and it changed everything for me. It's hard to explain how profoundly George guided my life through his words, his actions, his ethics, and his commitment to conservation. The people I most admire I met because of George and our work for IUCN and Brookfield Zoo.

I left the zoo in 2004, but every few months we would find a reason to email and often met for dinner. I'm so thankful that I got to see him a few days before he died. I'm sure he knew how much he meant to me, but I'm not sure he fully understood how much I admired him and how he'd made the world a more beautiful place to be.

The last thing I said to George is that we were probably the only group in the hospital standing around a bed talking about invasives eradication. It made him smile.

George, thank you for being a part of my family and for bringing so many wonderful ideas into my head and heart, and so many wonderful people into my life. I miss knowing you are there urging us all to do better, with a rousing "God dammit" to spur us on.

The tributes that precede my own are insightful, heartwarming, full of the deep technical basis, emotion and integrity that for me get to the essence of the George Rabb I knew. My history with George was not as long as others who have written before me but three decades is still a long time in our lives and careers - most certainly my own.

To say that my acquaintance with George fundamentally influenced my career and focus would be a gross understatement. More and stronger memories of this coming to light as I face the imminent end of my tenure as the Chair of the SSC's African Elephant Specialist Group. It’s been 25 years – an elephant generation time - but as importantly almost half of my life.

Yep, it was George who roped me in on this one! Once upon a time when I was young, passionate, foolhardy and full of energy (I can’t claim I was naïve or innocent) to contribute somewhere, somehow in some meaningful way. We negotiated over the nature and details of my engagement for some time but in the end George convinced me to give it my all and take on the position on top of my day job. George and I went through many episodes and interludes and he was resolute at each and every turn in the road. Many times I went to him to offer to step aside and let the storm pass or let new management take over the helm. He was never, ever in any way swayed – “I’m 1000% behind you, just hunker down, get on with it and given ‘em hell and if they have a problem with that – tell them to call me”. All I can say is, George, I have given it my all! I hope I have done you proud and earned the faith you put in me as a young conservationist taking on a big task (which I only began to understand after getting into the eye of the storm) - because I have known you well enough to know that hell hath no wrath like letting you down!

But George didn’t not to stop there – no chance! His next feat was to corral me into serving not only on his SSC Steering Committee but on the Executive Committee at that. This was the beginning of my understanding of how much more the SSC was than the sum of the parts provided by its Specialist Groups and their Members. It was also a wonderful opportunity to involve myself in an endeavor that has carried me my entire career and is still central to my work - the world of natural resource use (consumptive and non-consumptive, legal and illegal, subsistence and commercial, sustainable and unsustainable). Working closely with George, Marshall, David and John R, I really cut my teeth and my ongoing work in the realm of broader planetary sustainability has much to be grateful for from those early days of sustainable use and the SSC.

Years later, George sought me out and “encouraged me” to apply for the Directorship of Brookfield Zoo. Before I knew what was happening a recruiting team was mapping every aspect of my background, interests, skills and psychometrics. Despite my protestation that it was likely “not a fit”, he absolutely insisted that I go through every step of the process. including the interviews. It gave me a chance to not only understand the soft underbelly of George’s relationship with the institution and people that he dedicated his life to but also to affirm that it was alright to devote one’s entire life to the things one believes in regardless of whether this devotion is rational by any conventional norms and standards.

And then came George’s coup de grâce in our relationship - not only did he actively encourage me to go for a first term as SSC Chair but also for a second – even when it became an uncomfortable race for him at a very personal level. I sought George’s counsel then, knowing full well that he would not likely support me and could cast his fist full of proxies against my candidacy but his assessment of what I should do and his encouragement that I should “go for it” was as valuable as ever.

And though I rarely, if ever, comment publicly on the tangible impacts of gender discrimination in our field, I want to point out that George NEVER showed even the slightest hint of cutting me any slack or giving me any special benefits associated with my gender. I imagine Mary played an enormous role in his views on this but George put into practice something many women, young and old, are still waiting for – totally gender-neutral leadership in our conservation community. George had faith in me and was committed to give someone like me, with passion, drive and stamina, a fair and equal chance to take on any and all responsibilities worth having in our complex world of conservation and all the challenges this entails and continues to pose.

Without George, I am not sure what next challenge I will sign up to but I know it has to be a stretch and I am sure if there is something lurking out there that is a real b________ and needs to be taken by the horns – George would be encouraging me, likely commanding me, to grab it and invest with heart, passion and professionalism – 1000%.

I met George in early 80s during The International Symposium of zoo managers when I joined the zoo community . I also remember him well with enormous gratitude and friendship . He was a wise man extremely important mentor for me to embrasse working in zoo and conservation field.
. At a time when zoos were dealing only with exhibition no role in conservation, George was a wise leader , morally and ethicaly, with a strong respect for science but pushing toward conservation. He became a respectable mentor for my emerging interest in conservation because he made it possible by showing the right things to do, many of which were really appreciable. Over the years, I learned a great deal from him. He was extremely open and was the kind man to open the door for joining SSC Family by welcoming to me.
Let me simply note that George provided the vision and the hard work to transform the Zoo lobby into a strong conservation institution starting by Brookfield Zoo. As SSC Chair he devoted this same vision and knowledge to bring togother the two institutions for the same goal. George was always a very friendly and sympathic personne, despite his busy schedule. It is an honor for me to meet him during the last WCC in Hawaii and shake hands with him and to add my name to those praising and thanking George for his unforgotable mentorship. Really a smart man who may not have a similar.

George’s professional influence on advancing conservation best practice is only matched by his kindness and generosity shown to all who had the good fortune to know him. Thank you George. You’ll always be part of our best achievements, and hearts.
Paul Pearce-Kelly, ZSL

When the news came, many an okapi must have felt like they could use an extra compassionate scratch behind the ears as they had just lost one of their most staunch supporters. On behalf of the world ex situ okapi community we would like to pay tribute to George’s vital and unfaltering support for this species, both in zoos and in its native forest in the DRC, and commemorate the decades of serious collegiality and warm friendship and support.

In August 1977 at the first international okapi symposium in Europe, the zoos of Antwerp, Rotterdam, Basel, Bristol, Duisburg, Chicago- Brookfield (with George at the helm), San Diego and Oklahoma famously agreed to form an okapi breeding consortium, whereby the okapis would be donated to a common breeding pool so that they could be non-commercially exchanged between zoos for the benefit of the health of the population, guided by scientific analysis of the formally created international studbook . It is due to the foresight and passion for conservation of leading zoo directors such as George that such a “political” species as the okapi joined the illustrious ranks of the first group of species with science based cooperative breeding programs. George continued to “grab the okapi by the ossicones” on his side of the Atlantic, and in April 1981 organized a colloquium at Brookfield Zoo at which the Species Survival Program (SSP) for the okapi, one of the first SSPs, was formed with George as the SSP coordinator. The creation of the okapi European Endangered species Program followed in 1985. George fought equally hard for the zoos to be engaged with the in situ conservation of okapi. His ambition was, among others, to assure long term okapi field studies, establish a conservation area in the Ituri forest and rehabilitate the Epulu station as a management, research and conservation education and training center. These dreams and ambitions were shared by New York paper magnate and philanthropist Howard Gilman and John Lukas who was working for Howard at what became the White Oak Conservation Centre. In 1987 the Gilman Investment Company, entered into a formal partnership with the Congolese authorities for the Conservation of Nature and thus the foundation was laid for the Okapi Conservation Project. The project celebrated its 30th birthday this year, was for a long time the only in situ project for okapi and counts among its many major achievements the creation of the ~14,000 km² Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Ituri Forest. Every year zoos with okapi world-wide provide a significant proportion of the running costs of the project and the reserve. This story provides a beautiful example of George seeing conservation needs and opportunities and working away in the background to recognize, develop or nurture the interest and motivation of likeminded people and organizations so that they can come together to achieve major conservation advances.

One could list many more facts and factual achievements, but facts alone don’t do full justice to George’s legacy. The importance of George’s intellectual and active input in conservation and conservation breeding programs cannot be overestimated. He was able to communicate his vision on the future of nature and the environment in a personal, humble but convincing way. In times of experimental organization of breeding programs and international cooperation between zoological gardens, societies, scientists and conservationists, George showed the way and facilitated the sometimes problematic relations between zoos and continents. We could count on George for the scientific support of the okapi SSP, the global ex situ okapi program and the Okapi Conservation Project in the DRC, but also for his diplomacy and efficiency in obtaining results in difficult situations. As young idealistic “would-be” breeding program coordinators and conservationists in the hard world of “zoo-business”, George was to us as a kind but strict father - requiring strict “commitment to conservation” and hard work to reach the goals, but always with a kind heart and much support and encouragement. One could say he helped us all “grow up”.

We are truly grateful to have known him…

Bruno Van Puijenbroeck, Kristin Leus and Sander Hofman
On behalf in the International Studbook for the Okapi, the Okapi EEP and the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp

Thank you George. You were always full of kindness and wisdom. Although your tenure as Chair of SSC was over by the time I started as Director of the Global Species Programme you were always unfailingly helpful and full of astute advice. You were unswervingly true to the conservation cause and truly a gentle gentleman.

Despite being involved with IUCN and SSC for more than two decades, my encounters with George were brief and mostly very recent. Our paths just did not cross much -- the last time being the 2016 World Conservation Congress, where he asked me to help with an urgent motion for the Members to consider. During my career, he was like a mythical creature whose name was at the top of species conservation, zoos, amphibians and SSC. Reading the comments above makes me realize that he was surely that, but also much more. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.

I worked closely with George Rabb on the formation of the 'Amphibian Ark', a global conservation initiative that I co-chaired with Bob Lacy. This became a productive collaboration between the IUCN-SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, the IUCN-SSC Conservation Planning Group (formerly CBSG) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. As ever, he was a great mentor, encouraging and supportive.There were field surveys, conservation breeding programmes and a very successful public communications exercise, including the campaign '2008 The Year of the Frog'. There was also successful international fundraising - with George being conspicuously generous to help get the ball rolling. In this and many other areas of conservation we owe George a great deal.

I was a lowly employee at the zoo. Just one of many. Dr. Rabb and I had very little interaction on a daily basis. So imagine my surprise when he showed up to the wake of my husband. GBR was not feeling that well at that time but he took the time to be there for me. He cared. About all the creatures at the zoo INCLUDING the human species. We were family to him, and he was family to us. He is a great loss to the world, to CZS. I would visit him from time to time at his new office after his retirement from the zoo and was always greeted with his warm smile and a hug. He knew each and every employee who worked under him, knew their name, he cared. I will miss working for him, miss knowing him. I know he is now reunited with his beloved Mary. He was so devastated on her passing. At her memorial, he told me what a huge part she held in his heart in his life. God bless you always GBR. You hold a special part in my heart.

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