Jacob Marlin is a person driven by his passion for a calling. At an early, this calling drew him outside into the parks, waterways, and wild areas of his hometown, Washington, DC. He would spend days, nights, and weekends riding his bike, lifting rocks, searching for snakes and other wildlife in places most people avoid. Excited by what he found he would, with great care for the animal, collect these living treasures without limitation or concern for this unorthodox obsession. He looked at the world creatively and logistically; his socks became snake bags, his closet a multitude of terrariums and cages designed to hold his ever-growing collection.
Jacob’s passion for snakes and other herps paved his way to a future in the zoo field. He landed several zoo jobs managing reptiles and amphibians and was becoming well-respected for his work. Yet, just as he was at the crux of what could have been a long and successful career managing herpetological collections, his calling pulled him away. Simultaneous to this work and the building of a massive and impressive venomous snake collection, he was searching for a pristine and sacred piece of Earth to preserve, to protect, to call home. His quest led him to Belize after resigning from his job, selling and lending all of his snakes and other possessions, and deciding to say goodbye to the possibility of a conventional way of life.
Nearly 25 years and many setbacks and adventures later, BFREE exists and is thriving. Not just as Jacob’s private residence in the rainforest of southern Belize although, it is that. BFREE is a field station, empowering and employing local people while also training them to be conservationists and scientists; teaching and inspiring students from Belize and abroad while also encouraging them to become stewards of their environment; engaging buffer communities in environmental education programs and encouraging them to think more broadly about their impact on their home lands; informing and including local decision-makers in conversations about the management of Belize’s natural resources; and hosting and supporting researchers while they embark on studies that could have a long-term positive impact on the flora and fauna of Belize. BFREE is also an international organization with a growing US presence and the potential to reach farther and impact more world views.
With the power of a life driven by a mission and a calling, Jacob invites us (all those who know him and BFREE as well as those who have never met either) to join him on his journey. He has not chosen to take the path alone and instead opts to include, encourage, inspire, inform and challenge each of us to participate in the pursuit and to carve out our own paths that will sustain the Earth’s sacred and wild places.
As he gets older and we get older, our human needs and desires chip away at the structure of the few remaining sanctuaries left on this planet. Because of this, we need voices like Jacob’s and places like BFREE to remind us that we too can protect and preserve and inspire.
Happy Birthday, Jacob! We can’t wait to see what the next 50 years bring.