Or at least how they helped one man to control his stutter.
Alan Rabinowitz is a zoologist and the CEO of of the wild cat conservation group Panthera. He's also had a rough time with stuttering all of his life.
In this interview with NPR institution Diane Rehm, he discusses how as a boy he would go to the Bronx Zoo and was drawn to the jaguar. Unlike the other big cats, "the jaguar always stayed quiet and always was towards the back," not unlike the kid who was mercilessly teased for his stutter. And then he found when he talked to the jaguar, he could finish a sentence without stuttering:
I was able to speak a full sentence the first time I ever went up to the jaguar. I have no recollection of speaking a full sentence to another human being until I was in college.
Now a world-expert on jaguars, Rabinowitz has a new book about the big cats, An Indominatble Beast. In the interview, he discusses all kinds of interesting jaguar factoids, like how you can chase one off with a poodle. He also explains how a life of working with big cats, particularly jaguars, has helped him to manage his stutter:
I never set out to really do that as a child. I was — it was about me as a child. There was hoping that someday I would overcome my debilitating speech and be able to speak. But I did promise the jaguar, and the other cats at the Bronx Zoo, I promised them, every time I left them, I'd say, if I find my voice one day, I will try to be your voice.
(Proviso: For those who haven't heard Diane Rehm before, she also has a voice-related condition that will be readily heard, spasmodic dysphonia. It makes her voice sound a little shakey, like she's talking while on a roller coaster. But don't let that get in the way, because she's an excellent interviewer.)