Christian the Lion. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Happy Birthday Christian!

I love celebrating this day and thinking about Christian and his life. I am looking forward to hearing from some of you today as I know many of you feel the same!

I love this photograph of Christian and I think it was one of the first taken by our friend Derek Cattani possibly in January 1970.  Christian was about 5 months old.

In London recently I enjoyed reminiscing with friends like Derek who were very close to Christian. We all agreed he was the most wonderful animal with the friendliest and most engaging nature, and he deserved his story to turn out so well. He faced a very uncertain future when he was for sale in Harrods department store in London (in late 1969), but he miraculously returned to Kenya in 1970, to George Adamson of Born Free fame.

George Adamson described Christian as surprisingly easy to rehabilitate into his natural life – after 5 generations in Europe.  Christian survived his first very vulnerable years and grew into a huge lion.  He was last seen in 1973 going off in the direction of Meru National Park where there was more game and possible respite from the wild lions that had made life difficult for him since he had arrived at George’s camp at Kora in Kenya.

One of the many lessons we learned from our experience with Christian was that while some see us as “saving” Christian – and we did have the best (if naive) intentions, we were unwittingly participating in and encouraging the trade in exotic animals. Harrods Zoo and the rather ghastly pet accessories shop that replaced it no longer exist I was pleased to see on my recent visit.

Our visit and reunion with Christian in Kenya one year later in 1971 unexpectedly became an internet phenomenon in 2008, and a new global audience of over 100 million people became aware of Christian’s story.  (See here for TadManly2’s original reunion clip on YouTube which he re-posted.  He was the person who added Whitney Houston singing I Will Always Love You which helped the clip become so popular).

Many of you would have celebrated World Lion Day just 2 days ago. In this time of global political and social disruption, it is hard for animals to be heard and we must double our efforts on their behalf. Congratulations to Four Paws animal welfare charity for facilitating the recent removal to Turkey of 3 lions, 2 tigers 2 hyenas and 2 Asian black bears from a zoo in Aleppo, Syria. Local zookeepers have bravely tried their best to keep as many animals as possible alive during a terrible 3 years of war that has forced so many of the population to flee.

Christian in his favourite spot in Sophistocat. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

In London I saw Jennifer Mary Taylor who was a co-owner of Sophistocat where Christian lived and where we worked. Over the years many people visited her antique furniture shop to talk about Christian, even when she relocated. She has helped keep the flame alive.

It was also very good to see Christian’s friend Unity again after so many years.  She is an actress (in Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits for example) and had had a lioness in her apartment in Rome. She materialised very soon after we brought Christian home. They adored each other and she visited him nearly every day. She is quite small, and he could be boisterous and had sharp teeth and claws, so she often wore a coat for protection when she played with him. Sometimes I would hear her say…”You are too rough with me today I’m going to leave”. Christian would respond with contrite grunting noises.

I asked her why she had had such a good relationship with him. “I talked to him. We talked to each other”.

Christian and Unity in Dorking. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Not many lions would allow themselves to play ‘wheelbarrows” but Christian had a great sense of fun and companionship.

In the subsequent years Unity has managed to find other exotic animals to meet and get to know, but Christian remains a favourite.

After the pleasure of knowing Christian, I sound a hypocrite advocating for people to not have contact with exotic animals, or keep them as pets.  However, people can get just as much pleasure and love from their dogs and cats –and looking after a lion, and the safety of all involved, was an awesome and scary responsibility.

MAIL: I’m so pleased that people continue to send stories into Christian’s website www.christianthelion.com.au. Joe recently wrote that when he was young he visited a house in the English countryside with “a lion in their tennis court”. “As years went by I thought that I had made it up because it seemed so unlikely”. Then a few years ago he saw Christian’s documentary and realised that it was true. His father was a chimney sweep, and can you believe, he is now the chimney sweep for Virginia McKenna at the same house where he saw Christian all those years ago!  As most of you know, Virginia McKenna  and Bill Travers played Joy and George Adamson in Born Free, and they were our introduction to George Adamson.

CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine’s memoir A Life for Animals was recently launched by Peter Singer in Melbourne. This was appropriate because Christine started Animal Liberation in Australia after reading Singer’s book in 1976, and then Animals Australia with Peter Singer in 1980. He wrote the Foreword to her book. Christine subsequently spent many years at Help in Suffering an animal shelter in Jaipur and is revered in India for her work for the welfare (and rights) of animals. She writes very insightfully (and modestly) about her 100% dedication and commitment to animals, her feelings about them, and her time in India.

A Life for Animals can be ordered here .

With help and support Christine and Jeremy Townend founded animal shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong (KAS) in India. She runs them from Australia with the help of excellent and dedicated staff. See the Working For Animals website for more background information and the invaluable work of the shelters.  I am on the Committee and hope to be attending the AGM with Christine up in those beautiful mountains next October.

Michael Kirby, esteemed ex High Court Judge, launches Christine’s book A Life for Animals on the 25th August at Gleebooks, Glebe, Sydney. See details here.

DONALEA PATMAN: Congratulations to Donalea who has been awarded an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia). She was instrumental in prohibiting the importation of lion trophies and animal parts into Australia – which was followed by a number of other countries. She is currently working on a campaign No Domestic Trade against the selling of the surprising amount of ivory and animal body parts in Australia. You can support and find more information about this campaign here.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

TIGERS: Tigers had their International Tiger Day on the 29th July, and these beautiful animals, like most wildlife, need our support more than ever.  I can still feel the excitement at seeing this tiger in the wild last year in India.
Tigers in India: There have been at least 67 unexplained deaths of tigers so far this year. While there are several reasons for their deaths, primarily it is the illegal trade in tiger body parts to China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Cambodia. Tiger populations had been increasing, but there are still only approximately 2,226 in India, representing 60% of the world’s population of 3890.

Tony the Tiger. Photograph sourced from change.org.

Tony the Tiger: See here for the latest news on Tony who is now 17 and not in good health. Tony has many supporters and the ADLF in the USA do their best in court case after court case to have Tony removed from the Truckstop in Louisiana to a better environment. The owner seems to just keep stalling with appeal after appeal, and somehow got “specifically exempted” from the 2005 Louisiana State law banning the private ownership of big cats. For Tony to be relocated to a reputable sanctuary please sign this petition here.

Kato in Symbio Wildlife Park. Photograph by Ace Bourke.

Kato the Tiger:  Like many of you, I have found the lack of progress for Tony the Tiger very depressing. I was reluctant to go to my local zoo to meet the tiger that I heard was there. I finally met Kato last week. He looked beautiful of course, but was listless. He is 15 years old and like Tony is half Bengal and Sumatran. He could live to 20. He had quite a large green space…but nothing to do. I pointed this out to a staff member who replied that as tigers are “solitary” this was OK. In the afternoons Kato goes back to no doubt a much smaller space behind the scenes, and is rotated with a brother and sister. She has been placed on contraception and these Sumatran young adults apparently get on well, although I would think in the wild they would have separated by now.

ZOOS: No matter how much more space animals and birds are given in zoos, or how attractively designed and landscaped, to me most wildlife in zoos seem resigned, depressed or anxious to escape. Zoos in the last few decades have had to deal with changing community attitudes to animal rights and welfare, and have had to emphasise and develop their serious and successful research, educational and conservation efforts. Kato’s zoo looked well maintained with many young staff. After going straight to Kato the tiger I, with others, gawked in wonderment at birds, cheetahs, kangaroos, snakes etc, and even farmyard animals seem exotic these days. I have to admit that people, especially children, were just fascinated. They are inheriting a world at a tipping point for wildlife and of species extinction. Will they be better educated and anymore effective than we have been on behalf of animals?

Despite the enjoyment animals provide, I don’t think they can be used for our entertainment at their expense.  Our relationships should be mutually enjoyable and beneficial.  We have our companion animals, we can watch many excellent wildlife documentaries, and these days many people can travel at least once to see the wildlife they are interested in.

I recently received a thoughtful email about issues to consider when donating to animal causes. Of course some support the work of zoos and some do not. Most animal shelters do a good and necessary job of looking after and rehousing animals in an urban setting. Some people only want to donate to a specific animal or project while others do not like donating to “administration” or boy’s toys.

I think conservancies are a very good idea where buying up and often fencing tracts of lands protects the wildlife.  Re-establishing traditional path ways and safe corridors, for elephants in India for example, is also proving very effective.

Peter Singer, a generous donor to animal causes, has a website listing the 2017 best charities working against global poverty.  He identifies outstanding charities “that will make sense to both your head and your heart”.

Love Story 1972 by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932 – 2002). Courtesy National Gallery of Australia.

ABORIGINES: Aboriginal artefacts and pigments excavated at a rock shelter in the Northern Territory are 65,000 years old. This has recently been verified by radiocarbon dating and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). Australian Aborigines are the world’s longest continuous living people and culture. Isn’t this amazing? They have survived invasion, colonisation, and mass dispossession.  They continue to endure marginalisation and discrimination when they should be respected and celebrated. Aboriginal art, for example, was described by Robert Hughes, the late art critic for Time magazine as “the last great art movement of the twentieth century”.

I recently attended the Venice Biennale and then visited other European cities. I saw such interesting and sometimes great contemporary art that I thought I should blog about the highlights.

Established in 1895, the Venice Biennale is the oldest and most prestigious in the world. The 57th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia runs until November 26th 2017.

Australian Pavilion, showing the work Vigil from Tracey Moffatt’s MY HORIZON. Photograph by John Gollings

Australia’s representative this year is Tracey Moffatt and having known her since 1984 and watched her career with fascination, like many others, I wanted to attend the opening.

A magical day began with the hauntingly beautiful voice of Deborah Cheetham singing in an Aboriginal language.  Tracey  Moffatt’s  MY HORIZON  consists of 2 evocative photographic bodies of work Passage and Body Remembers, and two new video works, Vigil and The White Ghosts Sailed In.

 

Passage by Tracey Moffatt from MY HORIZON. Photograph by John Gollings.

According to art critic Holland Cotter for the New York Times the Biennale is “tame” and “does not reflect a drastically changed world, and it fails to cohere”. Tracey Moffatt however, was singled out as one of the few artists to leave a “lasting impression” with her work touching on the tragedy of mass social displacement, past and present.

In the latest Artlink magazine Djon Mundine writes about MY HORIZON and Tracey Moffatt here.

The Biennale offers a very diverse selection of artists – I was lucky to catch a talk by Mark Bradford, the lively US artist, but many others, from all over the world and working in many mediums, were not well known to me. Older women like Romania’s Greta Bratescu and the UK’s Phyllida Barlow were given overdue recognition. (Elizabeth Cummings in Australia aged 80+ is also finally getting the recognition she deserves and her exhibition Elizabeth Cummings: Interior Landscapes at the SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney runs until 23 July).

The formal Biennale is in a park called the Giardini.  30 countries have pavilions there, and another 29 are available to other countries.  The artists of some participating countries are also exhibited in other parts of Venice.

But the International Art Exhibition also includes a curated exhibition, in 2017 entitled Viva Arte Viva, and is a selection of many artists from all over the world.  This is situated in the Central Pavilion (in the Giardini), and a short walk away, at the Arsenale, the old shipyard and armory buildings.

The Arsenale provides an intriguing long walk through huge and wonderful buildings with many interesting artists of all ages and working in many mediums, and some collaborations and community projects.  Indigenous artists and African countries are quite well represented.

from Emissaries by Lisa Reihana

The centrepiece of New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana’s Emissaries is a huge screen panorama of the arrival of Captain Cook in the Pacific.  Lisa’s In Pursuit of Venus was described as the best artwork in Venice by the Sunday Times critic and a “witty mix of live action and cunning special effects” that unfolds “in a riveting animated sequence”.

In the latest Artlink magazine Nicholas Thomas writes here about Lisa Reihana and how her work is an animated digital recreation of a giant French wallpaper, Les Sauvages de la Pacifique.  This wallpaper was printed in 1804-6 and was a romanticised imagining of Oceania.

Some critics have been unkind about Damien Hirst’s 50 million pound effort Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable with extraordinary supposed “salvaged” treasures from the monumental to the exquisitely tiny and precious. These are exhibited throughout Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, two superb Venetian buildings owned by François Pinault.  Hirst’s colossal and menacing bronze Demon – 18 metres high and up to the third floor in the forecourt of the Palazzo Grassi, is unforgettable.

Demon by Damien Hirst. Image sourced from Culto.latercera.com.

Other excellent exhibitions are scattered through the city and some people have come to Venice especially to see Philip Guston and The Poet’s exhibition which is at Gallerie dell’ Accademia di Venezia until 3 September 2017.

Lorenzo Quinn - Biennale site - big hands

Lorenzo Quinn, Venice Biennale. Image sourced from The Telegraph.

20 million tourists visit Venice each year and Venetians don’t think they can absorb any more. Opposition to giant cruise liners is growing as they disgorge thousands of daytrippers that do not necessarily contribute to the economy, and the ships damage the lagoon.

Lake Como May 2017, Ace Bourke

I finally visited Lake Como and it was as lovely as I imagined. It was wonderful being in Europe again and spending time in beautiful cities, and leisurely visiting art galleries and museums with friends. I loved reading the newspapers which were full of the French and British elections and then unfortunately the terror attacks. Despite the tensions and political upheavals, people overall seemed to be primarily enjoying summer. With heightened security concerns, long queues at airports were understandable but seemingly interminable.

 

African mask by Romuald Hazoumè

PARIS: This African mask by Romuald Hazoumè was made from discarded biros he found each day.  He is one of many artists in a most exciting exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton: ART/AFRICA The new workshop. It consists of three components: a private collection begun in 1989 by Jean Pigozzi; a curated exhibition of South African artists; and African works from the Louis Vuitton collection.  It is a fascinating exhibition: an imaginative and innovative use of materials; many mediums; a chance to see/share their world view; and a melding of traditional influences and new interpretations and directions.

Writing  recently about this exhibition, The Economist claimed that contemporary African art was “the next big thing” – replacing the interest in Chinese art, and it certainly has a unique imaginative creativity and vitality.

Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton by Ace Bourke

Architect Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Fondation is undoubtedly very beautiful and a signature building.  It took 10 years to build and was apparently technologically challenging. Some buildings can be about the ego of the architect or the client, and can overwhelm the central purpose, and I think in this case some exhibition space for art was sacrificed.  Arken, south of Copenhagen was renovated in 2008, and is both an interesting and utilitarian museum of art.  In London people complained that the extension to the Tate Modern did not achieve a great deal.

The Fondazione Prada in Milan is also a strong architectural statement but I found it dark, austere and unwelcoming.  Milan was yet another historic and attractive Italian city, but with some new and exciting architecture.

Milan by Ace Bourke

I finally made it to Musée du quai Branly in Paris to see the museum where in 2013 Australian Aboriginal art had been incorporated architecturally into spaces in the building, including the cloud series by Michael Riley.  Also at this museum I saw an eclectic exhibition Picasso Primitif  (until 3 July) with paintings by him and objects that he had owned or had influenced him.  There was also a very precious exhibition La Pierre sacrée des Māori of jade objects sacred and sometimes magical to New Zealand Maoris (until 1st October).

The museum’s collection of traditional and indigenous cultural objects from all over the world is superb. Unfortunately, Australian Aboriginal art is exhibited rather badly, especially a group of bark paintings.  For decades now in Australia Aboriginal art has not been exhibited ethnographically, but as contemporary art in art galleries and museums.

In Paris I also visited art dealer Hervé Perdriolle who I initially met through a shared admiration for the work of the late Indian artist Jangargh Singh Shyam. He gave me a copy of his handsome and comprehensive book Indian Contemporary Art which concentrates on tribal artists.

The Pompidou Centre, Paris by Ace Bourke

The Pompidou Centre is 40 years old, and although a little tired looking is still a very striking building that invigorated the whole area. Until 14 August there is a very impressive exhibition covering the long career of photographer Walker Evans (USA 1905 – 1967).  Well known for his portraits of ordinary people, he was a very versatile and wide ranging photographer. There was also an exhibition of the black and white photographs of Czech Joseph Koudelka who Michael Riley often said had particularly influenced him.

Hokusai’s The Great Wave

LONDON: HOKUSAI: Beyond the Great Wave at the British Museum (until 13 August) is a very comprehensive exhibition of the work of the Japanese artist Hokusai. Life presented him with many challenges over his long but always productive career.  The commission in 1830 and success of the Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji woodblock prints was a very welcome respite from financial hardship and family pressures for Hokusai.

The NGV in Melbourne is also showing Hokusai  (21 July – 15 October) which also includes The Great Wave, probably the most famous Japanese work of art. This exhibition also spans his entire life with 150 works including woodblock prints, rare paintings on silk, and hand painted manga.

In 1996 I saw a definitive Alberto Giacometti  1901 – 1966 exhibition in London at the Royal Academy of Arts. GIACOMETTI at the Tate Modern until 10 September 2017 is a smaller but intelligently curated and selected exhibition of sculptures and drawings. You can read The Sunday Times review of the exhibition here.

Battle of Britain by Grayson Perry

I was fortunate to just catch DAVID HOCKNEY: 60 YEARS at the Tate Britain, but I missed Grayson Perry’s The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! which is now on at the Serpentine until 10 September. Read his amusing and informative article about popularity in the art world in The Guardian here.

Henning Larsen’s Opera House, Copenhagen

COPENHAGEN: Copenhagen was another lovely city with beautiful old architecture and the addition of exciting new buildings. I was extremely lucky to see South African artist William Kentridge’s extensive multi media exhibition THICK TIME at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art north of Copenhagen before it closed. It may have been the best and most absorbing exhibition I saw in Europe, and he is one of the world’s greatest living artists.

The museum is situated in beautiful gardens looking out to sea across to Sweden with strategically placed sculpture by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore etc.  Lunch in the restaurant was delicious  – I found it surprisingly hard as a vegetarian in Europe.  The museum shop was full of an extensive range of superb world renowned Scandinavian design. Denmark has recently topped the Social Progress Index – a survey of the best places to live. I asked a friend “what underpins the Danish economy?”.  “Know-how”.

William Kentridge, THICK TIME

LIONS: With World Lion Day coming up on August 10th and Christian’s birthday on the 12th August I will blog about how enjoyable it was to recently catch up in London with friends very involved with Christian the lion.

High res Ace and Christian

Ace with Christian, 1972. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN

Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 in an unprepossessing and long closed down zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon, UK. Who could have imagined after five generations of captivity in Europe, he would be returned to Africa, and be successfully rehabilitated by George Adamson of Born Free fame?

For those unfamiliar with Christian’s story, see his website alioncalledchristian.com.au.

I am most often asked what happened to Christian. No-one knows. Christian was last seen by George Adamson in early 1973 when he was nearly four years old and was growing into one of the largest lions George had ever seen. He had survived the most dangerous years, although life as an adult lion would also always be very challenging. George thought he was looking for a territory of his own, away from the aggressive local lions of Kora. We like to think Christian created a pride of his own and lived at least the average 10 -12 years of lions in the wild.

Christian remains very popular and I continue to get many emails from nearly everywhere – often in waves from another round on Facebook, or as other countries discover him – like India more recently.

It was the posting on YouTube in 2008 of our reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 which brought Christian’s story back to a new and wider audience (100 million+ views), and our clip was recently listed as No. 5 on the top 20 to 1 Viral Sensations (Channel 9).

Sony bought the rights to our story in 2008. Given Christian’s enduring popularity, and the many relevant issues his life exemplifies, I am disappointed that many years have now gone by and sadly we are no closer to going into production. My feelings are exacerbated by the fact that there is such a crisis in wildlife, indeed we are at a tipping point for many species, not only lions, elephants and rhinos. Christian’s story could possibly make a contribution to generating more urgent action on behalf of animals in the hope of saving and protecting lives.

I’m relieved I’m not presently writing or commentating about the precarious state of the world which has unravelled even more dangerously than when I last blogged. We all deal with uncertainty and anxiety in different ways. I find it very relaxing living near the water, beside a National Park on the edge of Sydney.  I like to walk, garden, read, spend time with friends and family, listen to Radio National, spoil the cat, and even do some interesting work! Despite the criticisms – and the costs to Brazil and the local population, I’m loving watching the Olympic Games and am, so far, finding it life-affirming.

Leo DiCaprio GAWPT photo

Rhinos from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Facebook page. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

GAWPT:  Leonardo DiCaprio is such a great advocate for the environment and through his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has recently donated US$15.6 million in grants – towards wildlife and habitat conservation, to aide indigenous rights, and to combat climate change and solve environmental issues. Visit his Facebook page here.

Included among the “grantees” in Africa are the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (GAWPT)/ Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary, and the Elephant Crisis Fund (in partnership with Save the Elephant) – both very worthy recipients.

WFA: Working for Animals has a new website www.workingforanimals.org.au primarily about the WFA animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India. I am on the Committee of WFA and will contribute to News and Blog items from time to time. The founder, Christine Townend, is very well known internationally for her pioneering work in animal welfare and rights, and is well informed about the most pressing animal issues and debates world-wide.

We both hope to attend the upcoming Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in Mumbai 21-23 October 2016. We spoke at the last FIAPO conference in Jaipur in 2014 and look forward to hearing wonderful and dedicated people talk about the successes and advances made in animal welfare in India, despite the many challenges.

WFA will continue to post information about various campaigns – and I remain especially concerned about canned hunting in Africa, and the continuing captivity of Tony the Tiger at the truck stop in Louisiana.

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Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

TIGERS:  I remain very excited about seeing tigers at close quarters in the Ranthambore National Park in India earlier in the year. On my return I watched several fascinating David Attenborough tiger documentaries, but as they were made several years ago, I hope the poaching and sale of tiger body parts and skins, and the flawed assessment of tiger numbers in the wild etc, are now more closely scrutinised and policed. Many issues conflate including the pressures of balancing sustainable tourism, competition for resources, the danger of wildlife to local villagers, and the expansion of wildlife corridors etc.

Officially, there are 2266 tigers approximately in India at present and 70% of the world’s tigers are in India. The most recent WWF survey states that 3890 tigers remain in the wild. I think seeing tigers up close reminded me of just how privileged I have been to know – and love – a big cat, and to be reminded of their magnificence, their power, and how they need us to fight – harder – for their survival.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

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First sighting of tigress in Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

Now I am back in Sydney I can’t quite believe I saw this tigress in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan a week or so ago!  She has been nick-named Arrow head and is 2 years old.  Apparently she recently fought with her mother and is the age when they go off and live on their own.  Our attention was drawn to the several jeeps with tourists that had parked quite near her as she rested in rushes beside a lake.  All of us were thrilled – to be fortunate enough to sight a tiger (we had been unsuccessful on our first safari in the morning), and to just stare at the beauty of her markings and her magnificence.

I am feeling very blessed by the animal world after this recent visit to India where I was fortunate enough to see several Bengal tigers – in the wild – at very close range, and two leopards. India’s wildlife is as exciting as Africa’s – it is just sometimes more secretive, mysterious or requiring more patience.  This can lead to disappointments …or bliss.  A few years ago I only saw a tiger paw mark in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, but the compensation was seeing many elephants and rhinos on beautiful plains.

First sighting of tigress in Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

Tigress in Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

There was great excitement as the tigress got up and moved closer towards us and settled in the rushes again, perfectly camouflaged.  All their markings are distinctive – and we can see why she has been nick-named “Arrow head”.  It was mid-afternoon and still quite hot.

I spoke at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations conference in 2014 in Jaipur, and at the Minding Animals Conference at Jawaharlal Nehru University last January – so I have an idea of how much work is being done on behalf of animals in India – from the front line work of animal shelters, to all the wildlife conservancy work and related issues such as habitat destruction, wildlife tourism, protecting wildlife corridors, animal-human co-existence etc. In India and elsewhere, the academic field of Animal Studies is generating essential, diverse and often fascinating research work.

I am on the Committee of Working for Animals  which administers animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong.  Founded by Christine and Jeremy Townend, I am full of admiration for what the shelters achieve – for animals, and for the local populations.

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‘Domestic’ chained elephant, Bandhavgarh. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

I was fortunate to have lunch with Vivek Menon, Founder and Executive Director of the Wildlife Trust of India, who was about to fly to London as he was nominated for The Economist’s Inspiring Innovator of the Year.  He is the first wildlife conservator to be nominated – specifically for his work in securing, restoring and expanding corridors for elephants to prevent their accidental deaths and human-animal conflict.  These corridors are traditional migration routes.  Vivek also told me that as a result of the Minding Animals Conference last year that the WTI co-hosted, JNU is now offering an Animal Studies course.

Second tiger sighting, Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

Second tiger sighting, Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

After the first tiger sighting recently in Ranthambore National Park, we then drove to a lake where there were many animals and birds.  This second tiger appeared unexpectedly.  With the imminent danger of a tiger, animals and birds quietly disappeared, except for a few wild boars.  This male tiger is also about 2 years old although he was bigger and heavier than the tigress we had seen earlier.  He passed quite close to us and was striking looking.  I felt quite vulnerable in our open jeep, although the tiger could not have been less interested in us. He was hunting.  We watched him for half an hour, as he quietly moved closer and closer to an oblivious solitary wild boar knee-deep in the lake.  As dusk was falling we had to leave the park and I’m glad I didn’t witness a grisly end to a magical afternoon.

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Getting closer. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

I travelled with friend and wildlife photographer Avi Gupta who took these photographs on my new Sony A6000 and familiarised me with the camera.  As these encounters with tigers are relatively rare – and often fleeting, I didn’t want to miss “the moment” of actually seeing a wild tiger – or mess up the photographs. I did take some photographs with my trusty Lumix and I’ll share these next blog.

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Wild boar and tiger. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

Last year I visited the Asiatic lions in Gir, Gugarat and was lucky to see several handsome young ones.  We also saw a stunningly beautiful leopard that suddenly crossed right in front of us.  The lions have now spread out of their sanctuaries, and according to a May 2015 census, an estimated 1/3 are now living outside, establishing new territories. This obviously creates problems for villagers and their cattle.  I saw one tribal village at Gir that had been relocated to a safer position within the sanctuary – with a solar panel for a light above a well.  Fortunately, the numbers of lions continue to increase, and currently stand at 523 in the region.

Leopard in Bandhavgarh. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

Leopard in Bandhavgarh. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

We next visited Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh in central India where we were lucky enough to have another tiger spotting…this time more fleeting.  The number of tigers in India is estimated to be 2266 – and I have seen 3 of them!  Jeeps materialised from nowhere and the tigress aged about 4 years old strode quickly across the track.  Later, in another location, this male leopard (above) also crossed the dirt track.  Next day we saw a very similar leopard, or it may have been him again.

As tigers and leopards are solitary and elusive, the safari guides rely on hearing the warnings of danger from other animals to each other.  Spotted deer screech in a birdlike way, Sambar deer stomp their hooves, and langur monkeys cry out clamorously.

We saw many other animals including blue bulls, crocodiles, a sloth bear, and many birds, especially peacocks.

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Tree Pi bird. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

As we stopped to photograph some vultures, I asked Avi why he loved birds especially?  He said “because they are everywhere”.  The Tree Pi bird actually acts as a tooth pick for tigers – a dangerous job!  Over 300 species of birds have been identified in Ranthambore National Park alone.

A small temple at Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh. Photograph Ace Bourke

A small temple at Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh. Photograph Ace Bourke.

We also visited Panna National Park and stayed at the beautiful Ken River Lodge – overlooking the mighty river.  A proposed dam would flood this tiger reserve where 32 tigers have been introduced.  As it was raining I didn’t go on safari at 5.30am!  On the way back to Delhi we visited the famous and magnificent Hindu temples at Khajuraho some dating from AD 900.  The often erotic carvings have miraculously mostly survived intact.  Near Agra I glimpsed the shimmering Taj Mahal which I have visited several times before.

Tony the tiger

Tony the tiger

TONY THE TIGER: Tony the tiger was never far from my mind in India and I have a renewed commitment to Tony the tiger in 2016. The Animal League Defence Fund say “our advocacy for Tony remains positive and strong” but time is running out.  Please spread the word and have friends and family sign the petition to save Tony.  There are many more tigers in private hands in the USA than there are in the wild in India, and this in no way ensures – or benefits, the long term survival of these truly magnificent animals.

The tiger replaced the lion as the National Animal of India in 1973 as part of a national tiger protection programme.

David Bowie

David Bowie

VALE: David Bowie (1947-2016).  His emergence in the early 1970s had a huge influence on many of us and we are shocked by his death.  I saw him as Ziggy Stardust (above) in 1972.  We arrived in London from Australia in 1969 and this was at the tail-end of the “Carnaby Street” and “Kings Road” eras.  Bowie’s genius, originality and imagination helped change and set the tone for the next decade and beyond.  See this tribute in the NY Times here, and I liked his Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie here.

I enjoyed The Australian Tennis Open (although shocked by the match fixing allegations – even in tennis!), mid-flight I finally saw Blue Jasmine with the riveting Kate Blanchett who I had seen in A Streetcar named Desire, and I read Island Home by Tim Winton where he beautifully describes his relationship and growing awareness of our unique environment in Australia, and how it has influenced his ideas, writing and life.  We too grew up surrounded by bush and I was horrified to recently hear “children playing outside” referred to as “unregulated nature time”!  Tim Winton concludes “Aboriginal wisdom is the most under-utilized intellectual and emotional resource this country has”.

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In Ranthambore National Park, 10th Century Fort in background. Photograph Ace Bourke 2016.

Xmas Christian

CHRISTIAN: It is this time of the year again and thanks as always to Christian’s photographer Derek Cattani.  Do see some of his other marvellous photographs of Christian here – I always enjoy looking at them.

Some of you may be interested in this article from the Good Weekend, Pets on E-Parade, on pet and animal-themed YouTube channels. Christian the lion was not mentioned but I think our reunion with Christian was the first really popular “animal themed” video phenomenon on YouTube – we stopped counting years ago when we topped 100 million views.

Australia’s most popular YouTube channel, Catmantoo has 133,000 subscribers and 40 million views.  Many of these channels are “monetarised” and take months to prepare. In general I don’t like performing or dressed up animals. I can understand why cat videos dominate the internet and I am sent many cat videos – thanks to Mandy lately, and thankyou to Deb especially.

I recently reread a letter I wrote to George Adamson at Kora in Kenya in 1978 about our reunion with Christian in 1971: “and the footage of us returning to see Christian and him running down the hill is pretty amazing footage”. That has turned out to be quite an understatement!

Ai WeiWei at the NGV with bicycles

Ai WeiWei  with Forever Bicycles 2011

ART: For anyone visiting or travelling around Australia in the next few months we have some very interesting exhibitions on at our State Galleries, and they all have extensive gallery collections.

Andy Warhol/Ai Wei Wei  has just opened at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (until April 24th 2016), and is a “conversation” between the artists who did meet in New York years ago.  They share a love of “social media” –  Warhol was a precursor of celebrity and social media with his screen prints, polaroids, diary jottings, Interview magazine and ever present recorder – while WeiWei loves Twitter and Instagram etc.

Ai WeiWei’s passport was taken away for 4 years, and this is one of the few exhibitions where he has actually overseen the installation – the positioning of the artworks, the lighting etc.  More poignantly, it is the first international exhibition of his work he has actually seen for years.

I met Eric Shiner, the Director of the Warhol Museum, in Australia for the exhibition.  I asked him about both artists loving cats and he said the Children’s Education section of the exhibition is all about cats – with Ai Wei Wei drawing cat wallpaper, and the backs of chairs being cat tails!  Warhol had 30 – all but one called Sam.

We were also celebrating the announcement of Tracey Moffatt being selected to represent Australia at the 2017 Venice Biennale.  I  can’t wait to see what she does and I intend to be there!

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal by Grayson Perry, 2012. Jaquard woven tapestry in wool, silk, cotton, acrylic and polyester, With cotton warp.

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal by Grayson Perry, 2012. Jaquard woven tapestry in wool, silk, cotton, acrylic and polyester, with cotton warp.

 

In Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art is The Pretty Little Art World of Grayson Perry, the cross dressing art critic from the UK.  He is most amusing, but was in trouble in Australia for saying our Aboriginal art is not “contemporary” art and should be shown in an ethnographic context.  He has apologised but then said that we “mix it in” with contemporary art….

Spearing the kangaroo by Tommy McRae, circa 1880s-circa 1890s

Spearing the kangaroo by Tommy McRae, circa 1880s-circa 1890s

Also in Sydney, at the Art Gallery of NSW there is the rare opportunity to see wonderful paintings in The Greats: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland until 14 February 2016.  Another exhibition at the AGNSW includes fascinating C19th drawings by Aboriginal artists Tommy McRae and William Barak.  Murruwaygu (following in the footsteps of our ancestors), are Aboriginal artworks from  south-east Australia and include Roy Kennedy and Harry J Wedge.

Wollongong Art Gallery is showing SHIMMER an exhibition “exploring expanded notions of historical and contemporary shell-working traditions in indigenous Australia”.  This is especially true of Garry Sibosado and I also loved the prints of Darrell Sibosado.  These brothers, from the West Kimberley coast, both reference traditional designs through contemporary art practice.  I love shells and other  well known artists include Esme Timbery, Tess Allas and Julie Gough.

There is more Aboriginal art in Adelaide at the Art Gallery of South Australia. TARNANTHI  is an Inaugural Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, described as a very ambitious exhibition that showcases the diversity of Aboriginal art.

A major Gilbert & George exhibition is at the privately-funded Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), in Hobart, Tasmania.

Haider Ali Jan from Pakistan at APT8

Haider Ali Jan from Pakistan at APT8

APT8, the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial is in Brisbane at the Queensland Art Gallery and GOMA until 10 April 2016. The APT was a great initiative and is always interesting.  It has focused international attention on the artists of our region. I would especially like to see the contemporary tribal art from India and I have collected  and exhibited Indian tribal and village artists over the years.

Banksy’s recent portrait of Steve Jobs, the son of Syrian immigrants, on the wall at Calais.

Banksy’s recent portrait of Steve Jobs, the son of Syrian immigrants, on the wall at Calais, France

WORLD: A memorable and often scary year comes to the end.  It will be remembered for extreme and catastrophic weather events, air crashes, mass migrations and displacement, and “terrorism”.  One probably has more chance of dying from a car accident, smoking, or being shot – especially if you live in the USA.  30,000 were killed by guns there over the year – coincidentally about the number killed world-wide by terrorism.

The Middle East/Islam conflict seems as complex and unsoluble as ever and innocent people, mostly Muslim, continue to be killed.

At least a more informed debate about Islam is emerging – with the exception of Donald Trump, our ex PM Abbott, far right groups like the National Front in France, and various unattractive bogans in Australia supposedly fighting for “our values”.

Bruce Goold Peace chador, Paris 13/11/15 hand coloured linocut Australian Galleries, Sydney

Bruce Goold Peace chador, Paris 13/11/15 hand coloured linocut Australian Galleries, Sydney

I thought Waleed Aly’s article last blog was very informative – as is this more recent one.  He argues  “The Reformation is here.  Theyr’e looking at it.  The Muslim world -and indeed Islamic thought – is in crisis”. New voices have emerged here like Ahmed Kilani who thinks it is time for a new generation of Muslim leaders to speak up, and he was a co-founder of the website Muslim Village here.

Also see this article on Wahhabism  to ISIS: How Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism.  The article is extremely informative  about this very narrow and very influential form of Islam, which only emerged in the C18th.  There is a trade-off with the Saudi Royal family, and it was a break-though that some women were allowed to stand for, and vote in, recent municipal elections.  Perhaps they may even be allowed to drive one day!

A photograph from The Blood Generation series, a collaboration between artist Taloi Havini and photographer Stuart Miller.

The Blood Generation series, artist Taloi Havini from PNG / photographer Stuart Miller in APT8.

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: The Paris Climate Agreement is a real achievement and cause for optimism about the human race, even if it is “aspirational” and not legally binding.  They are aiming for a less than 2 degree rise in global warming – ideally 1.5.  Progress will be tracked every 5 years, and target reductions increased.  Of course there will be problems and recalcitrant leaders – thank God Tony Abbott is no longer our PM!  Well done to host France, the USA, India and China especially. There will be $100 billion for poorer nations.

Another reason for optimism is that I hope we are seeing the end of the fossil-fuel era.  Coal is a “stranded asset”, “carbon capture” seems to remain as elusive as ever, banks are reluctant to finance new mines, and shares in fossil fuels are being divested.  Fuel subsidies should be abolished and no new mines should be approved – especially the huge Adani/Carmichael mine in Queensland.

There are those that argue that coal is necessary, for example, to provide power for the 300 million without it in India.

What about subsidised micro grids?

But it is the unstoppable growth and utilisation all over the world of renewables that is displacing coal, and effective battery energy storage is the game changer of the year.

Powerhive, based in the USA, is providing cheap power to poor and remote African villages through roof top solar paid for via ubiquitous cell phones as power is required or can be afforded.

Do you know what the best thing an individual can do to curb carbon emission? Become a vegetarian!  Meat is responsible for 15% of emissions. I am very contented as a vegetarian and it doesn’t seem to be too inconvenient for my family and friends.  This is not always true of vegans however, and their fundamentalism can be disruptive and even counter-productive.

My cat is now a piscatarian although I don’t think this explains her provocative behaviour with 2 snakes that have unfortunately appeared in my garden.  I’m very frightened she may join her brother in “crossing the rainbow bridge”, as some say these days, and I will be completely broken-hearted.

Shearing the rams by Tom Roberts, 1890

Shearing the rams by Tom Roberts, 1890

At the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra there is the most comprehensive exhibition ever assembled of works by the “legendary” Australian artist Tom Roberts until 28 March.

Also in Canberra at the National Museum of Australia is Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum (until 28 March) which includes items such as an Aboriginal shield collected by Captain Cook in Botany Bay in 1770, one of many objects (and even body parts) that most Aboriginal people would like repatriated back to Australia.

AUSTRALIA: The gloss is going off our new PM Turnbull pretty quickly – from tensions within his own party, a defection, a Minister under investigation who won’t step aside, and Turnbull is wedged over climate change policies.  He is as likely to be undone by the bitter conservative elements in his own party as he is by the Opposition.  Our economic conditions continue to decline and the budget deficit is now $37.4 billion. In the absence of any proposed economic strategy or reform so far, he is hoping “innovation” will save us, but that takes time!

There is a recent biography on PM Malcolm Turnbull.  His own mother described him as a child as “a bundle of demonic energy”.  At school, a deputation went to the headmaster to say “anyone but Malcolm” for head prefect, but they were unsuccessful.

I can be mean as I don’t like many of the government’s unfair policies. But Turnbull is at least intelligent, personable, and has had a very successful law and business career – and he got rid of Tony Abbott.  After breaking yet another promise not to “snipe”, the ex PM Abbott has gone feral and seems completely delusional, speaking out inappropriately on Islam, or “defending” his non- existent “legacy”. Some commentators have said we have replaced a “psychopath with a narcissist” – but most leaders probably suffer from one or the other.

Angela Merkel seems to be regarded as the leader of the year in 2015 – in a very weak field.  While Greece has little chance of recovering economically through  the “austerity” measures she supported, I admired her for her initial response to the refugees in Europe.

Western Ground Parrot

Western Ground Parrot

ANIMALS & WILDLIFE:  After attending and speaking at several Animal Studies conferences in India, it is so encouraging to learn that there is such important and diverse research and work in relation to animal welfare and rights, and animal/human relationships.  Information now is so easily shared, and petitions and suggested actions etc can be widely circulated.

What is Animal Welfare? Welfare v Rights?  Welfare v Conservation? “Conservation” is caring about species (extinction),  and “animal welfare” is caring about individual animals (and their suffering).  For discussions about these definitions and questions see this site and the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare co-created by John Webster.

John Webster recently launched One Welfare an interactive portal for vets to keep them up-to-date on ethics and animal welfare.

There was an excellent review of the recent book by M.R. O’Connor which I have just bought for my Christmas reading – Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things.  I’m hoping it will help me understand some of these complex issues.

I think we are seeing a changing of community attitudes and a growing support for animal welfare. Many of you are part of that.  Looking at the last blog – chimpanzees were no longer to be experimented on in the USA, and PHASA was no longer supporting canned hunting of lions in South Africa. In Australia the horse racing industry is to limit the number of times a horse can be whipped (which is counter-productive anyway), and the worst aspects of the greyhound industry and live cattle and sheep exports have been exposed.

While people are also very concerned about a spate of shark attacks on our coast, many people now accept that the sea is the domain of sharks, and “smart” drum lines – and the netting of beaches, kill other marine creatures like turtles.  Beaches need guards and aerial surveillance, and swimming in the early morning and late afternoons is regarded as dangerous.

The Japanese are resuming whaling in the Southern Ocean – intending to kill 330 minke whales.  This is despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice, and the Japanese pretence of “scientific research”. Over many years only 2 articles have ever been “peer reviewed” and no-one really eats whale meat – if they can avoid it!

Gilbert’s Potoroo are endangered in Australia especially after losing 90% of its habitats in recent fires. Photograph from Gilbert's Potoroo Action Group.

Gilbert’s Potoroo are endangered in Australia especially after losing 90% of its habitats in recent fires. Photograph from Gilbert’s Potoroo Action Group.

IVORY: The Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently been in Africa.  The Chinese are the major consumers of ivory and 20,000 – 40,000 elephants are slaughtered each year.  In September Xi pledged “to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory”.  The Chinese also have to rethink traditional medicines that are driving animals to extinction. The Chinese have protected their giant pandas with numbers stabilising  and possibly growing which is very admirable, but now this has to extend to other animals  – and the prohibiting of the horrific and cruel practice of “milking” up to 10,000 bears for their bile.

Watch this amazing clip of The Elephants in the Room – a herd of elephants walking through a hotel in Zambia. They are walking on their traditional path – which now includes through a hotel lobby, to a favourite mango tree as it is spring and the fruit is ripe.

SHAME: Cardinal Pell did not come back from the Vatican to face the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.  Pell lived and worked with some of the most notorious clergy – and says he saw nothing and he certainly did nothing: the  ZUMAMUSTGO protest in South Africa indicated the frustration and exasperation with the failure of leadership by the self serving Zuma (although he will probably be as difficult to dislodge as Mugabe in Zimbabwe): Syria’s Assad; and Malaysia’s PM Najib Razak is still refusing to explain the $700 million transferred to his private bank accounts.

Ranthambore Tigers photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Tigers in Ranthambore, Rajasthan 2009 photographed by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings – whatever!  Hope you have a holiday or a break with family and friends. I am very appreciative of the support I receive for the blog, and the interesting information many of you send me.

I’m going to India and I am hoping to see some more of their marvellous animals and wildlife which I will blog about on my return later in January. So wishing you all a Happy (and more peaceful) New Year.