February 5, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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”.
Christian the Lion, Art, Ai WeiWei, State Gallery Exhibitions, Grayson Perry, Aboriginal Art, Paris Agreement, Renewables, World, Islam, Australia, Animals, Ivory, Wildlife
December 19, 2015
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!
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!
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….
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Lions, George Adamson Experience Tour, International Fund for Animal Welfare Awards, Tony the Tiger, World, Paris Climate Change Conference, Birds, Animals etc
November 27, 2015
Stephen Dalton has won the Fritz Steiniger Prize for his contribution to high speed photography for this photograph of a basilisk or Jesus Christ lizard running across water. I believe this had never been photographed before.
These prizes are yet more examples of the many competitions for photography enthusiasts these days.
We want Tony the Tiger (and all caged animals) to experience this as well, so we must try even harder for the release of Tony from a cage at a truck stop in Louisiana, USA, to a sanctuary. Please sign the petition here if you have not already.
The tireless Donalea Patman, founder of For the Love of Wildlife, and Federal MP Jason Wood have both been honoured by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for their commitment to lion conservation. Their great achievement has been the introduction of legislation prohibiting the importation of lion trophies and body parts into Australia. France has just followed suit! Donalea said “I do it because I believe Africa’s wildlife is under siege”.
Other news is that the president of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), who has viewed the documentary Blood Lions, acknowledges how the campaign against the breeding of lions for “canned” hunting is making the PHASA position “untenable”. He points out that with some airlines and shipping companies refusing to transport hunting trophies, PHASA has to realise that this issue is putting at risk “not only the reputation of professional hunting in South Africa but its very survival”. He also noted “broader society is no longer neutral on this question, and the tide of public opinion is turning”. At their just held AGM, PHASA voted that they could no longer support lion breeding and lion hunting.
Congratulations to Donalea and Jason, CACH, the makers of Blood Lions and everyone that is campaigning against canned hunting. We should all be very encouraged to keep up our opposition.
Aidan Basnett has organised another tour to Africa next year, the Adamson Experience Tour 2016. Apart from experiencing the beauty of Africa at Maasai Mara, Meru and Shaba National Parks, other highlights of the tour include visits to what are now almost regarded as Adamson and Elsa “sacred sites” including Elsamere (where we met Joy Adamson) and Elsa’s Kopje. Email Geoff@yellowzebrasafaris for the itinerary and more tour details. See here for Aidan’s George Adamson Legacy Australia Facebook page.
It is encouraging that SeaWorld in the USA will stop the killer whale shows at its San Diego park by 2017, and they promise the new killer whale attraction will have “a strong conservation message”! The reality is that more and more people are finding cruelty to animals unacceptable, and SeaWorld’s share prices and attendances have both been falling.
It is very encouraging that the US National Institute of Health quietly ended the Federal Government’s use of chimpanzees for biomedical research.
ART: Sylvia Ross photographs and loves pigeons and I have used my own photograph here of pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India. Sylvia has curated an exhibition called The Bird Show at SPOT81 (81 Abercrombie Street Chippendale, Sydney) until this Sunday, 29 November. More details about the show here.
WORLD: I listed many of my geo-political anxieties last blog…and I did have a sense of foreboding, especially the more I learnt about the apocalyptic nature of ISIL, and how good they are proving to be at creating fear and dividing populations. However, like most people, I was deeply shocked by the Paris bombs and horrific loss of life. The event raises so many questions: Why did the bombings in Beirut with 42 deaths, and over 100 dead in a “peace” march in Ankara, Turkey, receive so little attention in comparison? Why are we ignoring the fact that many more Muslims are being killed by ISIL, let alone the millions displaced? Why has France (and Belgium) failed so completely over decades to “integrate” their Muslim populations? How should moderate Islamists respond to the fundamentalists, and how will Islam reconcile with modernity? Are the West responding (in this case with the retaliatory bombing of Raqqa in northern Syria) just how ISIL has strategised, and is this boosting recruitment? What are the causes of radicalisation? What are the real agendas of countries like Saudi Arabia who have a record of supporting terrorist organisations?
The complexities and competing agendas in the region have been illustrated by the shooting down of the Russian jet by Turkey who are probably more concerned about the Kurds than ISIL, and the Russians who have been attacking Turkmen villages and are more interested in supporting Assad.
In Australia the Grand Mufti has been criticised for saying in a statement that the violence was “provoked by discontent at racism, Islamophobia, security laws,and foreign policy decisions” and I think this is a legitimate comment. We are experiencing the inevitable reaction here from racists and xenophobes that can only further alienate our own Muslim fellow Australians. The responses of Trump and Ben Carson in the USA was appalling.
Are Bush, Blair and our own ex-PM Howard ever going to be held accountable for the chaos in the Middle East that resulted from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that has given rise to ISIL? Other more historic causes include the artificial creation of “countries” by colonial powers oblivious to tribal and sectarian differences, and Western support for appalling dictators when it suited them, especially in the pursuit of oil.
See Australia’s Waleed Aly’s informative and indeed refreshing article The fight that goes around in circles in the SMH on the Middle East conflict here. IS is the “Middle East’s illegitimate child: a byproduct of the power vacuums of a broken region”.
Our own PM has been attending various meetings with world leaders and he seemed to have struck an immediate rapport with President Obama. PM Turnbull proposed a Lebanese model of a power-sharing arrangement in Syria. However, an opposition Syrian spokesperson has said that unfortunately each group would have their own militias and proposed instead a combination of the “reasonable” elements of the Assad regime (who apparently exist), and the “reasonable” elements from the opposition. After the vacuum created by the removal of Saddam in Iraq, no-one is quite sure what to do with Assad.
(Apparently Obama is aghast that Australia has leased the port of Darwin in northern Australia, where the USA now have a base, to China, for 99 years!)
It is wonderful that Aung San Suu Kyi won the election and hopefully will assume power in Myanmar. I’d love to speak about her unreservedly given her long struggle and sacrifices, but I have to say however, for political expediency, under pressure from the Buddhist ultra-nationalists, she has studiously ignored the genocide of the Rohingyas.
Australia, however, has recently been severely criticised by the UN Human Rights Council by paragons of virtue like North Korea and Iran for our inhumane policies on asylum seekers, and the men, women and children who remain imprisoned on off-shore processing centres. I am ashamed to say these policies are supported by both major parties, although just when the Australian population finally seemed to be becoming uncomfortable about this, the events in Paris have hardened attitudes again.
While Malcolm Turnbull is still polling exceptionally well, it is primarily because he isn’t Tony Abbott, and in comparison he appears so measured, moderate and intelligent.
Turnbull likes saying that everything, like necessary tax reform for example, is “on the table” as in “up for debate”. The problem is that this government has been in office for over two years and so little has been achieved. An old Labor war-horse Graham Richardson recently wrote that Turnbull’s career has mostly been as an advocate, but that now was the time for some over-due action as “both the Coalition and Labor have no plan to offer but a plan to develop a plan”.
PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: This event begins next week, and I hope the optimism for this climate change conference will be justified. It will be the first test for our new PM who as an intelligent person knows action to curb carbon emissions is essential, but he now leads a party which has been sceptical of climate change and indeed, unimaginable as it seems, has even appeared to be anti-science. The government policy has been to do as little as they can get away with, PAY the polluters with our taxes, and provide $5 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel production.
Do see a recent article by Ross Gittins Growth doesn’t need to cost the earth from the SMH about the limits of economic growth and sustainability of our natural resources – “economic growth cannot continue indefinitely because the natural world – the global ecosystem – is of fixed size”.
While Obama has cancelled the proposed Tar Sands Pipeline from Canada, Australia has just given permission for a friend of Indian PM Moti, Mr. Gautum Adani, to mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. The development of EITHER the Tar Sands or Galilee Basin would on their own, ensure that the global target of restricting global warming to 2 degrees warming is impossible.
I am hoping for a global moratorium on any new coal mines, or the expansion of existing ones. The planet requires it.
The Australian Conservation Foundation is taking the Australian Government to court over the deleterious effect the development of the Adani-owned Carmichael Mine will have on the Great Barrier Reef. – and for failing to protect our lives! See here.
The ACF has also organised the People’s Climate Marches around Australia on November 27 -29th to coincide with the Paris Conference and many other people marching around the world. In Sydney we are meeting at 1 pm in The Domain on Sunday 29th November. See here for the day and times in other Australian cities.
Mr. Adani’s companies do not have a good environmental record in India, and one of his mines in Zambia polluted a river which was a source of drinking water, fishing and irrigation for many people. The company did not even report it. Greenpeace has recently been kicked out of India which is not a good omen.
However, Australians cannot be righteous either as the recent collapse of a dam in Brazil owned by BHP Billiton (and Brazil’s Vale) has killed over 30 people, displaced 500, destroyed villages and polluted land and water for hundreds of kilometres.
More than half the recent studies published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society indicate that human caused climate change has substantially influenced either an event’s frequency or intensity, or both.
We have already experienced the first bush fires of our summer season in West Australia and more recently South Australia. Lives have been lost and the fires have been described as “unstoppable” and “catastrophic”.
MISC STATS: about 120 Australians are in the Middle East fighting with groups but mainly ISIL; only 27% of Australians think Prince Charles who has recently visited Australia should be our next head of state; and people are hoping that the actors De Niro and Di Caprio have donated the obscene $10 million that they were each paid to appear in a short film promoting our James Packer’s casinos. De Caprio has been a very generous and active supporter of environmental issues.
VALE: Jonah Lomu, who despite kidney disease, exploded on the Rugby Union scene in 1995, has died at 40. I loved this fax sent by a 14 year old at the time: “Dear All Blacks, Remember, Rugby is a team game. All 14 of yers, pass the ball to Jonah.” Like many Pacific Islanders, despite his extraordinary ability, Jonah was a modest and humble man.
MAIL: thanks to many of you who keep me informed and amuse me. Thanks to Christine Townend for drawing my attention to Will the Lion, and an article entitled Your cat probably wants to kill you which many cat owners may relate to – or understand – I do! Thanks to Tim for the peacocks in his garden at Bayview, and “Hi” to Hugh who has watched Christian’s documentary or our reunion with him over 200 times, according to his mother!
Congratulations to Bindi Irwin (our Jungle Girl) who has won the US version of Dancing with the Stars.
BIRDS: So many birds have ended up – almost inadvertently – on this blog, but this probably reflects the interest so many people have in them. Like so much wildlife and the Atlantic Puffin and European turtle dove, the Carnaby’s Black-cockatoo is struggling to survive urban sprawl in West Australia. Birdlife Australia’s Cocky Count co-ordinator has said that on current trends their population would halve again in the next five years. They are the most endangered of the species which includes the Glossy, Yellow-tailed, Red-tailed and White-tailed Black cockatoo. I quite often see a flock of Glossy Black cockatoos in the same area as I drive out of the Royal National Park from Bundeena.
Bird keeping has a long tradition in Indonesia and competitions for song birds (kicau-mania) are hugely popular. Birds are assessed on their volume, power, melody and their ability to mimic other birds. This hobby took off when many men were made redundant during the Asian economic crisis of 1997-8. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, their popularity and their shrinking habitats are contributing to declining songbird populations.
The disastrous and ongoing march of the introduced poisonous cane toads across northern Australia has nearly driven the Northern Quoll into extinction – like much else. The Island Ark Project established a colony on two islands and next year they will be introduced back to the mainland. They will hopefully have been conditioned by “taste aversion” to no longer eat toads. Read more here.
Tasmanian Devils have had their populations decimated by an epidemic of devil facial tumour disease. Over 4 years a healthy colony has been established on the mainland as an “insurance population”, and they are to be re-introduced back to Tasmania. See Devilark.org.au for more details.
The issue of species extinctions is both complex and contested and this recent article Animal pragmatism by Maddison Connaughton in The Saturday Paper is a good introduction. “The battle against species extinctions is ethically fraught, with questions about the purpose of zoos and how we go about choosing winners in the animal kingdom. As habitat diminishes, what is the purpose of conservation?”
PETA however, are unequivocal about zoos: “Zoos teach people that it is acceptable to interfere with animals and keep them locked up in captivity”, and I certainly agree. Do see this article from Animals Australia titled “5 things we need to stop telling ourselves about zoos“.
Animals, Big Cats, Wildlife Photographer of the Year, World, Middle East, Australia, Refugees, Sharks, Koalas, Tech Revolution, Adani Mine etc.
October 23, 2015
The winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year have just been announced. This annual competition is run by London’s Natural History Museum and attracted 42,000 entries from almost 100 countries. A selection of entries tour internationally. Broken Cats by Britta Jaschinski won the Wildlife Photojournalist Award. The deadness in the faces of these humiliated animals performing in China, reminds me of the depression I saw in the lions bred for canned hunting in the recent documentary Blood Lions. I was horrified by the recent photograph of another animal being dissected in front of school children at a zoo in Denmark – this time a lion.
I suppose my blog is a sort of diary of what I have found interesting – or scary – over the last few weeks. I think most people would find the present times uncertain and this blog articulates many of my worries! In addition to family and friends, I know many of us find great solace in animals: as companion pets; working for their welfare and rights and to protect their habitats; or just for their sheer beauty and company. I always look forward to the Wildlife Photographers Awards touring to Sydney (usually early in the year), and the beauty of most of the photographs is extraordinary – and very contemplative and soothing. The winner of the Wildlife Photograph of this year (below) is both beautiful and rather grisly, and reminds us, as we learnt with Christian the lion and his on-going battle with the local wild lions, life in the wild can be tough!
While many of you have winter approaching, in Australia our spring, like autumn, can be fleeting, and we have already had summer temperatures of 30+. Native plants like grevilleas and bottle brushes are flowering and gardening is even more of a pleasure. Bush-fire warnings have already begun. The sea looks inviting – although none of the protection measures suggested recently to protect against sharks convinces me yet.
WORLD: I suppose we have all been concerned post GFC that our leaders are failing to properly address both the old fundamental problems and weaknesses in our global economic and financial systems and structures, but also new challenges, transitions and necessary reforms. There is even more inequality. Most leaders seem to be floundering on most fronts, and some are confronted with the many millions of displaced people at present on the move and overwhelming Europe on a scale unseen in the life times of many. Read my extended view and comments on the Middle East, ISIS, Russia, China, and other anxiety-inducing topics HERE.
TECH REVOLUTION: It is obvious that we are going through a technologically driven social and knowledge revolution – apparently this sort of movement happens every 50 – 60 years. The potential for sharing knowledge, education, the global connectivity, the shaping of opinion, the changing of laws etc, is very exciting and transforming. For various reasons I resist Facebook and I know I miss excellent articles, and more concerning, the dates of protests, or marches in support of animals. It will be so interesting to see the ramifications of this new – and not face to face, changing social interaction.
I love the potential of “citizen science” – from the reporting and data collection on bird populations, to “nodders” who, for example, are at present tracking forest fires in South East Asia online. I also believe in the power of “aggregate voices” – and clickitivism, and some of us have contributed to the success of some animal campaigns via this blog.
I have to say, despite efforts by so many people, the campaign to free Tony the Tiger has so far failed, and his continuing imprisonment haunts me. He is now 15 years old. Dee de Santis tells me she visited Tony twice last month. This must be so heart breaking and I admire Dee enormously for her commitment to Tony. She says “Sorry there are no updates concerning his case, his petition remains open”. If you haven’t already, sign THIS PETITION to help free Tony.
By the way, it was a very successful March for Rhinos, Elephants and Lions on a recent lovely sunny day. We were addressed by Mark Pearson, the first member in the world for an Animal Justice Party.
Other implications of the internet concern espionage and cyber warfare. Apparently the Chinese are very active hackers politically, militarily and economically. State-backed theft of Western Intellectual properties is on a huge ‘industrial” scale and is bankrupting many companies.
But some people are also warning about the “undemocratic” power and monopolies of Facebook, Google and Amazon etc – so called “economic choke points”.
Edward Snowden informed us that as of last week, in Australia “everything you do online is being tracked and retained for two years”.
AUSTRALIA: We have had great news in Australia! A cloud has lifted. Tony Abbott was thrown out in a surprise coup and Malcolm Turnbull is our new Prime Minister.
In his challenge for the leadership Turnbull said Tony Abbott “has not been capable of providing the economic leadership the nation requires”. Abbott was very unpopular – he broke election promises, he was inept and gaffe-prone, and tried to inflict unfair policies. His world view was very out of date, like another dinosaur, Stephen Harper in Canada who has also just been thrown out. Harper has been replaced as PM by the refreshing Justin Trudeau.
In The Saturday Paper editorial Abbott was described as the “worst prime minister ever”. See – it wasn’t just me! Read my extended view and comments on Australian politics HERE.
ADANI COAL MINE: Despite the enchantment with our new PM, the government still has many distasteful policies, and has been especially shocking in relation to action on climate change. The government has just given permission for the huge Adani coal mine to go ahead in Queensland. Immediately the Australian Conservation Foundation announced a nation-wide People Climate March – see here for details in Australian cities. In Sydney we meet in The Domain at 1pm on Sunday 29th November. This mine just cannot go ahead as it will be an environmental disaster. Coal will be a “stranded asset” and several banks have already refused to finance the mine. As for the Indians without power who are supposedly the beneficiaries, they are off the grid, and domestic solar panels with battery storage is a much cheaper and cleaner option.
SHARKS: Eight Great White sharks have recently been tagged to try and understand the “spike” in shark sightings and attacks along the 2000 kilometres of our NSW coast. While those sharks have now scattered far away, there are still plenty of other shark sightings close to shore. The recent Sydney Shark Summit discussed netting (which some Sydney beaches have) and other physical and visual barriers, electric deterrents, physical aerial surveillance, and sonar, satellite and acoustic technologies. At this stage none are 100% safe – but are preferable to culling.
A recent report by researchers at the University of Adelaide states that warmer and more acidic oceans will lead to a food change collapse with large ocean animals like sharks, the most vulnerable.
KOALAS: Many of our koalas are suffering from a chlamydia infection that can result in infertility, blindness and death, and there is an alarming proposal to dramatically cull koala populations in the hope of eliminating the disease. Koalas “moderately” sick could be treated with antibiotics, but the others would be euthanised. Apparently the population would recover in 5-10 years. Koala populations also face the threat of deforestation, habitat reduction, and the dangers of cars and dogs.
SOUL SEARCHING: In Australia we have lately had to confront some very frightening statistics and home truths. There has recently been a spate of deaths of women through domestic violence which has illustrated the horrifying extent of this with one in four women having been the victim of domestic violence. The government has just allotted what seems to be a lot of money to fight DV, and while it has been welcomed, in general, funding to many essential front-line services such as Legal Aid, the Courts, shelters etc has been reduced. Drug addiction, and we are in an ice epidemic, is also under resourced. We have just had Mental Health Week which again highlighted the failure to adequately deal with the extent of mental health problems within the community.
A Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has continued to reveal the equally horrifying extent of this abuse. The Catholic Church has just described its own history regarding child abuse in Australia as “shameful, corrosive and complicit”.
This treatment of women and children has finally made more Australians also outraged about the women and children (and men) we imprison on our off-shore detention centres.
A 15 year old boy shot and killed a police worker here recently which has heightened the debate around terrorism, the tightening of security laws, and the radicalisation of youth. The new PM’s much more moderate and considered language (compared to Abbott’s fear mongering) has led to a more productive cooperation with Muslim leaders. We did not need the divisive Geert Wilders, the ultra right MP from Holland, to come to Australia to support the formation of an Anti Islam party.
Rebellious teenagers, especially from Middle Eastern backgrounds could feel marginalised in Australia – because they are. They do not feel they belong here, and they could find ISIS attractive – until they get there I imagine. Parents, church figures and schools often have very little influence on youth going through these stages – that’s the point of rebellion! The most insightful and realistic article I have read about teenagers and the “radicalisation” of Muslim youth was by Hussain Nadim in the SMH – see it here.
Racism in sport has also been a huge debate here. It is interesting the role sport plays in the national psyche, especially in the absence of an as yet defined Australian national identity. The Rugby League Final (NRL) was thrilling – a match none of us will forget. Both teams were led by charismatic Indigenous captains and the NRL is about to be dominated by Aboriginal, Islander, and Pacific Islander players. In comparison, while the Australian Football League (AFL) also has many Indigenous star players, a champion Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes, was booed by opposing teams and ended his illustrious career on a depressing note. He has lately also had to endure racist insults on social media for his promotional role with a leading department store. Adam was an articulate and outspoken Australian of the Year in 2014, and I hope he plays an important public leadership role in the future….
Thanks for reaching the end of an over-due and over-long post. I appreciate your interest and patience.
September 14, 2015
BORN FREE: It was so wonderful seeing Born Free again and I just marveled at how beautiful, expressive, intelligent and socially-engaged lions are. The lions were filmed superbly, as was Africa and other wildlife. Like Joy and George Adamson with Elsa the lioness, we too took off Christian’s collar symbolically for our first walk with him on African soil and the beginning of his natural life. I will never forget it.
It is appalling to think how animal populations have diminished since 1964 when the film was made. There has been an approximately 80% reduction in numbers since, and only 20,000 lions remain in the wild.
BLOOD LIONS: There are many sad lions in Blood Lions, the recent documentary on canned hunting in South Africa (watch the trailer here). Ian Michler, a well known South African conservationist who participated in the documentary, introduced it at selected viewings in Australia. In up to 200 unregulated facilities, lionesses are forced to have too many cubs. After birth, the cubs are quickly taken away and are hand-fed to become human-friendly. Tourists pay to pat them as cubs and walk with them when a little older. Ultimately they are shot in enclosures by “hunters”. Like other animals, unwanted lions are sold for their bones and other animal parts to the Asian market. Volunteers, who pay to work at these facilities, are conned into thinking they are contributing to conservation. They are not. Breeding lions for canned hunting is not an insurance against the catastrophic decline in the numbers of wild lions.
The people making money out of canned hunting are mainly older Apartheid-era white men who, I imagine, have as little respect for the rights and welfare of lions as they did for black Africans.
President Zuma giggled about Cecil the lion’s death, describing it as “just an incident”.
Donalea Patman of fortheloveofwildlife who organised the viewings of Blood Lions, was so outraged by canned hunting that she wrote a letter to our Environment Minister Hunt. This has resulted in the ban on the importation of lion animal body parts and trophies into Australia which is an incredible achievement, and is the most effective way of eliminating canned hunting. Perhaps some of you may be inspired to write to the relevant ministers in your own countries – especially the EU and the USA.
GLOBAL MARCH FOR RHINOS, ELEPHANTS AND LIONS: On Saturday October 3rd we will meet at the Sydney Town Hall at 11.00 am and we are to be addressed by Mark Pearson of the Animal Justice Party in Martin Place. See details here.
CHRISTIAN THE LION: I loved a recent and very thoughtful email from Janice who said that Christian was obviously “loved, nurtured, cared for, and plain adored”. She goes on “But Christian’s tale isn’t a tale of tears. His tale is that of forever love, forever friendship, and of eternal freedom. No tears need to be shed for that lucky lion. If anyone wants to weep, he/she can weep for the Cecils who never received the blessings that were showered on Christian”.
WORLD: Europe is experiencing the largest transmigration of people since the 2nd World War. Germany is expecting 800,000 by the end of the year which is extraordinarily generous. Some other EU countries are less welcoming and because of the volume of people, there is now talk of borders soon being closed. The social and political consequences cannot be predicted. Lebanon and Jordan are also overwhelmed by refugees. Aid agencies do not have the resources to cope and urgently need donations. Winter is approaching. Beyond making donations, the Saudis and wealthy Gulf States do not seem particularly helpful.
Last year 60 million people were displaced around the world, and 120 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
You may donate to the UNHCR Syria Crisis here. It is sad that it has taken the photograph of a drowned Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi to galvanise the world into action, despite many drownings in the Mediterranean over the last few months and 71 people recently asphyxiated in a truck. .
PM Abbott’s idea of a contribution to this humanitarian disaster is, apparently, by asking President Obama to invite Australia to drop bombs in Syria. We have accepted. Doesn’t anyone ever learn? What is the strategic aim or hoped for outcome in Syria? Bombing Syria will only cause more deaths and refugees. If Assad is ousted who will fill the vacuum? Russia is extremely unlikely to allow this to happen and is apparently ready to assist Assad.
Our unnecessary involvement can only further alienate our own Muslim population, as will the discriminatory intention to select mostly Christian Syrians ahead of others in our promised 12,000 refugee intake.
Abbott’s policies on asylum seekers of just turning their boats back to Indonesia – to an unknown future – were recently described in The New York Times as “unconscionable”, “inhumane” and of “dubious legality”. While Abbott is increasingly unpopular here in the polls, he is becoming a poster boy for some of the lunatic Tea Party Republicans in the USA. The popularity of Donald Trump is very disconcerting.
It will be fascinating to watch Jeremy Corbyn, the new socialist leader of the UK Labour Party, and see how popular he will be. He is certainly a refreshing antidote to previous leaders. In comparison, it is hard to know what our own Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten actually believes in. He is not as disliked as Abbott but is not performing well either. He has also made inexcusable gaffes, and is too close to the union movement. Unlike the PM however, Shorten’s party seems united behind him.
Update since first published: Tony Abbott has been removed as Prime Minister by his own party. Bravo. He was challenged and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull who in contrast to Abbott is intelligent, sophisticated and moderate. Turnbull is independently wealthy, arrogant and not particularly astute politically. Many Australians are very happy today that we have a new PM who is not so captive to vested interests and rigid ideology, who actually believes that climate change is real and requires urgent action, and that Australia should become a republic.
GREENIES: We are holding progress and development back in Australia! We are the new scapegoats to distract from the government’s economic failures. PM Abbott is not going to “protect the environment at the expense of the economy”. Planned legislation would prevent environmental court challenges by 3rd parties. For example, I would have no right to participate in a court challenge to a mine, or to protect the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, if I did not reside nearby. Ag-gag laws are also being considered. While ostensibly under the guise of “bio-security” and concern for the health of farmed animals like chickens and pigs, these laws are really an attempt to stop animal activists trespassing and exposing these cruel practices.
Apparently, if the proposed mining in the Galilee Basin in Queensland goes ahead, the world has no chance of limiting global warming by 2 degrees. One of the mines is owned by Mr. Adani who is a very wealthy Indian who is close to PM Modi. A port would have to be expanded and would require dredging near the Great Barrier Reef. The company does not have a good environmental record to put it mildly. This proposal is very unlikely to go ahead and it is not because of us “greenies” – an expression I don’t particularly like. It will be primarily because of the low price of coal and that coal is becoming a stranded asset. Major banks are refusing to finance the project. The momentum for alternative renewable energy and divesting in fossil fuel shares will just keep growing. Realistically, coal will have a role to play for decades to come – but it will be a diminishing one.
In a bizarre move, the Mineral Council of Australia has a promotional campaign “Coal Is Amazing” starring a lump of coal! It was immediately ridiculed widely. Our PM Abbott has of course said “Coal is good for humanity”. He also said that wind farms are “ugly” – could anything be uglier or more destructive of the environment than the Bulga mine in the photograph above? Could anything be more unsightly or unhealthy for the devastated local community? Shenhua are proposing a mine like this beside the Liverpool Plains which has Australia’s richest food -producing soil. A mine like this could only destroy the water aquifers.
CULLING: There is a campaign building to cruelly cull feral cats by baiting, and for restrictions on pet cats, I will return to this subject in due course. After an unusual 14 shark attacks on the NSW coast of Australia this year, there are calls to cull sharks, and a Jaws-like fear for the impact on the looming summer tourist season. Apparently one reason for the sharks is their attraction to the “balls” of millions of small fish unusually close to the coast. People are not sure what is causing this. There were several fatal shark attacks in West Australia last year, and the culling of sharks has been a very contentious and unresolved issue.
VALE: Oliver Sacks said “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet”. What an intelligent and interesting man he was.
Khaled al-Asaad the 82 year old Syrian archaeologist was murdered by IS in Palmyra, and now the irreplaceable Temple of Bel and Temple of Baalshamin have been destroyed..
VIEWING: Last weekend I’ve enjoyed visiting the 2015 Sydney Contemporary Art Fair and the Sydney Antiques Fair. I’ve loved watching the US Tennis Open and our Rugby League football finals. The most popular recent TV shows in Australia have been cat and dog videos – programs that were probably quickly assembled when another show was cancelled. Their success hardly surprises many of us – we know what joy these animals bring into our lives.