Born Free, Blood Lions, Canned Hunting, Cecil the Lion, Tony the Tiger, World, Australia, Renewables, Climate Change/Dutch Court Case, Electricity Costs, Coal, Birds, Christine Townend, Asylum Seekers
July 31, 2015
I love this photograph, and many others entered in the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. Some of the other entries follow below and see here for a wide selection. With so many people with cameras and the plethora of images in our daily lives with social media and Instagram etc, it is great there are now so many competitions giving photographers greater exposure. Countless images of our beautiful natural world and wildlife can only contribute to renewing our efforts for urgent protection.
BORN FREE: After the initial successful fund raiser for Animal Works and The Feline Foundation, I have been asked again to introduce the classic film Born Free on Saturday 8th August at 2pm, at Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney. I loved seeing the film again. The story of Elsa the lioness is sensitively told and Africa looks very fresh and beautiful. Please spread the word as Animal Works do support such important causes and projects! You can purchase tickets here.
BLOOD LIONS: This documentary, which took considerable courage to make, addresses the horrific practice of captive lion breeding and canned hunting in South Africa. It has just been shown at the Durban International Film Festival. No doubt it will soon be shown in Australia and internationally, so keep up to date via the Blood Lions website.
CECIL THE LION: the shooting of well known Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe by an American dentist has created a social media “firestorm” and international outcry. The 13 year old lion who was collared and under surveillance, was apparently lured outside his territory by bait. He was initially shot with a bow and arrow and forty hours later was shot with a gun. He was skinned and beheaded. What sort of people take pleasure in this? His cubs will be killed by another lion. Sign this petition and we can only hope Cecil’s death will add to the momentum against canned hunting and a world wide ban on the importation of animal body parts and trophies.
TONY THE TIGER: Please sign this petition for Tony! It is hard not to be very upset and pessimistic as the years go by and Tony remains imprisoned for the fifteenth year! I have been told that our collective signatures are noticed and can make a difference. There are now over 50,000 on this petition for Tony but they are aiming at 75,000.
A new sign on Tony’s cage at the truck stop says “we are proud of our record and it is a great joy to provide this free exhibit to you. Recent attacks by Animal Rights Terrorists and legal organisations against private zoos have resulted in huge legal fees. Donations are greatly appreciated”! This is just outrageous and we must keep the pressure up in any way we can to free Tony, the “free exhibit”.
WORLD: This 1st century statue of the Lion of al-Lat in Palmyra, Syria was destroyed earlier in the month by ISIS militants. Other sites in Palmyra are undamaged at this stage, but there has been widespread looting and vandalism across ISIS controlled areas. The unnecessary loss of cultural heritage is shocking – as is the plight of the millions of displaced people in the region.
It is hard not to be pessimistic about the world at the moment. There is new unsettling change, transition and insecurity. The sovereignty of some countries, particularly in the Middle East, is threatened and borders are reconfiguring. There are real fears over the territorial ambitions and influence of Putinism, and of China in the South China Sea. No-one really knows what repercussions there may be from the sluggish global economic growth, the disastrous handling of the Greek debt crisis, and now the Chinese stock market collapse.
However, with the end of his presidency in sight, and no election to face, Barack Obama’s recent activities are giving us some reason to be optimistic and people have a renewed admiration for him. At least he is trying to break a stalemate with Iran with the nuclear deal. Yes, lifting sanctions will make Iran wealthier and even more influential in the region, but their nuclear ambitions can be much more closely monitored. Obama also met with Native Americans which must be rare if it makes the news, as was his visit to a federal prison to meet with prisoners.
AUSTRALIA: There is growing frustration in Australia at the lack of any serious political debate or action on vital issues such as falling revenues, job creation, urgent tax reform and huge health and education budget shortfalls. The government – and opposition, play populist politics, both frightened of reform and of alienating core constituents. We are seemingly always in election mode, and policy reduced to inane slogans.
Respected journalist Laura Tingle recently wrote “we don’t seem to quite be able to take in the growing realisation that we are actually being governed by idiots and fools”.
Interestingly, in frustration, various diverse organisations are coming together to address the issues the government hasn’t: tax reform, an economic and jobs strategy, and the implications of climate change. These groups include the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Australian Council of Social Services.
For an informed appraisal of the government’s performance and the state of the economy see the article Abbott hiding behind scare campaign by Ross Gittins in the SMH earlier this month (read full article here). The PM “ wants to divert us from the hash he is making of the economy”. Our Australian government thinks National Security is a vote winner and is ramping up fear at every opportunity. The PM even repeated that the “ISIS death cult is coming to get us”. As Gittins points out more people in Australia are dying from smoking, alcohol, car accidents and domestic violence than in terrorist attacks.
Our government is legislating to take away citizenship from jihadists and has seized the opportunity to curtail our own rights and freedoms. Denmark now welcomes their jihadists back and attempts to deradicalise them with education and employment opportunities. Their “flow” of fighters has become a “trickle”. By contrast, our government continues to alienate many in our Muslim community by often demonising them.
RENEWABLES: While windpower in Denmark recently produced 140% of power requirements, in Australia the government continues to attack renewable energy with a third attempt to disband the successful Clean Energy Fund Corporation. Unlike most of the rest of the world, the government are particularly targeting wind power and even small scale solar possibly because it is proving so popular. The opposition Labor Party have finally said something: they have announced a 50% renewable energy target by 2030 although there are no details or costings. Although the issue of climate change has had high profile political casualties, it will be a major factor in the next election. I think our present government will be shown to be on the wrong side of history. A majority in the community now believe urgent action is necessary, as do forward planning business leaders.
ELECTRICITY COSTS: The central question is just how much will a transition from fossil fuels to renewables cost? The Murdoch press, shock jock Alan Jones and the PM all predictably responded with wilful misinformation. For those interested in this vital and complicated question – see this article The true cost of green energy by Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper (25/26 July) where he comprehensively quotes the actual likely costs. “The arguments against renewable energy are not just without scientific basis, they lack economic credibility”.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance compares the costs of new wind farms, large scale photovoltaic projects, coal fired power stations, and gas base load stations. They conclude “both wind and solar are already cheaper than coal” and “the cost advantage of non- polluting energy is rapidly increasing”.
Mike Seccombe also quotes the Climate Works Australia CEO Anna Skarbek who says “Australia could completely decarbonise its economy while maintaining current rates of economic growth and do it – mostly – using existing technology”. In the article she describes four basic steps to achieve this.
CLIMATE CHANGE / DUTCH COURT CASE: do see this article where 886 concerned Dutch citizens successfully sued the Dutch Government over climate change inaction. The government “inaction” is illegal, and an abrogation of their “duty of care”. Citizens in other countries intend to follow suit, although unfortunately in Australia it would be more difficult.
COAL: It is likely permission will be granted for a Chinese coal mine (Shenhua Watermark) to proceed on the Liverpool Plains in north/west NSW. The threat to water is the main concern, not only for agriculture, but the area is a major catchment for the Murray-Darling Water Basin. This is Australia’s richest food producing land and I think this proposed mine will be the line in the sand that unites conservative land owners, conservationists and the majority of the public.
I haven’t visited the once extremely picturesque Hunter Valley for many years, but apparently mining has trashed it. Mining has threatened communities, tourism, vineyards and horse breeding and much else. The Indian Adani company seems unlikely to proceed with their vast coal mining plans in the Galilee Basin, Queensland, which also involved expanding port facilities and further endangering the Great Barrier Reef.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: The opposition Labor Party have now backed the government’s brutal policy to turn back refugee boats to Indonesia. I’m sure our inhumane response to the relatively few refugees (compared to Europe) breaks International Refugee Conventions. The boats to Australia have apparently stopped although the government releases no information, have payed off the people smugglers themselves, and annoyed the Indonesian government. People can go and drown or fight to survive somewhere else it seems, and I am sad to say, the majority of Australians agree. We have inhumane off-shore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. 2 people have died on Manus Island, and not one person has been processed or resettled in 2 years.
Waleed Ali has commented that Australians are tolerant (or not racist) as long as “minorities know their place”. One of our best Aboriginal footballers Adam Goodes is currently being booed during games in a form of mob hysteria that has an undeniable racist undercurrent. He is a highly respected leader of his people who is unafraid to speak up, and he was Australian of the Year last year. During a match two years ago he objected to someone in the crowd calling him an “ape”. As the person turned out to be a young girl, Goodes has been vilified ever since as a bully!
CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine Townend’s poetry collection, Walking with Elephants (published by Island Press) was launched on 13th July, by Dr. Dinesh Wadiwel, a lecturer in Human Rights (USyd). The launch took place at the recent three day conference, Animal Publics, Emotions, Empathy, Activism, held at the University of Melbourne. Read one of her poems, Walking with Elephants. Her poems effortlessly express her love, concern and understanding of animals – and India. See this excellent review.
The animals at the Working for Animals shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong KAS) in India just adore her – I’ve seen it!
BIRDS: Birdlife Australia reports an alarming drop in the number of birds including kookaburras, willy wag-tails and magpies which are seemingly plentiful where I live. The Australian Bird Index is a citizens project carrying out rigorous and systematic surveys of our bird numbers. There are superb bird photographs on the website – and more photographic competitions.
Zoe Tweedale has named her current exhibition at Robin Gibson after Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and contains a painting of the star Tippi Hedren. The artist finds birds both extremely beautiful and exotic, but sometimes sinister and unsettling.
Lions, Kevin Richardson, Christian the Lion, Mark Pearson, Lyn White, Kangaroos, Donkeys, William T Cooper, Climate Change, Australia, World, Dolphins, Asylum Seekers, Warlis Paintings, Petitions On Behalf of Animals
June 24, 2015
KEVIN RICHARDSON: I very much enjoyed the successful fund raising event in Sydney with guest speaker Kevin Richardson visiting from South Africa. There were many people keen to meet him and buy his book Part of the Pride so I didn’t really have time to ask my trite question “do you shampoo and blow dry your lions as they look SO gorgeous?” He answered most of my more serious questions when he delivered his talk – including the dangers he inadvertently faces even though the lions obviously adore him. Of course George Adamson is a hero of his.
Only approximately 20,000 lions are left in the wild. Kevin is a leading campaigner against canned hunting, and he explained how, despite the assertions of the South African government and others, canned hunting is NOT a contributor to wildlife management or conservation. Do beware of visiting or volunteering at wildlife parks that are ethically compromised and are actually part of canned hunting.
I was also very impressed with the work of our hosts Painted Dog Conservation Inc and their work and fund raising efforts to protect African Painted Dogs and other animals. They also support and work closely with local communities.
PETITIONS: An American recently paid US$440,000 to shoot a black rhino in Namibia “to help protect the endangered species”! Apparently only 5 Northern White rhinos are left. Please sign this petition against the “catastrophic” levels of Rhino poaching here.
One of Australia’s leading campaigners against canned hunting, Donalea Patman, has asked us to sign two petitions. The first is for the Australian Government to maintain the recent ban on the importation of lion trophies and body parts. There is a rear-guard action to overturn this. The other petition is to ask Qantas to stop the shipping of hunting trophies and follow the admirable example of Emirates, Singapore Airlines and British Airlines . Sign them here and here.
MARK PEARSON: The animal rights movement is changing and coming from the fringe into the mainstream. This was very apparent to me at the Animal Studies conference in Delhi this January. It is also heartening to see so many young advocates and activists, especially girls it seems. See this interview with Mark Pearson, the first Animal Justice Party member of a parliament in Australia. Mark has done his fair share of courageous direct action which he has found to be effective. He now feels he is a little too old to be entering a piggery or battery hen farm or cattle feedlot at night and chaining himself to a cage. Like my friend Christine Townend (and many others), Mark was initially influenced by the work of Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher and animal rights advocate.
LYN WHITE: Do read this interview in the SMH with Lyn White of Animals Australia. She has been prominent in the media over the last few years primarily exposing the cruelty in our live cattle industry – in Indonesia for example, and more recently in Vietnam and Israel. Animals Australia also exposed the use of live baits to blood greyhounds. It is the unnecessary suffering of animals that drives her. The undercover footage she obtains of the extreme cruelty to animals especially in abbatoirs, and the thoroughness of her investigations, makes her both feared – and respected, by our government.
KANGAROOS: I urge you to email the Minister responsible for the unnecessary culling (killing) of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in the Australian Capital Territory, Mr Shane Rattenbury, Minister for Territory and Municipal Service – firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more information here and here.
DONKEYS: I know some of you think I ignore the plight of donkeys around the world. In recent flooding in NSW, the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary at Clarence Town in the Hunter Valley was badly damaged. Any donations to support these previously unwanted or neglected donkeys would be most appreciated – see donkeyrescue.org.au I am encouraged that so many people and organisations I have never previously heard of are doing such good work on behalf of animals.
WILLIAM T COOPER: the artist who David Attenborough described as “possibly the best artist of birds in the world”, died recently. As I live surrounded by bush I have slowly become more knowledgeable about the many birds I live amongst (cats notwithstanding), and understand why so many of you are very interested in birds! I’m also noticing many contemporary artists are painting birds…
William was undoubtedly a very good artist and he often placed the birds in context in relation to habitats and food sources etc – assisted by his botanist wife. Their work is an extremely valuable resource. I can sometimes find his paintings a little florid, or busy, and prefer, for example, the more understated work of Neville Henry Cayley (1854-1903) and his son Neville William Cayley (1886-1978) who published the definitive What Bird Is That? in 1931.
CLIMATE CHANGE & ENERGY: It was important that the G7 Group of Seven biggest developed nations recently declared that the world needed to phase out fossil fuel emissions by the end of the century. Australia has yet again been described as an international laggard for our inaction, and hopefully our government will just be dragged (or shamed) reluctantly along with the growing momentum. Encouragingly, a majority of Australians again want action on climate change, after support dropped off owing to a lack of resolution at the Copenhagen conference years ago, and no subsequent leadership on the issue.
Congratulations to Pope Francis for accepting the science on global warming and man-made climate change, and for speaking up in his encyclical. He gave quite a devastating critique of capitalism, our greed and consumerism, and the destruction and exploitation of our environment. Unfortunately he did not mention contraception and another major contributor to our plight – overpopulation.
The PM’s proposed “consensus centre” at the University of West Australia that was to be headed by Bjorn Lomberg, has been rejected by the UWA after the predicted outcry. Lomberg is the climate-change expert you use when you don’t want any action, or want to do as little as you can get away with. Read this story about him in the SMH if you are interested. I think he has received quite enough publicity myself.
See this interesting article “Progressives failing to tell the Big Story” by Alex Frankel from The Saturday Paper about how after decades of conservative political ascendancy, progressives “are yet to offer a simple counter narrative that critiques neoliberal values” or articulates “their vision of society”. Conservatives, complicit with big business and media controlled by people like Rupert Murdoch, are masters of controlling the Big Story. Progressives mistakenly think persuasion operates through reason, but “most things are shaped through stories rather than facts”.
Alex Frankel cites climate change as an example of how debates can be “managed”. Despite the evidence of 95% of scientists (and the extreme weather we are all experiencing), fossil fuel interests will delay any action for as long as possible, by “contesting the narrative”.
PM Abbott has been very successful in this debate, especially when in Opposition. The “Clean Energy Act” was renamed as the “carbon tax” which he then linked to increasing the “cost of living”, especially electricity prices.
Frankel quotes Frank Luntz who pointed out that “because the very expression “climate change” was scientifically focused, ambiguous and had no obvious story or villain, it could be manipulated by polluters”. The current debate is “normalising climate change” as “just part of life” which is exactly what the polluters want.
Frankel says it is “better to talk about industrial change than climate change, and to frame the conversation in terms of a big polluting villain and a clean energy solution”.
PM Abbott recently was brazen or stupid enough to claim “coal is good for humanity”. I suppose he meant that developing countries – especially India and China, will depend on coal for a long time. See the recent The End of Coal from ABC’s Four Corners which I think is a fair summation. Tesla energy storage will be the game changer!
Two thirds of our electricity in Australia still comes from coal, and the government’s antipathy to renewable energy was illustrated lately when PM Abbott said he found wind farms “ugly” and that they are probably health risks. Is there anything uglier – or more unhealthy, than an open-cut coal mine?
Norway, with the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has decided to divest itself of stocks with assets that are dominated by coal miners and coal burners, as have the Rockefellers. Valerie Rockefeller of the Rockefeller Foundation asked why Australia is “so stuck in the past and not looking to the future?”.
DOLPHINS: It is great news that Japan’s peak zoo association has announced that aquarium members will stop purchasing dolphins captured during the horrific annual Taiji hunt. Congratulations to Australia for Dolphins and CEO Sarah Lucas for their legal action that led to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums threatening to suspend Japan. Sarah Lucas says “This significant decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan”. Read more here.
AUSTRALIA: A recent poll by the Lowy Institute showed that many Australians are feeling bleak and gloomy about the future. There is declining optimism about our economic prospects. There is a greater sense of insecurity, with only 1/4 feeling “safe”, and terrorism a chief concern. Rather than making us feel safe, the government has really just succeeded in making us more fearful with Abbott recently saying to us “Daish are coming to get you”!!! His government has already proven to be incompetent when a letter the Sydney siege gunman had previously written to the Attorney General was “overlooked”!!!
Many people are depressed by the performance of both our major political parties and their adversarial and divisive conduct. We seem to be in permanent election mode and hostage to the 24 hour media cycle and polls, and policy reduced to 3 word slogans. Neither side has the courage to tackle any necessary reforms or have a strategy for increasing revenue (or employment) now that our resources boom is ending.
The Greens unexpectedly got a new leader, Richard Di Natale. He is more pragmatic than his predecessor and wants to turn the Greens into a progressive mainstream party.
WORLD: No, Palmyra in Syria has not been destroyed yet, but imagine if this 3rd century BC site was? Palmyra was a major trading intersection for China, the Persian Gulf, Egypt and Rome. With ISIS already having destroyed Hatra and Nimrud in Iraq, and the recent earthquakes in Nepal, we are losing so much of our priceless cultural heritage. It is hard not to feel worried about the world at the moment including the inept response of the West to ISIS and the territorial gains of the “caliphate” across swathes of Iraq and Syria. All eyes are nervously on Greece and the repercussions if they do default on their multi-billion dollar debts.
Even sport has been depressing with FIFA and Sep Blatter in utter disgrace, but I am looking forward very much to Wimbledon!
Australia is likely to be involved in any dispute over China’s claim and development of the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea which is creating tension in the region. Looking at a map the islands do look much closer to The Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. The USA is establishing a base in Darwin, in our Northern Territory, and is apparently to host American B1 fighter jets, although we only found this out accidentally when an American official “misspoke”.
At least Tony Blair is no longer the Middle East envoy. He seemed oblivious to conflicts of interest or the appropriateness of his associations with dictators, and is now very rich. As apparently documented in the book Clinton’s Cash, it was stupid of Hillary to allow donations to Bill’s Clinton Foundation during her time as Secretary of State.
The only positive from the recent race-hate shooting in the USA is the extraordinary forgiveness some have shown, while so many of us in the world wonder what is it about Americans and their guns?
ASYLUM SEEKERS: This of course is one of the most pressing concerns for the world with apparently 50 million people displaced. The ABC Four Corners has just shown a horrific report Journey into Hell on the fate of the Rohingas as the government of Myanmar attempts to expel them. The situation has created an asylum seeker crisis in our region. Our eloquent PM Tony Abbott said “nope, nope, nope” to any assistance, while our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop demonised them by describing them as mostly “economic migrants”. San Suu Kyi’s silence has been glaringly obvious as she has her eye on the next election, and the behaviour of the Buddhist monks has been appalling.
It seems to our government the “end justifies the means”. We are prepared to stop any asylum seeker trying to reach Australia even “by hook or by crook”. It appears Australia paid “people smugglers” US$30,000 to turn a boat at sea packed with refugees back to Indonesia. I’m not sure how this is meant to “destroy the business model” for people smugglers…and the Indonesian Government is yet again angry with us.
WARLIS: I am opening an exhibition of Warlis tribal art from India in Sydney on 27th June at Coo-ee Gallery – see here for the details. I have collected Indian tribal art over many trips to India and the Warlis painters were the first I collected and exhibited in Australia. Tribal people in India share their forests and habitats with wild animals (often part of their religion and mythology), and all are equally threatened by “development” and competition for resources. In January, while looking for lions in Gir National Park in Gujarat, I saw several tribal villages. Some had been moved to safer locations, and others had augmented their defences against lions and other animals. People in India, as they are in other countries, are working in a more enlightened way towards a more effective co-existence between animals and humans.
Born Free, Elsa, Kevin Richardson, Lions, Christian the Lion, Orangutans, Rhinos, Tony Albert, Australia, Climate Change, Ildiko Kovacs, George Gittoes, Wars, Jonathon Jones, Sebastião Salgado, World, Art Exhibitions etc
May 8, 2015
I am very much looking forward to meeting “lion whisperer” Kevin Richardson when he comes to Australia next month. See here for details of when he is appearing at fund raisers in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney (17th June) for Painted Dog Conservation Incorporated. I want to ask Kevin about the risks he seems to take with lions that I never would, and if he shampoos them – they look so fluffy and gorgeous. He is an active campaigner against the “canned hunting” of lions.
I have heard two interesting interviews relating to animals on our ABC Radio National lately. Jacqui Sunderland-Groves, a primatologist and Senior Advisor at Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia described “forest school” where orangutans are taught and prepared to be returned to the wild. 170 have been rehabilitated successfully to natural habitats and are forming viable populations.
The other interview was with Australian Damien Mander who brings his experience as an ex-soldier to the Anti-Poaching Foundation primarily working in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He seems mainly concerned with the prevention of the poaching of rhinos, especially that rhino horn can now command up to $75,000 a kilo!
Christine Townend sent me this link to Psychology Today. There are many articles which illustrate the fantastic range of contemporary thinking about animals. Through a wide variety of animals and experts, there are many discussions and views on subjects as diverse as sentience, rewilding, compassionate conservation, and interspecies friendships.
In NSW we are celebrating that Mark Pearson won a seat for the Animal Justice Party in the NSW Parliament Upper House.
BORN FREE: I loved seeing Born Free again and it was a successful fundraiser for The Feline Foundation and Animal Works. The film was not dated and Africa looked so beautiful and fresh. Virginia McKenna, although more English rose than the volatile Austrian Joy Adamson, is an excellent actress. The lions were wonderful and Elsa was an amazing animal. The film portrayed Joy Adamson as the one keenest to keep the cubs, but it was George who relented at the last moment and did not send Elsa with the others to a zoo in Holland. George Adamson later said they should have kept the three cubs as this would have made Elsa’s lonely and precarious rehabilitation easier. This was why he created a pride around our Christian the lion, with Boy as the adult male. George gambled that Boy would not kill the younger Christian who was nearly old enough to be perceived as a threat. Only 3 out of 15 lions used in the filming of Born Free were rehabilitated, which angered Joy and George and Virginia and Bill Travers.
WAR: Tony Albert is a highly regarded Aboriginal artist and his striking memorial to the previously overlooked contribution of Indigenous soldiers to our armed forces was recently unveiled in Hyde Park, Sydney. Last month was the anniversary of 100 years since Australians and New Zealanders landed at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915. 8709 Australians and 2701 New Zealanders were sent to their deaths by incompetent British commanders. Those precious lives – great losses on both sides – should serve as a lesson against war, but they haven’t.
The $325 million spent on this anniversary could instead help many still struggling Vietnam Vets, or families of servicemen.
I think Australians were probably good soldiers: they were fit and brave, supported their “mates”, had a healthy suspicion of authority, were perhaps a little “crazy” brave and exhibited “careless behaviour”. Arthur Conan Doyle described them as “rude and rough, but honest, kindly and true”.
Australians seem to be sent to war by conservative governments or at the request of our allies who we hope will come to our defense sometime in the future. Conservative PM Menzies sent troops to Vietnam in 1965, but at least that war was in our region. Conservative PM Howard sent us into Iraq in 2003, and present PM Abbott has just sent another 300+ back to Iraq. On the day this “mission creep” was announced, our Minister for Defence could not name the commander of Islamic State although there is a $US10 million price tag on his head. Mind you, I couldn’t either. His name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and he is now rumoured to be injured. He apparently planned his IS Caliphate while imprisoned in the notorious Iraqi Abu-Ghraib prison.
I’m thrilled that friend and fellow Bundeena resident Ildiko Kovacs has won the prestigious Bulgari Art Award. The painting has been acquired by the AGNSW, and includes a residency for the artist in Italy. Ex Bundeena resident George Gittoes has just won the Sydney Peace Prize 2015. He has set up a Yellow House (à la Vincent Van Gogh and Martin Sharp) in Jahalabad, Afghanistan, which he describes as “Taliban Central”. He is a very interesting and intrepid artist who has documented many wars and their aftermath, and believes that art is more effective than weapons.
AUSTRALIA: As Donald Horne said in his 1964 book A Lucky Country “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise”.
Unfortunately this remains quite true so many years later. I just can’t see any constructive strategy from the government for addressing our problems and changing economic circumstances. The looming May Budget next week will be a huge test.
I did love Tony Abbott’s frank answer to Angela Merkel who asked him what drove our relationship with China: “greed and fear”, although, unfortunately our resources boom and exports to China now seem to be dwindling.
I also loved this tweet from cricketer Shane Warne who I also criticised for talking about alcohol after the Australian World Cup victory: “Do gooders get stuffed. Straya (Australia) is the best place in the world, not politically correct, keep it real. Aussies celebrate properly!#thirsty
CLIMATE CHANGE: Australia has been criticised recently for inaction on climate change as 193 countries get ready for the conference in Paris later in the year. We are the highest per capita emitters in the world and we are not transitioning – or diversifying, out of our reliance on coal. Environment Minister Hunt has been hailing his Direct Action policy a great success. The government abolished the carbon tax as unfair on tax payers, (and emissions have consequently risen), yet this policy pays polluters (with our money) to stop! Already most of the money allocated for these projects has been spent, yet we are still well short of our targets.
While the government has scandalously slashed funding to science, climate change bodies and education, they have found $4 million for Danish Bjorn Lomborg to establish an “Australian Consensus Center” at the University of West Australia. Lomborg acknowledges the human factor in climate warming, but is a “sceptical environmentalist” and does not seem to actually want to do anything about it in case it affects the economy! He seems to have low academic qualifications (in political science!) and I think the outcry against him and the university will only grow.
This is unfortunately yet another example of the government’s shameless ideological bias. Other recent examples are a government “White Paper” on Energy which mentioned climate change ONCE, and a decade-long Intergenerational Report which also overlooked climate change. This report was described by respected economist Ross Gittins as a “blatant piece of political propaganda”. Is this the objectivity one should expect from our government as they supposedly plan our future?
Despite our considerable sun and wind resource base in Australia, the government has made investing in renewables as unattractive as possible. They are on “the wrong side of history” and recent advances like the Tesla Powerwall and Tesla Powerpack will revolutionise the potential for storage of electricity generated from solar panels, and will be cheap enough to solve the reliability of intermittent solar and wind.
There is an exhibition at The Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne entitled Nature/Revelation. It is a key component of the “Art+Climate=change festival” and seeks to “celebrate the unique capacity art has to cut through prevailing rhetoric to stimulate individually and emotionally in the face of current environmental issues”.
ECOMODERNIST MANIFESTO: A conservative group of international scientists has issued this manifesto and believe that “the next generation of solar, advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion represent the most plausible pathways toward the joint goals of climate stabilisation and radical decoupling of humans from nature”.
An ANU Report states that Australia’s abundance of renewable energy resources should make exiting fossil fuels possible by 2050, at a manageable cost to the economy. AGL – listed last blog as one of Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, is to exit coal-fired power plants by 2050, and not build new ones. I am cynical of this attempt to appear “green” as the announcement follows a recent stocking-up spending spree.
I’m looking forward to seeing The Salt of the Earth, the documentary about the great Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado made by his son and Wim Wenders. Salgado’s often beautiful and powerful images have been criticised for ennobling or romanticising the poverty or working conditions of some of his subjects, but they equally also garner necessary attention. See a review of the film here.
WORLD: In Australia we were recently shocked by the recent execution in Indonesia of 8 convicted drug smugglers, including two Australians. Capital punishment is appalling and has been proven not to be a deterrent. It was all handled in a very chaotic and cruel way, and unfortunately President Joko Widodo appeared weak. He was recently humiliated (again) by his Party chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri, herself a failed president.
Up to 10,000 people may have died in the recent earthquake in Nepal. The country is one of the poorest in the world and the devastation so comprehensive that they urgently need extensive international aid. Co-ordination of relief efforts and rebuilding does seem beyond the capacity of this government. Apart from all the lives and livelihoods lost, many historical and culturally important buildings have been destroyed. Animal victims are receiving emergency aid from the Humane Society International’s Vet Team.
I read reports that Egypt is massing large-scale ground and air forces along the Libyan border in preparation for a military campaign to capture eastern Libya from IS occupation. I suppose more will flee to Europe with 1500 lost at sea already this year, including the 750 people that drowned recently. 5800 were rescued last weekend! Apparently Assad’s grip on power in Syria is finally weakening.
I am glad Pope Francis, among many others, has spoken up on the centenary of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who were killed by the Turks, and it is time Turkey faced up to this historical reality.
The UK election seemed to be very close with no party likely to win a majority in their own right, but exit polls today are however pointing to a Tory victory. While there has been some growth in the British economy, especially compared with most other countries, the general population do not feel they are sharing any benefit. Apparently Rupert Murdoch continued to interfere in the democratic process with his biased newspapers, while in Australia, his papers just blatantly back the government.
I suppose I hope Hillary Clinton wins the next US presidential election. She does carry a lot of “Clinton” baggage, but I thought she was a competent state secretary. All the Republicans seem too closely allied to that loony right wing Tea Party – and who could bear another Bush as president? Hillary has a $US 2.5 billion war-chest for her campaign.
The rioting and destruction in Baltimore followed yet another death of a black American at the hands of the police or while in custody. It is a breaking point in race relations, and long standing social problems and disadvantage remain unaddressed.
The stalling of growth in the American economy is concerning for us all.
The exhibition Indigenous Australia – Enduring Civilisation has just opened at the British Museum, UK. It includes Aboriginal objects, weapons, art etc. collected early in the white settlement of Australia, and includes a wooden shield and spears collected by Captain Cook’s crew in Botany Bay in 1770.
The annual exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year is at the Australian Museum, Sydney and runs until 5th October. It isn’t too late to enter the National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest 2015 – the competition closes on June 30th!
See more marvellous ocean and wildlife images by Matty Smith here.
Born Free, Global March For Lions, Australia’s Ban on Lion Body Parts and Trophy Imports, Christian the Lion, Horse Racing, MAC3 Review, ACF, Australian Photography, Pandas, Australia, Middle East etc
April 10, 2015
The famous 1966 film Born Free is being shown as a fundraiser by Animal Works, The Feline Foundation and Event Cinemas in Sydney on Saturday 18th April at Event Cinema, George Street, Sydney. I have been asked to introduce the film, as it was through Christian the Lion that I met Joy and George Adamson, and the actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who played them in the film.
As I have said before, I did not read Born Free when it was first published or see the film. However I loved catching up on them later, and what a wonderful and extraordinary animal Elsa the lioness was. The book and the film made millions of people around the world realise that animals were sentient beings. I’m looking forward very much to seeing Born Free again.
GLOBAL MARCH FOR LIONS: Is “canned hunting” in South Africa awaiting these young lions in this photograph by Brent Stirton? The lions as cubs would have been petted and then walked with tourists. When older, they could then be shot in an enclosed area by “hunters”.
The best news for the Global March for Lions was that there is now a blanket ban on importing into Australia lion body parts and trophies from both “canned” or “legal” hunting. We need to advocate for this to also happen in the USA and Europe as this will be a very effective measure.
Donalea Patman has been indefatigable working with Australian government politicians to bring this ban about and asks us to “keep writing to local members about animal issues. With regards to Australia taking the lead by banning the import of lion trophies and body parts we must be vigilant, as hunters are very angry and are firing up their representatives in Parliament with Senator Bridget McKenzie creating a “friends of the shooters”. With the hunters reaction you would have thought Minister Hunt had banned hunting! This ban is a direct response to the cruel and barbaric practice of canned hunting of Africa’s threatened lions and protecting what’s left, treating lions as if they are on Appendix 1 of CITES. The hunters have threatened both Jason Wood MP and Minister Hunt which required the Federal Police to be present at the 13 March, Global March for Lions event in Melbourne”. See more information (and some beautiful photographs of lions) on Donalea’s website fortheloveofwildlife here.
I love this photograph of Yuan Chih, her mother Isobel, her cat Mai-Mai, and a copy of the Chinese edition of our book! She assures me our book A Lion Called Christian is available in bookshops in China and Taiwan. I asked Yuan Chih how she became involved in animal protection and what she is working on presently. See here for her reply and not surprisingly, she already has an impressive track record in Taiwan and China.
Many people ask me how they can also help to protect animals. While virtually all organisations in this field need financial assistance, many require volunteers, and it was by volunteering that Yuan Chih began her involvement.
I met Yuan Chih at the MAC3 Conference in Delhi in January, where I also met up with Fionna Prins from Goa. I posted two beautiful photographs last blog of some of the many dogs that share Fionna’s home in Goa. I haven’t asked Fionna how she became involved – I suspect she and her partner just opened her home to dogs in need! She has posted a special blog on Christian – see Stray Assist – and I was particularly interested in her very succinct summary of why she thinks Christian’s story still resonates today.
There is an Animal Conference in Melbourne at the University of Melbourne July 13-15th 2015 – Animal Publics: Emotions, Empathy, Activism. See here for more details.
PETITION AGAINST WHIPPING RACE HORSES: I discussed the whipping of horses last blog and you may want to sign this petition against the unnecessary and cruel whipping of race horses here. Australian vet Andrew McLean told me about research by Paul McGreevy that demonstrated that whipping actually makes horses shorten their stride when they should be stretching out in a sprint to the post. Banning the whip would make it a fair “level playing field” for all horses.
Like most Australians I have rather enjoyed each year trying to pick winners in our famous Melbourne Cup horse race. Many are superb-looking animals and some may even enjoy racing and the arduous training. However, two horses died after the race last year and several jockeys were killed in 2014. I think it is just too dangerous and unfortunately, it is just another example of animals being exploited for our enjoyment – but no longer mine. Steeplechase (jumps) racing should definitely be banned.
Horses that fail, break down or are too old, are, like greyhounds, just put down.
PANDAS: It is very good news that panda numbers are increasing and an official survey in China stated that by the end of 2013 China had 1864 giant pandas alive in the wild which represented a 16.8% increase since 2003 estimates. “Conservation measures” are credited, and while panda habitat has been increased in some instances, habitat- loss still continues and 12% of pandas are classified as “high risk”. China has 375 pandas in captivity, and 42 others are scattered in zoos around the world.
ELEPHANTS: While most of us are now aware of the critical situation facing elephants and are doing our best to highlight it, the recent Africa Elephant Summit in Botswana reinforced that elephants may be extinct within decades. Numbers have fallen from 550,000 in 2006 to 470,000 in 2013. The importation of ivory and animal body parts, especially to China and Vietnam, must urgently be curtailed. Importing animal body parts to Asia is a $US40 billion industry.
AUSTRALIA: The looming May Budget will be the next test for the government and the PM. Their first budget is still unresolved and was almost universally regarded as having been particularly unfair to those most vulnerable in the community. Already there are very mixed and contradictory messages about what the May budget will contain.
Our cricket team won the World Cup by beating NZ convincingly but were regarded by many as poor sportsmen while the New Zealanders earned great respect in comparison. Shane Warne is a natural commentator, but his post-final interviews were more interested in the alcohol to be consumed in celebration.
Another former cricket great Glenn McGrath was shamed recently when photographs surfaced of him hunting in Africa and showing him proudly with a dead elephant, buffalo and hyena.
Richie Benaud, Australia’s much loved and highly respected cricket icon has just died aged 84. He was an exceptional captain, spin bowler and commentator. It feels like the end of an era and many people will be very sad.
ACF: Successful businessman Geoffrey Cousins knows his way into the board rooms of Australia, and has proven to be an unexpected and effective conservation advocate in recent years. He is now head of the Australian Conservation Foundation. The ACF has just released a list of Australia’s worst greenhouse gas emitters – with our electricity suppliers AGL, EnergyAustralia and Macquarie Generation topping the list. Many of these companies have sought to halt or slow investment in renewable energy, and have opposed measures to combat climate change. A new research study from Oxford University says there are 22 coal -fired stations in Australia, and electricity suppliers AGL, Origin, Stanwell and Delta are responsible for 25% of Australia’s emissions.
AGNSW: The Photograph and Australia exhibition is showing until 8 June at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and is “the story of the interactions between people and land, and their representations in photography”. Curated by Judy Annear, the exhibition begins with the introduction of photography in the 1840s, through many C19th images, to contemporary photographers. There are many portraits of Australians from different eras, and images illustrating the growth of our towns and cities, and expansion into the outback and rural Australia.
The exhibition contains images by both well known and unknown photographers. I particularly liked the dramatic and wonderful photographs of Antarctica by Frank Hurley (1911-1912), and the many historical photographs of unidentified Aborigines by photographers or studios such as Kerry and Co, and J.W. Lindt.
MIDDLE EAST: Before his re-election PM Nethanyahu finally dispelled the charade so few of us believed when he finally admitted that there would be no Palestinian State on his watch.
President Obama, who still has nearly 2 years to run, seems to have lost patience with Israel. Apparently he is also moving away from Saudi Arabia (an unsavoury ally with links to terrorist organisations), and is moving closer to Iran and a deal over their nuclear capabilities and the lifting of economic sanctions. Undoubtedly Obama is taking a huge gamble and playing a dangerous game!
IS seems to have been curtailed to an extent in Iraq, but is even stronger in Syria. IS now controls an area the size of the UK and is wealthy from the black market sale of oil. There are estimated to be 25,000 foreign fighters with IS, with an effective leadership, many of them former Iraqi commanders. But as Paul Maley recently wrote in The Australian, IS is over extended, supply lines are threatened and success is mostly due to the weakness of the enemies.
IS is at present terrorising up to 18,000 people in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus – and people are warning of a huge humanitarian disaster. I can’t imagine what life is like for the people that have remained in Syria, or the millions displaced by the conflicts.
Although air strikes against IS have been successful in Iraq, I really fail to see why our PM Abbott couldn’t wait to be back in Iraq again after the disastrous invasion of 2003. He thinks fear and “National Security” are vote winners, and he denies that our unnecessary involvement in the Middle East make us even more of a terrorist target.
James Mann has recently written a biography about George W. Bush. His presidency was disastrous, and the invasion of Iraq is described as “one of the most strategic blunders in history” that was estimated to cost less than $US 100 billion but has ended up costing $US 2 trillion.
I’m sure like many of you I get confused with who is allied to whom in the Middle East, especially in Yemen at the moment where this “proxy” war is potentially very dangerous.
The world is horrified by the shocking slaughter by al-Shabaab of 149 college students at Garissa in Kenya. Unfortunately, it seems there was accurate intelligence that an attack on a college could happen, and the Kenyan government was also extremely slow to respond. al-Shabaab have promised more attacks in Kenya, see article here, and also against Westfield shopping malls worldwide, owned by the Australian Jewish family the Lowys.
VALE: We lost two senior political figures from our region lately. Lee Kuan Yiew was the PM who transformed Singapore from a swamp to an outstanding economic success. He brooked no opposition or dissent and usually removed his opponents by suing them for defamation and bankrupting them. He famously said years ago that Australia’s protectionist policies would make us the “poor white trash” of the region.
A very brave and possibly foolish 16 year old Singaporean blogger Amos Yew may face years in jail for blogging that Lee Kuan Yiew was “a horrible person”.
Malcolm Fraser became PM of Australia in 1975 when he replaced Gough Whitlam under very controversial circumstances, also died recently. While not a reforming Prime Minister, he became unexpectedly a respected elder in retirement who spoke out against his own party which he said had moved to the right from “liberal” to “conservative”. He was a long supporter of human rights, with a particular concern for race relations, Aboriginal disadvantage and asylum seekers.
We also lost Betty Churcher who was appointed the first female director of the National Gallery of Australia in 1990 and who had an infectious love of art. Japanese Misao Okawa, the oldest person in the world, died aged 117.
As an antidote to worrying too much about the world we live in, I relax by listening to classical music, spending time with family and friends, walking and gardening. I find my cats particularly soothing to be around. I’m loving all the stories, histories and often beautiful and fascinating items on the reruns of Antique Roadshow. I find listening to our ABC radio very life-affirming: while some experts confirm our worst fears, others point to advances and possible solutions, and I am reminded of the potential of human ingenuity, imagination and compassion.
India, MAC3, Animal Studies, Bears, Animals Asia Foundation, Vivek Menon, Christian the Lion, Gir National Park, Diu, Asiatic lions, Tony the Tiger, World, Global March for Lions etc
February 19, 2015
INDIA: Having returned to India again for a second conference with people concerned about animal welfare, animal rights and animal studies, it was lovely to see some of the same people again. One was Fionna Prins and I love this photograph of the front steps of her house in Goa. She and her partner seek out dogs in need, and don’t believe in cages and rules. They house up to 30 dogs. See www.strayassist.blogspot.in. I also love this photograph of the dogs on a daily walk.
If it weren’t for the summer heat and the monsoon, and my family and cats, I’d move to India too! I have just loved spending the last few weeks there –from attending a very interesting Animal Studies Conference in Delhi, to seeing Asiatic lions in the Gir National Park, southern Gujarat, lolling in a lovely hotel in Mumbai watching the Australian Tennis Open and catching the Delhi Art Fair before flying home.
MAC3: Minding Animals Conference 3 in Delhi was co-organised by Minding Animals International and the Wildlife Trust of India and hosted by the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The campus itself stretches over 1,000 acres and hosts an astonishing array of wildlife, including rare and endangered plants and animals, many birds, and packs of dogs that reminded us of why we were there. People came from all over the world, most with academic backgrounds, and there was a strong Australian contingent. Very valuable information was exchanged, important links were made, and global networks expanded.
Over 8 days we had many choices of a wide variety of presentations, discussions and debates with Animal Studies now a large field. Topics ranged from discussions about concepts of sentience in animals (see sentiencemosaic.org and D.M. Broom’s Sentience and Animal Welfare), to the prominence animals in Indian life, religion and, mythology – also in Jainism,Confucianism and Buddhism. Softies like me were all at the presentation by Jessica Walker from New Zealand on Behavioural Responses of Dogs and Cats to the Loss of an Animal Companion.
Yuan Chih (above), a great fan of Christian, spoke about Beast Film – in 1930s Shanghai in Chinese cinema. See her blog (in Chinese here). Margot Decory spoke about the work of AAP Rescue Centre for Exotic Animals which is about to open a centre in Spain primarily for lions and tigers and other animals rescued from the exotic pet trade. This a subject close to my heart! TRAFFIC India report that keeping wild animals in India is rising steeply. AAP endorse a Positive List of animal species that are suitable as pets. See here and here.
The Earthfire Institute in America is “nestled” on 40 acres in the Yellowstone-to-Yukon Wildlife corridor. They rescue and save the lives of animals such as bears, wolves, cougars, bison, coyotes etc.that can never be released into the wild. See www.earthfireinstitute.org. Possumwood Wildlife also run a self funded recovery centre and sanctuary outside of Canberra, Australia, for injured and traumatised Australian Native animals.
While I loved listening to these people that work directly with animals, I was also fascinated by the valuable and fascinating research so many academics are doing. I especially love the way so many at the conference now speak not only about the exploitation, rights and welfare of animals, but are now seeing the animal’s point of view and asking – how can their lives be enriched?
There was a great deal of information about Asian elephants. There are approximately 35,000-50,000 Asian elephants in the wild and range over 13 countries. 13,000 are in captivity. Co-existence and human/animal conflict was a recurring theme of the conference.
Kim Stallwood spoke about the extremely tragic story of an elephant called Topsy who was publicly electrocuted in New York in 1903.
I finally met Australian vet Andrew MacLean, renowned from his work with horses. He spoke about his Humane Approach to Captive Elephant Training. Andrew now conducts workshops in India and has worked closely with Elephant Experts and their President, Helena Telkanranta. Helena spoke about her experiences in Nepal in Facilitating changes in public policy in relation to training and management of captive elephants. She illustrated how changes to behaviour can be introduced with tactful community consultation. Helena said she loved Christian’s story when she was young, but it was Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man which inspired her to also work in the field of animal studies.
Christine Townend, Andrew Maclean and I also attended a talk by Peter Singleton on the use of whips in horse racing in NSW, Australia. If padded whips are not cruel, why is their use restricted? Andrew pointed out to us that most race horses extend their stride as they battle to the finishing line. The use of the whip actually makes horses tighten up, and their stride in fact shortens. Why not ban the whips and have a completely level playing field?
The ABC has just shown a program with undercover footage showing the use of “live baiting” to “blood” greyhounds. This has led to a huge public outcry at this very cruel practice, and will now no doubt be part of the debate over the attempt by the government to introduce “ag-gag” laws.
Now based in Australia, Clive Phillips from the University of Queensland gave a very definitive paper on the The Animal Trade, a topic very relevant to Australians with our controversial live cattle exports.
There was a fact filled – and alarming – paper by Chaitanya Koduri of PETA (India) titled Fighting Climate Change With Vegan Foods in Our National Climate Change Policy. Koduri writes “Animal-based products (meat,milk,eggs and leather) are highly resource-intensive, inefficient and polluting. Their production requires massive amounts of water, land, and energy. Land is being cleared for farmed animals and the crops to feed them”. Meat is the new coal!
An estimated 51% of worldwide gas emissions are attributed to agriculture. Many people see going vegan as now essential, and a vegan diet “can reduce the amount of green house gases your diet contributes to climate change by 60%”.
My transition to vegetarianism has been relatively easy (and enjoyable), and the all-vegan food at the conference was delicious!
BEARS: It was great to finally meet Jill Robinson of Animals Asia Foundation who has rescued over 400 bears so far from the torture of bear bile farming in China and Vietnam. She has worked and campaigned very effectively against all animal cruelty and is creating sanctuaries with the help of 300 enthusiastic staff. She attracts a high level of celebrity (and other) support, and advocacy and activism were another theme of the conference.
Although I often doubt that photographs of animals in distress or bloody operations are conducive to soliciting support, I think I make an exception with photographs of the bears caged for bile extraction. I think these images can only galvanise necessary action. Incidentally, I was interested to know that the bile (unlike rhino horn used as a supposed aphrodisiac) is actually beneficial for some ailments. The bile can be replicated by equally effective alternatives such as herbs.
In her talk Jill remarked that “all wild animals are unpredictable”. I’m not sure George Adamson would entirely agree. Of course all humans are unpredictable so why should animals be any different? But George loved lions for their capacity for love and trust – rather steadfast qualities. He created a neutral space around him where lions and humans could co-exist peacefully. I can only remember him saying (or writing) that lions can be “unpredictable” (and most dangerous), during the frustrations of adolescence. This was apparently true of Christian in Africa, although when younger we found him very predictable. He had a very even-nature and was not easily spooked. We tried to anticipate any potential trouble, disguise limitations, and minimise any frustrations. Elephant Experts’ Helena Telkanranta told me “elephants are not unpredictable if you know them”.
I showed the 2009 documentary made by Blink Films A Lion Called Christian. You can watch a clip of it here. I’m always a bit shy in the company of very bright academics and wildlife experts, but Christian’s story usually dissolves my reservations. I was also part of the After-Dinner concluding night entertainment – tasked to leave the conference on a high note! This was quite a responsibility out on a cold windy concourse on a wintry Delhi night. I spoke after a singer of Bollywood songs. I was introduced by Christine Townend who is so highly respected for her work for animals over a long period of time in India (Help in Suffering in Jaipur and now Working For Animals who run shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong). I showed some photographs of Christian and told a version of his life with a different emphasis to the documentary many people had seen days before. There was a power break-down – and, shock horror, I had to improvise. However, I had complete faith in Indian ingenuity and within minutes we were back on track. I was followed by traditional Indian dancers and I was enjoying them until they drew me into their dance. I’m sure I was all over Indian Facebook looking ridiculous.
To visit the Gir National Park to hopefully see some Asiatic lions, I avoided a long train trip and flew via Mumbai into Diu (Jet Airways). Although smaller and poorer than Goa, Diu shares a Portuguese history and is also attractive. It was a major port from Africa in the 14-16th centuries, and a little inland, there is still an entirely African community.
The beaches in Diu were quite beautiful but the water looked brownish. Australians are spoiled for beaches and I don’t lie in the sun! I stayed in the old town on the harbour with moored fishing boats flying colourful flags, marvellous Portuguese-influenced colonial buildings and houses, crumbling mansions, garish new ones, and mysterious small laneways. I asked a driver why there wasn’t one interesting shop (ie antiques, jewellery, textiles etc), and he said people only come to Diu from “dry” Gujarat to drink! There are acres of land covered in stagnant sea water which does not augur well for the future.
ASIATIC LIONS: Vivek Menon, the charismatic head of the Wildlife Trust of India and renowned wildlife expert and author was alarmed when I said I hadn’t booked a permit online for a safari at the Gir National Park in southern Gujarat. The usually infallible Lonely Planet Guide implied you could just as easily get a permit once there, after an under two hour drive from Diu. This is not the case. After an anxious first day at my unhelpful hotel at Gir (luckily the Australian Open Tennis was on), I finally did secure a permit for a 3pm safari the next day after queuing for 3 hours from 12 midday for one of the only 15 permits allotted in person.
Most visitors are there to see the Asiatic lions that once roamed from Syria to eastern India. By the late 1890s only approximately 50 lions remained. Now there are over 400 in Gir, an overpopulation for animals that range over wide territories. This is just one of many complexities. Kausik Banerjee gave a paper at the conference on the Recovery and Future of the Asiatic Lion in India. There are debates about relocating some of the lion population elsewhere. However, many issues facing the local communities are being resolved – such as cattle loss compensation, the relocation of at risk tribal villages, and creating and expanding wildlife corridors.
I saw 2 lions! I pretended to be blasé about any sightings – but it was exciting. They were about 20 metres away under a tree and one was stirring in the late afternoon after sleeping through the hottest hours of the day. They were about 3 years old and looked handsome and healthy. They have less mane than African lions. One had a look of intent on his face and stealthily moved out of sight. I hoped he wasn’t going to kill one of those pretty spotted deers.
Then I was extremely lucky when a leopard crossed the path of our vehicle about 10 metres away and wandered quite confidently down towards the river. The leopard was extremely beautiful and her “spots” included very distinctive circular markings. Apparently she was about 2-3 years old and the guide said had not seen a leopard in his last 30 safaris. Other animals included monkeys, many deer, large horse-like blue bulls, a rare owl, coyotes and the quite fluffy mongoose with crimped looking finely spotted fur.
TIGERS: It was very heartening to read that the numbers of Bengal tigers are increasing after approaching a very concerning low population estimated at under 1500 in 2006. A subsequent reintroduction program in Panna Tiger Reserve, for example, has seen a 30% increase in numbers to 2226 tigers.
Most of the usual factors are at play here: habitat destruction and competition for resources, human/animal conflict, and poaching, with 20-25 tigers lost each year. Villagers are becoming more actively involved in the conservation process.
TONY THE TIGER: Read the latest update here. We are asked to “keep roaring” and to keep Tony in the public eye – especially by social media.
WORLD: ISIS still casts a long shadow on the world, and I thought Thomas Friedman’s article on Islam and Islamophobia in The New York Times (read here) was interesting. It seems so little has been done in European countries like France to integrate or provide opportunities for so many potentially disenfranchised immigrant youths.
I watched Stephen Spielberg’s extremely sobering documentary on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Jews from Auschwitz.
I can understand why Jews are so determined to secure themselves in Israel, but after their own tragic history, I just can’t understand why they privilege themselves above Palestinians?
It was such a relief to not hear one word about our Australian government and PM Abbott while I was away. I was back in time to witness his leadership unravelling, even within his own party. It is mostly his own fault. Abbott is disastrously unpopular with the electorate after breaking so many election promises and trying to implement a manifestly unfair budget. I’d enjoy the Schadenfreude if our country wasn’t being so badly governed.
BIRDS: When I booked into my hotel in Mumbai (where I watched most of the last week of the Australian Tennis Open), the staff asked how to pronounce my name. The concierge spoke up confidently “BERK”. I asked him how he knew and he said he bred Bourke’s Parakeets…”same name”. I replied “it is actually MY name – the birds are named after my great great great grandfather”. (Richard Bourke was Governor of NSW 1831-1837). He showed me photographs of his Bourke Parakeets – now “mutants” come in bright yellow and fluoro pink!
Mumbai staged their 11th Bird Spotting Race. Like many similar events now staged around the world, teams are sent out to help in the mapping of avian species, and invaluable data on a scale unimaginable just a few years ago is collated for research.
GLOBAL MARCH FOR LIONS: Let’s support lions on March 14th. In Sydney we are asked to meet at 11am Saturday outside Parliament House, Macquarie Street, to walk to the Sydney Town Hall. In Melbourne, there is an event in Federation Square on Friday 13th at 6pm that promises “a historic moment” and “night of celebration”! See the details below.
Check your local details…let’s join others all over the world and do something to stop farmed lions and canned hunting.