Kevin Richardson

                                   Kevin Richardson

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.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.
Photography by City of Sydney Paul Patterson.

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.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

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

Jonathan Jones 'Luminous'. Image sourced from Museum of Contemporary Art.

Jonathan Jones’ celestial fluorescent wall in Luminous  at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

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.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

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.

The Salt of the Earth poster

The Salt of the Earth poster

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.

Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

                    Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

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!

Photograph by Matty Smith, BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 Finalist, see at Australian Museum

Photograph by Matty Smith, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 

See more marvellous ocean and wildlife images by Matty Smith here.

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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.

See here and here for more information about the event.

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.

Caged lions in South Africa by photographer Brent Stirton.

Caged lions in South Africa by photographer Brent Stirton.

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.

Yuan Chih and her mother and her cat Mai-Mai

Yuan Chih with her cat Mai-Mai and her mother Isobel

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.

MAC3: See here the post-Delhi Minding Animals Bulletin No 28 and see here for another view of the Animal Studies conference from the perspective of co-host the Wildlife Trust of India.

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.       

Photograph by Stahs Pripotnev. Sourced from National Geographic.

Photograph by Stahs Pripotnev. Sourced from National Geographic.

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.

Shearing shed, (1886-1891), Charles Bayliss

Shearing shed, (1886-1891), Charles Bayliss. Courtesy AGNSW.

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.

Spirit of Endurance, (1937), Harold Cazneaux

Spirit of Endurance, (1937), Harold Cazneaux. Courtesy AGNSW.

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.

Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania, (2005, printed 2009), Ricky Maynard

Vansittart Island, Bass Strait, Tasmania, (2005, printed 2009), Ricky Maynard. Courtesy AGNSW.

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.

Sunbaker, (1937, printed 1970s), Max Dupain

Sunbaker, (1937, printed 1970s), Max Dupain. WhileCourtesy AGNSW.

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.

Goa. Photograph by Fionna Prins.

                      Goa. Photograph by Fionna Prins.

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.

Walking with the pack. Photograph Fionna Prins.

             Walking with the pack. Photograph Fionna Prins.

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.

Ace and Yuan Chih at MAC3 New Delhi

                  Ace and Yuan Chih at MAC3 New Delhi

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.

Topsy

                Topsy

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!

Asiatic Black Bear aka 'Moon Bear'. Photograph courtesy Animals Asia.

Asiatic Black Bear aka ‘Moon Bear’. Photograph courtesy Animals Asia.

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”.

Christian the Lion. 1972.

                                 Christian the Lion. 1972.

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.

Diu: harbour shot

                               Diu, southern Gujarat

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.

Diu – laneways shot

Diu

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.

Indian Mammals A Field Guide by Vivek Menon (Hachette India)

Indian Mammals A Field Guide by Vivek Menon (Hachette India)

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.

Asiatic Lions

                                          Asiatic Lions

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.

Bengal tiger

                                           Bengal tiger

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.

Bourke Parakeet

       Bourke Parakeet

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.

Marine Drive, Mumbai, from my hotel

               Marine Drive, Mumbai, from my hotel

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.

global march for lions

C

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings! My thanks to Christian’s photographer Derek Cattani for yet again an irresistible Christmas card.

I live on the southern edge of Sydney at Bundeena surrounded by the Royal National Park. The submarine cable across Port Hacking to us was recently damaged, leaving many of us without internet and land-line communication for weeks. I half enjoyed it and succumbed: reading and listening to Radio National. However it has also been frustrating as there is work to do, travel plans to India to finalise and Christmas!  Some of you were concerned about my silence – thank you.

Koalas being manhandled at the G20 in Brisbane

Koalas being manhandled at the G20 in Brisbane

WORLD: China is now the biggest economy in the world giving the USA something to think about – and get used to. It will be fascinating to see how the Chinese use their power. Presidents Xi and Obama unexpectedly signed a concrete agreement for greenhouse gas reductions post 2020. This was just one of several recent humiliations for the Australian government for their inaction over climate change.

The Australian government had tried (unsuccessfully) to exclude climate change from the agenda at the G20 leaders meeting in Brisbane, claiming that it was not an economic issue.

In a speech at a Queensland university Obama dared to express concern (like many other people and experts) over the deterioration of the endangered Great Barrier Reef. With the UN Lima conference and then Paris later next year aiming at binding emission targets, don’t you think there is again a real momentum in the general community for action? It was horrifying how vested interests and climate change deniers so successfully sabotaged efforts last time after the Copenhagen conference, despite the overwhelming scientific data and analysis.

The frequency and intensity of extreme weather and the changes we are all experiencing should be enough to convince most intelligent people that something is wrong.

In the US Warren Buffet is buying solar farms while our government does its best to sabotage the renewable energy industry where there has been a 70% drop in investment.

Most people are shocked but not surprised at the US Senate Report on the CIA Detention Interrogation Program.  It seems torture yields very little useful or reliable information.  Despite the horrific details, especially of the “enhanced interrogation techniques”,  the ever-charming and ever-unrepentant Dick Cheney said “I’d do it again in a moment”.

IS do not seem to have been quite so successful lately but are much better armed and funded than their opposition. Lebanon is being drawn into the conflict. Egypt seems to be getting even more repressive. Malaysia is turning more fundamental, and PM Abe was re-elected in Japan and will no doubt pursue his right wing and nationalistic agenda.  Their economy is in recession and there was only a 53% voter turnout.

The low prices for oil and gas could be a defining issue for the world in 2015.  The US, Iran and Russia are among many countries to be very affected.  On top of already imposed sanctions, the Russians are experiencing a crumbling economy and rouble.  Will this make Putin less or more pugnacious?

There was talk of an “anyone but Bibi” coalition of opposition candidates for the elections in Israel early next year.  Israel however will probably move even further to the right.  While International humanitarian law prohibits the transfer of an occupier’s population to occupied territory, an estimated 515,000 Jewish settlers live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. While the Jewish settlements continue to be built relentlessly and are making a Palestinian State almost impossible, a worldwide coalition in favour of Palestinian Statehood is growing.

Ebola is less in the news and I hope this means the disease is not spreading at the same rate and not compassion fatigue.  Unfortunately the epidemic has devastated both the population (last statistics I read were 6,388 deaths out of 17,942 cases), and the economies of the affected countries.

Ace Bourke at the FIAPO conference in Jaipur

Ace Bourke at the FIAPO conference in Jaipur

INDIA: I loved attending the FIAPO conference in Jaipur in September, and I’m now looking forward to returning to India in January. I’m showing the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian at the 3rd Minding Animals Conference (MAC 3) in Delhi running from 13 -20 January 2015. There is an interesting and diverse line up of international and national speakers and participants.

I’m then hoping to visit the last Asiatic lions in the Gir National Park in southern Gujarat.  Unfortunately I”ll probably miss the Jaipur Literary Festival (21-25 January 2015) but I will catch the India Art Fair (29 January – 1 February 2015).

Asiatic lion

Asiatic lions

Asiatic lions once roamed from Syria to India.  Hunting nearly drove them to extinction and in 1870 there were only 12 remaining.  The good news is that their number in the Susan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary has grown to about 400 although this apparently is now an over-population.  I am quite relaxed about actually sighting any lions and there is plenty of other wildlife, especially birds. I try not to impose, disturb or interfere in their lives unless it… happens sort of naturally. I’m just interested in learning more about them and their future.

Row of lions in cage by prize winning photographer Brent Stirton

Row of lions in cage by prize winning photographer Brent Stirton

CACH:  I wonder if these caged African lions in South Africa have been “petted” when cubs, then “walked” with tourists, and faced being shot?  The Australian representative of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting Donalea Patman has just returned from South Africa.  She sent me these articles in the SA press (here and here) about the South African government asking the Australian government to reconsider its potential ban on the importation of lion trophies. This illustrates just how powerful the hunting lobby is, but also how effective a ban could be. The accompanying article reported that “overseas hunters are flocking to kill in SA” and that spending has soared 32% as 8000 bag 44,000 trophies.

AUSTRALIA: I remain mostly appalled by our government and I’m glad to see from the polls that a majority of people agree. The polls are the worst “in living memory” for a government at this stage of the political cycle.  Many government backbenchers are very worried and less united.  Very surprisingly, Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper has begun criticising their performance, even in editorials, although diehards Greg Sheridan, Chris Kenny and Gerard Henderson are still in denial. Radio shock jocks Ray Hadley, Alan Jones and columnist Andrew Bolt who are usually blind supporters of the government, have also been critical.

When will the government start taking responsibility and stop blaming the previous government? They are rigidly ideological but with no vision, flexibility or strategy.  They have demonstrated that they are beholden to some vested interests, and from time to time are mean-spirited, arrogant, out of touch, untrustworthy and inept.

The government’s inequitable May budget is still not fully implemented and a recent review by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) criticises and questions a number of issues in the budget.

Unemployment has risen to 6.3%.  I can’t think of one job creation initiative – just job losses from government cuts, and businesses and manufacturers closing.  Consumer confidence is down 13%.  With falling commodity prices and less tax revenue, there is now a $40 billion deficit. When we were shamed into reluctantly contributing $200 million to the Green Climate Fund, this came out of the diminishing Foreign Aid budget which has been cut $3.7 billion.

Scott Ludlum of the Greens is the politician I have been most interested in this year, especially after his devastating Tony Abbott Welcome to W.A. speech which became a hit on YouTube.  The opposition ALP is just letting the government unravel, and that’s fine by me.  Governments lose elections.  The ALP will play it safe, and will not undertake any necessary reforms, like loosening the ties with the trade unions. I’m not expecting them to suddenly discover their compassion or conscience.

ABC: Despite a firm promise before the election, the government has cut the budget of our highly respected public broadcaster, the ABC, by 5%. 1 in 10 are losing their jobs (and 1 in 5 at the Commonwealth Science Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO). Conservatives view the ABC as biased and left wing.  Many of the government’s supporters however live in rural and regional areas and are very dependent on ABC radio and television. I loved many of the diverse and informative issues discussed on Bush Telegraph which has been axed.

I think the ABC effectively interrogates whoever is in power and address the major issues of the day.  I find it addictively informative and interesting.  Some people call for more conservative commentators and presenters on the ABC but unfortunately most of the candidates are too shamelessly partisan or Tea Party nutty.  The Institute of Public Affairs seems to have an endless supply of cocky young propagandists that are used as “balance” on programs such as The Drum.

Waleed Aly

Waleed Aly

Waleed Aly is a brilliant and amusing commentator-on-everything and is unfortunately leaving Radio National to co-host The Project on Channel 10.  Waleed is very well informed about politics, but his many other enthusiasms include music and sport. This year in Australia we have seen cricketer Phillip Hughes killed while batting and a footballer paralysed by a tackle. Racing saw the death of two female jockeys and then two horses in the Melbourne Cup.  Waleed wondered – like many of us – is the cost too great?

David Pocock chained to a digger

David Pocock chained to a digger

Congratulations to champion Rugby Union footballer David Pocock for having the courage to chain himself to machinery to protest against the Maules Creek coal mine in the Leard Forest NSW.  He drew attention to the danger the mine posed to the forest, and the impact of coal mining on the local community – and the planet.  Pocock said that before this protest “I have never participated in non-violent direct action.  I have always hesitated, concerned about the impact it might have on my career”.

I don’t think enough of our celebrities use their position to fight for important issues, and it is rarer for a sportsman.

JOHN KEY:  Oliver Hartwich was commissioned by the Menzies Research Centre to write about John Key, the low-key PM of New Zealand.  In an article in the SMH Hartwich described how unlike the Abbott government so far, Key has methodically and successfully implemented a conservative centre-right agenda and he has just been re-elected for a third term. “Patience, preparation and pragmatism are the defining characteristics of Key’s government style” according to Hartwich.  “Nothing ever hits the electorate by surprise.  Changes in direction are flagged well in advance, and legitimacy is sought through elections.  It is a strategy that could be described as incremental radicalism”.  As a former Merrill Lynch executive, Key does not micro-manage his ministers, but is “ruthlessly efficient”.

Jimson Weed White Flower No 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe 1932

Jimson Weed  White Flower No 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe 1932

Not many Georgia O’Keeffe paintings come on the market, and this painting recently sold at auction for US$44.4 million.  It is a record for an artwork by a female artist.  (The art auction record is US$142.4 million for Three Studies of Lucien Freud by Francis Bacon).  O’Keeffe died in 1986 at the age of 98. This painting was de-accessioned from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, and some – like the BBC’s Will Gompertz, think it odd that a museum is “selling an artwork by the artist it was founded to represent”.

Cat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy

Cat Lady Chic by Diane Lovejoy

CATS: I love the book Cat Lady Chic which I bought as a Christmas present but don’t think I can hand over! It contains wonderful photographs of some of the most glamorous movie stars and people with their cats.  Cat ladies include Claudia Cardinale, Brigitte Bardot, Carla Bruni- Sarkozy, Eartha Kitt and Vivien Leigh, although some others just use the cats as props!

Grumpy Cat is now worth $100 million in endorsements!

Apart from all the cats and besotted owners, I loved the information in The Secret Life Of the Cat recently shown on SBS. Cats apparently live on average to 15, but I think some actually die very young and for many around 12 is a vulnerable age.  Survivors can go on to 18-20.  50 cats tagged with GPS trackers and collar cams were monitored in an English village which was surrounded by woods.  The males ranged for 100 metres and the females 50 metres, although most spent only 20% of their time outside.  On average the owners found one kill per cat per week.  The “experts” thought cats are evolving away from hunting as there is no need, and they are becoming more domesticated.  In the denser urban situations the cats checked their own territory daily, but seemed to “time share” wider contested territory with enemies, in order to avoid each other.  Guess where most cats went most regularly?  Through the cat flaps of other cats to finish off their meals!

Northern White Rhino

Northern White Rhino

AFRICA ANIMAL STATS: with the death of 44 year old Angalifu there is now only 5 northern white rhinos in the world, down from 2000 in 1960; only 80,000 giraffes, 20,000 lions  and 450,000 elephants remain.  100,000 elephants are estimated to have died between 2010-2012, primarily because of the Chinese thirst for ivory.  A crocodile, supposedly 140 years old, recently died in South Africa. The IUCN Red List is a comprehensive record of the status of many threatened species.

MISC STATS: there is a conservative estimate of 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic (270,000 tonnes) floating in our oceans; Apple is worth $60 billion and Uber $40 billion; Instagram has 300 million monthly active users and Twitter 284 million; 300 million Indians have no power and 1/3rd have no toilets.

We have had our own tragic hostage drama in Sydney and lost two bright young people.  The gunman had an appalling and violent track record and should have been in custody or at the very least monitored.  He was disowned by the Muslim community.  Unfortunately this incident pales in comparison with the 141 slaughtered in Pakistan.  One bright aspect of all this is that it has actually brought people of all beliefs together to say “ENOUGH”.  I was very heartened by the success of the hashtag #I’llridewithyou campaign to support any Muslim women wearing headscarves who may feel vulnerable in public at the moment.

The overdue rapprochement between the USA and Cuba with the restoring of diplomatic relations is exciting, and let’s hope for more news like this in 2015.

Thanks to all of you that read my blogs, leave comments and communicate with me.  Thanks for keeping me informed and sending me photographs, articles etc.  My thoughts are with those of you that have lost loved ones this year. The love for animals and the work so many of you do on their behalf is very much appreciated, and in concert, we can make a difference.

Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, and a Happy New Year!

The killing fields: Conservation Rangers from an anti-poaching unit work with locals to evacuate the bodies of four mountain gorillas killed in mysterious circumstances in July 2007. Photo: Brent Stirton.

The killing fields: Conservation Rangers from an anti-poaching unit work with locals to evacuate the bodies of four mountain gorillas killed in mysterious circumstances in July 2007. Photograph by Brent Stirton, 2007.

Wildlife photographer Brent Stirton has won the Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year award for 2014, for the second year in a row.  See here for a selection of Stirton’s work including Living with Lions, a series of photographs addressing the contentious issue of farming lions for Canned Hunting in Africa.  A warning: some of these photographs are very graphic and upsetting.

TONY THE TIGER: See this recent “raw video” of Tony the Tiger in his cage at the increasingly notorious truckstop in Louisiana filmed 22 October 2014.  Tony eats in a desultory way…and then quietly moves to a more shaded (and hopefully more private) part of his cage.  How much longer will he be in this cage?  He deserves a better life and we have to keep fighting for him.

first image

Day 1 – Willy wagtail with eggs in the nest

WILLY: Again this year some of us have been anxiously following the lives of Willy the wagtail and her chicks in the garden of Sylvia Ross in Sydney.  Luckily Sylvia is an excellent artist and photographer and she is going to publish a small book of  her daily photographs (or post on Facebook) entitled  in Plain Sight – 28 Days.  The mother tries to protect her three chicks from various dangers – from extreme heat to other birds such as currawongs, for 14 days as an egg, and 14 days after hatching.

2nd image

AUSTRALIA/ CLIMATE CHANGE: Our PM recently declared to the world that “coal was good for humanity”.  Predictably, the Renewable Energy Target is to be lowered.  A climate change denier (Richard Warburton) was selected to head the review into the RET, and PM Abbott is doing his best to destroy the renewable energy market. This is at a time when there is a new wave of international momentum to act…

day8

Mother protecting a chick from heat

It is very depressing having a government in denial about climate change and proud of abolishing a carbon tax while many countries in the world are moving in the opposite direction. The government has invented a pretend solution “Direct Action”, where the government PAYS the big polluters to cut emissions if they want to!  This has now passed parliament. I have not read one reputable economist, scientist, expert, or commentator – excluding some journos working for Rupert Murdoch of course – that support this scheme.  There has been no modelling, no costings, no explanations….

During intense and dangerous bushfires last year our PM even disputed the fact that fires and extreme weather conditions were becoming more frequent and intense.

day13

Mother on guard

ACF: Geoffrey Cousins has just been appointed head of the Australian Conservation Fund, the country’s largest environmental lobby.  He sees the primary purpose of the ACF at the moment is to lead the opposition to the government’s “shameful” lack of action on climate change and environmental issues. Cousins is interesting – a successful conservative advertising/business man who even advised John Howard in office, but  who cares deeply about the environment.  He has shown in the past to be a formidable opponent – he led the successful campaign against a pulp mill on the Derwent River in Tasmania, and against the Woodside gas hub in the Kimberley, West Australia.  He was a young teacher at my school but has erased this from his CV….

last image

The only survivor

DIVESTMENT: There was a furore when the Australian National University decided to divest their shares in fossil fuel companies from their portfolio. This is growing as a movement – from the Rockefellers to Stanford University. Let’s hope coal becomes a “stranded asset” soon.  Apparently coal still supplies 82% of the world’s energy needs and is regarded as “cheap” – although the infrastructure surrounding it is actually very expensive compared to some other energy sources.

In a recent survey of Australian business company directors, 50% rated the government’s performance as “poor” or “very poor”. This is a very alarming statistic for a government supposedly close to business. The ill-conceived  and very badly received budget is still struggling to get through parliament.

Day 14 - Willy wagtail

About to leave the nest

IPCC: The latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change states unequivocally that fossil fuels must be phased out by the end of the century.  I think a majority of people believe urgent action is required. With Obama, the EU, China and many other countries now seriously committed, and UN meetings coming up in Lima then Paris, Australia is very much “on the wrong side of history”.

Despite Australia’s best efforts to exclude it, climate change just made it on to the agenda for the upcoming G20 meeting of world leaders in Brisbane next weekend.  This meeting could be interesting in many ways – from various protests to our PM’s juvenile threat to “shirt- front” Russia’s Putin.

As I lay back on my Ancestral Land, 2013, Courtesy Tracey Moffatt, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, GOMA

From the series ‘As I lay back on my Ancestral Land’, Tracey Moffatt 2013, Digital Print. Courtesy  Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, GOMA.

TRACEY MOFFATT: I recently went to Brisbane for the opening of Tracey Moffatt’s exhibition Spirited at the Gallery of Modern Art.  I follow her career with fascination.  Many of the art works referenced places and memories from Tracey growing up in suburban Brisbane, Queensland, and her family connections to land. She has a new video series Art Calls where she interviews artists or people that interest her by skype. The interviews are very informative and often amusing and will soon be on ABC online.

cats

CATS & KAKADU:  There are apparently 20 million feral cats in Australia, and it is claimed they kill 75 million mammals each day (that’s 4 mammals per cat).  The new Commissioner for Threatened Species is turning his attention to the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory where the loss of so many animals is attributed to feral cats, foxes and fires.  Apparently fire management is completely out of date, and there are too many weeds contributing to “inappropriate” fires which then leave threatened species exposed and  unprotected.  I can foresee a time when cats are going to be banned or are to be entirely kept  inside – watching cartoons on television!

RICHARD FLANAGAN: Congratulations to Richard Flanagan for winning the Man Booker prize for his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North. In his acceptance speech he said the environmental record and support for the coal industry by our present government made him “ashamed to be Australian”.

Well done champion cyclist Cadel Evans for supporting wind farms in South Australia, a state that is serious about renewable energy.

Also congratulations to that extraordinary young girl Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi from India for sharing the Nobel Peace Prize.  Asylum-seeker/refugee advocate Julian Burnside QC from Melbourne has just won the 2014 Sydney Peace Prize.

EBOLA: Ebola has to be tackled at its source which is the three African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. The still inadequate global response has been yet another failure by the international community, and even initially by the World Health Organisation. While the Australian Government was itching to go and drop “humanitarian” weapons in Iraq, it has equivocated over responding to this terrible disease.  The government has finally been shamed into donating a field hospital in Sierra Leone. The government still seems reluctant to send Australian medical personnel although hundreds have volunteered.  It now emerges that we were asked months ago by the USA,UK and some African countries to do more…

Mark Zuckerberg has generously given $27.05 million and Paul Allen (Microsoft) $100 million.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory. Photograph by Mervyn Bishop.

WHITLAM: A former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam recently died at 98.  He reformed the Labor Party and won power for them in 1972 after 23 years in opposition.  He initiated many policies and reforms that we take for granted today.  There are too many to list but they include free tertiary education (which transformed many lives), free healthcare, Aboriginal land rights and he was one of the first leaders to visit and recognise China.  Whitlam changed Australia.

On his death both sides of parliament spoke graciously about him, and many of them seemed to have been politicised by him – either way!  His achievements in a few short years make our current leaders and representatives look timid and mediocre. We have been reminded of what real leadership looked like.  Words commonly used to describe him were “brave”, “courageous”, and “visionary”.  Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor General in 1975 and this remains highly controversial today. He was replaced by Malcolm Fraser who I did not regard as a good Prime Minister, but who has seemingly become less conservative and been a more effective and engaged elder statesman than Whitlam.

Unfortunately there was a world economic downturn as Whitlam implemented many of his reforms and policies, and while Whitlam is justifiably criticised for his haste and economic management, the next (Fraser) government inherited a zero net government debt.

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock 1952

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock 1952. Courtesy National Gallery of Australia

At the recent memorial service Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson’s spoke very eloquently about what Whitlam initiated and achieved for Aboriginal people.  Pearson also noted that Whitlam who had an upper-middle class background was intent on giving everyone more equal opportunities.  The actress Kate Blanchett said it was Whitlam’s changes to education that allowed her to discover acting, and that she also benefited from his enlightened attitude to the role of women in society, Australia’s cultural life and our place in the world.  The painting Blue Poles is a good example of Whitlam’s contribution to Australia’s cultural life. It was a huge scandal when he permitted the National Gallery of Australia to purchase Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles for $1.3 million in 1973.  The painting has since become a “destination” at the NGA,  and is now valued anywhere between $30 to $100 million dollars.

Melanie Griffith with her pet lion, Neil, in 1970s. Image courtesy The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Michael Rougier

Melanie Griffith with her pet lion, Neil, in 1970s. Image courtesy The LIFE Picture Collection/Gett Michael Rougier

I love this photograph of Melanie Griffith who grew up with this lion Neil in the 1970s.  Neil is so beautiful,and I love all the photographs of course (see here), especially her sleeping with the lion – or the lion tail hanging down from the bed!  Her mother Tippi Hedren (who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds) founded The Roar Foundation in 1983 to support the Shambala Preserve in California to educate about the “dangers of private ownership of exotic animals”.

Tippi Hedron with pet lion, Neil

Tippi Hedren with pet lion, Neil

MELBOURNE CUP: We have just had  the running of the Melbourne Cup, described as “the race that stops a nation”. Horses are so beautiful and magnificent and my sister and I enjoyed riding when we were young.  As I watched the races during the day I wondered if the horses liked racing and were naturally competitive.  I suspect some do love it.  While some horses before and after their races looked around and appeared to enjoy the crowd and the attention, others were more skittish.  There are always love stories, like the 2 men who always accompany the 9 year old Red Cadeaux on his world travels and who said he is the nicest, loveliest horse. He came second for the third time!

Admire Rakti

Admire Rakti

The German horse Protectionist won very convincingly, but the favourite Admire Rakti from Japan, after a very fast first half of the race carrying the top weight, faded to last place.  He returned to his stall, sank to his knees and died. He had had a heart attack.  Like many other people I am still very shocked and quite depressed by this.  Another horse Araldo was “spooked” after the race by a flag waved in his face and  he broke a leg and had to be put down. A horse also died after this race last year.

While some of the horses are loved and pampered, my main criticisms are:  many horses never succeed or break down from being raced too young (or in inappropriate races) and are sent to the knackery; the use of the whip is cruel; and “jumps” racing is just too dangerous.  Is horse racing just yet another example of us using animals cruelly for our own entertainment?

Racing is also highly dangerous for the jockeys and  two female riders have died in Australia in the last few weeks.

cat2

On a cheerier note, my sister recently found this photograph of my first cat.  I found him in the vacant allotment next door when I was about 10.  He was probably “feral” and was quite rough and tough. I loved him and admired his independent spirit.  We always had dogs in our family, but my favourite book when very young was Orlando the Marmalade Cat.  This cat was my introduction to the wonderful world of cats and I have had at least one cat in my life ever since!

Thanks to Deb, Tim, Francois and Sylvia Ross especially for sending some of the images used on this blog, and to many others for your emails, news and images.

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