March 31, 2010
I’m very excited the Christian the Lion clip is included in the YouTube’s 50 Best Videos on the Time Magazine website. Here’s a link to the clip on the Time website.
March 12, 2010
The paperback edition of our book A Lion Called Christian is about to be released in America, followed by Australian and UK editions (pictured), and I am going to Los Angeles for some interviews. A film on Christian’s life is in negotiation and I hope there is some news soon.I love this photograph on the cover. Someone contacted me last year and commented that I always seemed to be talking to Christian, and what was I saying? I replied that I was probably just saying what I have always said to my various cats: that I love them, they are beautiful, probably the most beautiful in the world etc – the sort of things cats love and expect to hear! I then watched our old footage more closely, and realised I was ALWAYS talking to Christian, especially on our return visits to Kenya in 1971 and 1972. This now big lion seemed to listen to me with great patience. I then monitored my own behavior at home more closely, and as I live alone except for my two cats, I realised I did give them a running commentary on my day, life etc, but I also had the manners to ask them how they were!
A comprehensive catalogue of irresistible photographs by Christian’s “official” photographer Derek Cattani can be seen – and purchased – on www.christianthelionprints.com.
Last year I was sent many photographs and stories of people’s pets, and I welcome them being sent to me and may post some of them on this blog – but please make sure they are good photographs, and the stories brief and original!
I would also welcome any suggestions about causes or campaigns that I should be aware of or consider for support through this blog. For example, Voiceless is an independent non-profit think tank dedicated to alleviating the suffering of animals in Australia, and on 29 April there is an auction to raise money with artworks donated by many of Australia’s leading artists see www.voiceless.org.au/voa.
Just opened in Sydney and on until 23 May is an exhibition Wilderness at the Art Gallery of NSW. The exhibition “is not about observed landscape, but about imagined regions, psychological landscapes, creatures both natural and unnatural, the importance that ideas of the ‘wild’ still play in our minds and lives, and how we inscribe nature with memory and meaning”. Daniel Boyd is one of my favourite artists. I have included previous work by him in exhibitions I have curated, and as an Aboriginal person he has questioned romantic notions of our foundational narratives (especially the arrival of Captain Cook in 1770), and Eurocentric perspectives.
March 12, 2010
One of the books I have recently read which I found fascinating (it was published in 1995!) was Ecopyschology Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind edited by Roszak, Gomes and Kanner (Sierra Club Books), which in a series of essays discusses our alienation from nature and the effects, and how replacement past times – like consumerism and materialism, is proving empty and unsatisfying. What will be the effect on the young generation of all their sedentary time on the internet, being constantly plugged in, and their incessant communicating? They could act and communicate globally very effectively on causes they believe in – whatever they may be. The recent death of the trainer at Sea World, Orlando by the killer whale, is also a reminder of the dangers of unnatural situations and encounters. We are understandably fascinated by nature, but it is not there for our entertainment. The woman who was attacked last year in the USA by her friend’s chimpanzee was also an unfortunate reminder about the dangers of owning exotic pets, and we were very anxious not to encourage this practice. We came to realise we had unwittingly participated in the trafficking of exotic animals by buying Christian, and welcomed the Endangered Preservation Act in 1973. I know it sounds hypocritical, after we had had such an experience with Christian!
People can adopt and look after animals that need a good home from local animal pounds and shelters. These cats and dogs provide the same unconditional love (alright, there is an element of “cupboard love”!), without the attendant attention or danger. Apparently these places are very overcrowded, and March and April are particularly bad months when people tire of the responsibilities of owning a pet – possibly a Christmas present, or the novelty has worn off. Many of these animals are “put down” which is heart breaking. Rescue one now!
Last year we returned for an interview to Harrod’s department store where we bought Christian. It was a relief that there were actually very few animals for sale, but it is now the most pretentious pet “boutique” and I was appalled by all the very expensive pet accessories – bejeweled collars, toys etc, and I felt the money could be much better spent on supporting animal causes or better food. Best of all is just spending time with your pets, and not treating them like an accessory.
The most gruesome video I have been sent was the slaughter of Pilot whales in the Faroe Islands off Denmark, a traditional annual blood bath condoned by the community (see “Faroe Islands slaughter” on YouTube), and similar to the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji in Japan, as seen in the Oscar winning film The Cove. There is a campaign against this – http://www.savejapandolphins.org/. While we should join this campaign, it would be hypocritical of Australians as there is more activism in Europe against the slaughter of our kangaroos than there is here in Australia, and each year we transport about 4 million sheep to the Middle East under the most unsatisfactory and cruel conditions.In Australia there is currently a debate about biodiversity, with the Federal Government planning to change focus to protecting “eco-systems” rather than funding individual projects for endangered animals. People such as Professor Tim Flannery are appalled and argue that as we are in an acute “biodiversity crisis” and the protection of single species is essential to prevent entire eco-systems collapsing. Everything has its role to play. Recently, some Yellow Spotted Bell Frogs, presumed extinct, have been located. Up to seven frog species appeared to disappear after a fungus from South Africa entered Australia in the 1970s.
Last year I spoke at a very interesting and comprehensive conference called Minding Animals 2009 where many very dedicated academics, researchers and experts (including Peter Singer) addressed many fascinating aspects of animals, and their welfare and rights. Many of you may be interested to read some of the papers and planned publications, and follow future events on http://www.mindinganimals.com/.
I recently was in contact with Tony Fitzjohn, Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (“GAWPT”). He has just completed writing a book which I look forward to reading, as he is yet another larger than life personality deeply involved in wildlife conservation. The plans to “rehabilitate” George’s camp at Kora are progressing. The old camp is now again operational, but roads have to be cleared etc. Projects with the nearest villages continue with an emphasis on clean pumped water, health and education. Reading between the lines, I think he would appreciate any financial help any of us can give him. Check his website to see the extent of all of the work GAWPT do at http://www.wildlifenow.com/. Interestingly, I recently met Dr. Margaret Bassendine who visited George Adamson’s camp at Kora in 1977, and a selection of her photographs can be seen on www.stephenoxenbury.com/Maggie/.
We were fortunate last year to meet Lisa Williams who first put the clip on YouTube of our reunion in Africa in 1971. She is an arts student in Los Angeles. Interested in animation, she first saw our footage on one of the many sites for Kimba the white lion, a 1965 animated film which obviously has a huge cult following see www.kimbawlion.com/christian.
Our footage was edited alongside Kimba’s story – the parallels (and even images) were extraordinary – returning to the wild, a bridge between the human and the animal worlds etc. Lisa posted it on YouTube because she thought our footage was unique, but it wasn’t until a few months later that someone else added as a back track Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, and the song added perfectly to the emotion of the moment, and the hits really began gathering momentum, especially after being shown on the Ellen DeGeneres show. We stopped counting at about 60 million hits because at this point the sites with Whitney’s song were then pulled off YouTube – possibly because of copyright issues, and it has been impossible to establish the total number of hits. I joke we resuscitated her career, although her recent performances in Australia have had very bad reviews! As all this was even before we were to travel to launch and promote the release of the book in the US, the UK and China, appearing on many television shows including Oprah, I think it is safe to say, as a magazine recently stated, the reunion footage has been seen by at least 100 million people.
March 12, 2010
Happy Chinese New Year and welcome to the Year of the Tiger. Let’s ensure the year focuses on its survival. In the last Year of the Tiger – 12 years ago, there was an estimated 6000 in the wild. With the loss of their natural habitats, the numbers have halved. There may be 50 to 100 wild tigers left in China, and serious attempts are being made in Russia and China to save the Siberian Tiger.
Can you believe that this Jason Morgan image is a painting! Prints can be ordered online.
South China Tigers are no longer found in the wild, but one organisation is supporting breeding programs of them in South Africa (http://www.savechinastigers.org/). India has seen a 60% decline in numbers over a decade to approximately 1411. There are quite a few reserves in India to see tigers, and in other places as well, such as out of Luang Prabang in Laos, or even the monastery at Kanchanaburi in Thailand (www.tigertemplethailand.com/index.htm) which has become a tiger sanctuary. The Panthera Foundation (http://www.panthera.org/) based in New York is primarily concerned about the 36 big cats, and is most worried about the survival of tigers. The AnimalAsia Foundation (http://www.animalasia.org/) is very active with their main on-going campaigns against bear farming and the eating of cats and dogs. The World Wildlife Foundation (http://www.panda.org/) has a current tiger initiative aimed at doubling the numbers of wild tigers by 2020.
It was fascinating to visit China last year – the year China revealed more of itself to the world than ever before, and demonstrated its political and economic power. I realised that they were much more concerned about the environmental consequences of their rapid economic development than we had been lead to expect. It was reassuring to learn that going against most world-wide trends, panda numbers have actually stabilised.
In 1993 China joined an international ban on the trade of tiger products, but, like with ivory, this helped to push prices so high that it has encouraged poaching and smuggling. I have a feeling it is taboo in China to offer any criticism of traditional medicine, even if it is putting at risk various species. Tiger body parts used include bones, penis, testicles, whiskers, eyeballs, skin, tissue and blood, pelts for decoration and teeth and claws for charms. Thinking of Christian, I was very disturbed by the lion teeth I saw for sale in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
March 12, 2010
Happy New Year!
I loved my brief visit to the stone temples of Cambodia, especially the magnificent Angkor Wat (built between 1113 and 1150), my favourite The Bayon (late 12th to late 13th centuries), and Ta Prohm (late 12th to 13th centuries), where the jungle seems once again to threaten to strangle and hide again these incredible architectural and artistic achievements. Tourism is undoubtedly an important industry for a country with such a traumatic recent past, but as I climbed and trampled all over these monuments with many other tourists, I worried about the damage we were causing, and the totally overwhelming amount of conservation work required. I thought about issues such as “sustainable” tourism, and “sustainable” development, the pollution and environmental degradation of other countries in the region, and the threats to wildlife and their habitats economic development brings.
I remained interested and committed to wildlife and environmental issues and causes over the years, but through my work in Aboriginal art I have been more actively involved in social justice issues associated with the inequality and dispossession suffered by Aboriginal people. I am enjoying refocusing in depth on wildlife conservation, and it has been a crash course for me to catch up and realise just how critical the situation is, and that we may have reached “tipping point”. The problems are also intrinsically linked to climate change.
Personally I think the Copenhagen Conference illustrated the magnitude of the crisis of climate change and demonstrated a very wide consensus, and it was the politics, and the complexity and vastness of the challenge that created the failure to reach agreement, so I’m not going to get depressed about it at this stage. What is depressing is the way a few inexcusable inaccuracies amongst an enormous amount of very detailed information has given oxygen to the climate change skeptics. In my opinion these are mainly people protecting their vested interests, and embittered conservatives trying to get back into power, after the policies of George Bush, and our own John Howard were finally and deservedly rejected by a majority of people. Their lack of leadership and failure to act lost the world a valuable 10 years. Despite their promise, their successors, Barack Obama and Kevin Rudd in Australia, both popularity junkies (as most politicians have to be), have not had the courage to make the necessary reforms in relation to climate change and our economies. For me and most people I know, the science – always inherently open to debate and conjecture – is in. We have all witnessed for ourselves the weather extremes of heat, drought, and excessive rain, and many have been concerned for a long time about questionable air and water quality and our dependence on oil and coal. I think it is hard to argue against minimising emissions and pollutants in the atmosphere anyway, isn’t it?
I enjoyed seeing Australian photographer Jon Lewis’ Kirabati photographs Portraits From The Edge – Putting a Face to Climate Change which in a subtle way highlight the human dimension that rising sea levels have already posed to many Pacific countries (online at www.jonnylewis.org).
Jonny sent me the information below which tells more about what is happening in the Republic of Kiribati.
PORTRAITS FROM THE EDGE
PUTTING A FACE TO CLIMATE CHANGE
The small Republic of Kiribati, consisting of 33 atolls and situated in the Equatorial Pacific, is slowly and surely going down. Storm surges, freakish waves, salination of fresh water wells and lands, un-predictable weather and tidal increases, are all contributing to the country’s physical demise. 30-40 years is all they have left.
As yet there is no policy from industrial countries, or the UN, as to our collective responsibilities to people such as the I Kiribati. Where will these environmentally displaced people migrate to, and how many? Who will be their host countries?
The I Kiribati remain now, literally on the very edge, as the most vulnerable of peoples, living with climate change.
What we are looking at here is the eventual extinction of a distinct race of people, through loss of their home lands, and with it their vibrant social system and culture. This is irreversible.
All through last year and on my travels I continue to collect newspaper articles or information about animal and wildlife conservation and related environmental issues, and I will be sharing much of this on my blog. Perhaps I should issue a disclaimer now – unfortunately we all know the inaccuracies and exaggerations in much of the information we are exposed to, so please verify these things for yourself, and apologies for any inadvertent plagiarism!
I must admit I got overwhelmed by doom and gloom with sometimes 70% of many plant and animal populations, seemingly disappearing, and many endangered or extinct species.Since we were in Africa with Christian for example, forty years ago, there are 70% less lions.
A new book I have ordered Going, Going, Gone? By Malcolm Tait (published by Think Books) subtitled Animals and Plants on the Brink of Extinction and How You Can Help, according to the reviews, has very practical advice and suggestions for concerned people. There are now many places where travellers can go and see, interact and support wildlife efforts. One can walk with lions at African Impact at the Masuwe River Concession at Victoria Falls, just across the border from Zambia in Zimbabwe where there are breeding programs, but I personally would not visit while Mugabe is still in power. There are now very imaginative organisations to check out – such as Biosphere Expeditions (www.biosphere-expeditions.org) that arrange one or two week nature study expeditions. Elephants, often rescued from appalling existences, can be seen and supported at places such as the Asian Elephant Foundation Camp in the Anantara Golden Triangle in Northern Thailand, or outside of Luang Prabang in Laos. I have not yet visited any of these particular sites to see if I personally endorse their philosophies and practice, but I support what appear to be altruistic intentions.
Some of the extraordinary and dedicated individuals dedicated to conservation include the late Lucy Wisdom who founded the Sumatran Orangutan Society (www.orangutans-sos.org) whose habitats like many other animals in the Asian region, are endangered by the rapacious clearing of rainforests for palm oil plantations or paper. We should be much more mindful of the source of products we buy and the ramifications of using them. Mary Hutton from Perth started the Free the Bears Fund (www.freethebears.org.au) and has rescued many bears from a miserable life in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Kalimantan and India, and Jason Kimberley, who had an “eco-epiphany” over the declining conditions in Antarctica and set up Cool Australia (www.coolaustralia.org).