HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

Eternal Hug 2013 by Jiawei Shen oil on canvas 213 x 167 cms

Eternal Hug 2013 by Jiawei Shen oil on canvas 213 x 167 cms

Artist Jiawei Shen, who as I do lives in Bundeena on the edge of Sydney, has painted this portrait of Christian and me – me as I am now obviously.

Jiawei said he wanted to paint this portrait for several reasons:  Christian is an experience that will always be part of my life; it is a story that the internet has introduced to a new generation; and for what it says about human/animal relationships. Obviously he is a big fan of Christian and the story has touched him.  In Eternal Hug he wanted to capture and express some of the deep and various emotions this image generates.

Jiawei Shen has an international reputation, and has painted “well known” people such as Princess Mary of Denmark (who is from Australia) and he has recently exhibited the first part of a huge and epic painting of 300 historical figures active in China between 1936 and 1937.

When I first saw Christian’s painting reproduced, I thought I looked a little worried.  But when you see the actual painting I do have love in my eyes.  I think he has captured the most amazing likeness of handsome Christian, and as the old saying goes, never compete with animals or children!  Jiawei says he never realised just how individual lions looked until he painstakingly painted Christian’s fur stroke by stroke, and compared him with other lions.

Ace and Jiawei Shen in the studio. Photograph by Lan Wang.

Ace and Jiawei Shen in the studio. Photograph by Lan Wang.

I also love the smaller quick study of me which he painted (above left) and generously gave to me.

Christian was born on the 12 August 1969 – 44 years ago in Ilfracombe Zoo, Devon.  In the wild he may have lived to be 10 or 12 years old, and some lions can live up to 18 years old in a zoo.  Some of you may have seen his good looking parents Butch and Mary in our original documentary, pacing up and down a small concrete cage enclosure. Such was his size, frustration and anger, Butch once or twice smashed his way out, no doubt creating havoc!  We only found out a few years ago that Christian and a sister were hand reared by a staff member which may explain why he seemed to fit so easily into our lives.

Jaiwei Shen’s portrait is based on a 1970 photograph by Derek Cattani, taken when we were living in the country with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna while waiting for permission to go to Kenya.

On the YouTube video entitled Christian The Lion- HUG! you can see the same image as Christian jumps up on me when I enter his specially built compound.

We celebrated Christian’s first birthday there, and Christian’s great friend, Unity Bevis-Jones brought Christian a mince birthday cake with one candle on the train from London.  She was heart-broken when we finally left for Kenya soon after.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Now aged 87, with a new titanium knee and a recently fitted pacemaker, David Attenborough did not miss a beat at his recent appearance in Sydney. He was touring with a Q & A show which reflected on his extraordinary career, illustrated with excerpts from many of the programs he has produced or narrated over so many years, that have changed or illuminated our understanding of the natural world. The audience was a heartening mix – of everyone! I have to say he seemed much warmer than the equally indefatigable and admirable fellow English octogenarian Jane Goodall.

It was only at the conclusion that David spoke about climate change and the world’s present ecological tipping point.  He has seen the effects over years with his own eyes, and the consequent diminishing habitats for wildlife, and the loss of species and biodiversity.

The Iberian Lynx

The Iberian Lynx

The Iberian Lynx, native to parts of southern Europe, is the most endangered cat species in the world. There are estimated to be just 250 left in the wild. They may become extinct within 50 years as there are fewer rabbits, which are their main source of food, and their habitats are shrinking.

Also alarming is that only an estimated 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild.

AUSTRALIA: Sorry to go on about Australia, especially as I have many more readers in the rest of the world.  I do try not to be too parochial, but I would imagine many of you would find parallels in your own countries.

Our Federal election has been called for September 7th.  As I have said, I think Australians face an appalling choice for Prime Minister between Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott who has so far mostly reiterated slogans rather than costed policies.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Both Rudd and Abbott are involved in a “race to the bottom” over the treatment of asylum seekers which contravenes our legal and international responsibilities to them.

Many of us are deeply ashamed – of our harsh treatment of them, of our politicians who have demonised them, and of  the majority of Australians who seemingly feel no compassion for them.

We are now dumping these traumatised people on a malaria-infested island in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s most impoverished countries.

ECONOMY: The growth record of the Australian economy post GFC has yet again been recently described as remaining the “envy of the advanced world” and partly due to “sensible macro-economic management”, according to one of the world’s foremost economists Willem Buiter.

The National Australia Bank’s CEO Cameron Clyne also recently said that as an AAA rated country the government should “issue more debt to fund desperately needed infrastructure”, and that debt can be used productively (read the article here). The Opposition, however, has successfully convinced many in the community that the government is economically incompetent.

The government has been unable to construct a positive narrative of their considerable achievements, which has not been helped by some bad political judgments, disunity, and some truly appalling corruption allegations – especially in my home state of NSW.

I have been interested to learn recently that in the last conservative Howard /Costello government (which I found repugnant in many ways), it was their unnecessary granting of tax cuts as vote buying  “middle class welfare” that accounts for a $40 billion revenue shortfall today!!!!

MURDOCH: Rupert is unashamedly backing the conservative Opposition – as he did unsuccessfully in the US with the Republicans.  As he owns 66% of our print media this is very unfair. The Daily Telegraph newspaper began the election with the headline “THROW THIS MOB OUT”!  His supposedly more highbrow The Australian is sometimes so partisan that you just cannot believe that professional journalists and columnists allow themselves to be so manipulated.  Another factor could possibly be that he may view the government’s National Broadband Network as a threat to his own Foxtel cable TV monopoly.

CLIMATE CHANGE: As I have said several times, the Coalition has a pretend policy on climate change. Depressingly and ashamedly, we may be the only country going backwards on this issue, although various countries in financial difficulties are reconsidering various “green” initiatives.  Our Prime Ministerial contender Tony Abbott recently described the carbon price he has promised to abolish as a “so-called market in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one”, while ex PM John Howard now says “there’s more serious questioning of the science”.  This is just untrue.

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil

Unfortunately neither party can be relied on to protect the environment.  For the conservatives “economic factors” seem to be the “principal consideration” in all decisions, overruling everything else.  However the Labor Party has just approved two iron ore mines in the Tarkine region of Tasmania which is a unique wilderness area.  This also poses a threat to the Tasmanian Devil population which is already decimated by a contagious face tumour disease.

BRADLEY MANNING: Whistleblower?  Traitor?  Hero?  Manning still faces up to 90 years in jail, even if he has not “aided the enemy”!  The prosecution had difficulty finding even one example of someone harmed by his “Wikileaks”.

There have been more espionage prosecutions under Obama than all other Presidents combined.  Apparently we should watch to see if the military judge Colonel Denise Lind gets a promotion.

I’ve just looked again at Youtube and viewed the horrific footage that Bradley Manning thought we should see of those Americans shooting innocent civilians and two Reuters reporters in Baghdad from the Apache helicopter in 2007.   It is appalling in many ways: cold blooded murder; the cynical attitude of the Americans as they shot them and then shot the people that ran to help them; shooting the children in the van; the Pentagon saying the Americans had done “nothing wrong”; and that no-one was charged.  On the other hand, people called for Manning’s execution, and he was subsequently locked up and tortured.

I’d also like Bush, Cheney, Blair, and Howard to be finally called to account for their lies, actions and resulting innocent deaths,  and the “basket case” that is their legacy in Iraq.

Apparently 55% of Americans view Edward Snowden as a “whistleblower”, while 34% view him as a “traitor”.  Both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are ironically being protected by two countries with appalling records on press freedom and human rights.

MIDDLE EAST: Let’s just see how the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations play out….but I can only be cynical. Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion – late in the day and reluctantly, that while the Palestinians “have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, Israel has no intention of ever allowing a Palestinian State, and the continued building of their illegal settlements on Palestinian land is to ensure that this will soon be an impossibility. They are just playing for time.

I wish the Egyptian General al-Sisi would take off his dark glasses and we can see who Egyptians are actually dealing with. Incompetent as the Muslim Brotherhood were in governing Egypt, one does have to wonder what the reportedly charismatic General’s own ambitions are in the power vacuum he has created.  The Egyptians do have a propensity for a strong military leader.  Mediation seems to have failed so far, and one fears the imminent removal of the Muslim Brotherhood protesters can only result in more bloodshed.

Unfortunately Assad in Syria seems to be regaining territory, but at what a price – whole neighbourhoods and suburbs of cities seem to have  been entirely flattened.

MALALA: Shot and badly injured by the Taliban in Pakistan, who will forget the courage and leadership of young Malala Yousafza and her address to the United Nations Youth Assembly about the importance of education?

David Bowie

David Bowie

WATCHING: I loved a recent documentary on David Bowie who was emerging with his Ziggy Stardust persona in the early 1970s as the world moved on from the 1960s “Carnaby Street” and the “Kings Road” era.  Isn’t it interesting how some music is the backdrop to our lives at various stages.  I do think Bowie was much more innovative and interesting that most of the others.

I did not enjoy watching the film Behind the Candelbra.  While I loved the performance of Michael Douglas as Liberace, they were all rather horrible people to have to spend a few hours with.  Many years ago with friends I met Michael Douglas and Jack Nicholson in Sydney when they were promoting One Flew over The Cuckoos Nest, and they both bought art from my first gallery, Ace’s Art Shop.

Dr Chris Brown

Dr Chris Brown

CHRIS BROWN: When we appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show several years ago, of my own volition I took tapes of Chris Brown’s Bondi Vet television program.  Chris is the son of a family friend.  I thought he would be great on the Animal Planet channel which I think Oprah had just acquired an interest in.  As an excellent vet with a personable manner and movie star looks, he could be a huge success in the USA, as he is in Australia.  Chris is finally about to make his debut on US television on CBS as Dr. Chris: Pet Vet.  Starting on September 28th, the program is aimed at teenage audiences.

The Marmalade Cat

Orlando The Marmalade Cat

My godmother loved cats and she presciently gave me this book Orlando (The Marmalade Cat) His Silver Anniversary when I was born and it is my favourite book.  Isn’t it interesting how we remain so attached to our childhood books and I still cannot give any away. My mother had a garage sale many years ago when I wasn’t paying attention, or out of the country, and I still have to resist the urge to replace several books that went missing, especially some that had beautiful illustrations.

UncleTruffl

I think the author Kathleen Hale’s illustrations in the Orlando books are superb and I don’t know why the books have never been re-released, although there are so many excellent children’s books on the market. I quite often look online and consider buying ALL of Orlando’s books!

I just loved Orlando and his family, although I was nervous of their Uncle Truffle (above).  I was frightened of the Katnapper because he stole cats, although he said he just could not help himself, and that the cats found him irresistible.  I think the fish and prawns in his pockets helped.  I think I probably also envied him – his house was cat heaven!  I sometimes wonder what effect this story had on my life….

The Katnapper

The Katnapper

So, Happy Birthday Christian.  Many of us will never forget you, could never forget you, and we will continue to be concerned about animal and wildlife issues because of you, and in your name.

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