BORN FREE: It was so wonderful seeing Born Free again and I just marveled at how beautiful, expressive, intelligent and socially-engaged lions are. The lions were filmed superbly, as was Africa and other wildlife. Like Joy and George Adamson with Elsa the lioness, we too took off Christian’s collar symbolically for our first walk with him on African soil and the beginning of his natural life. I will never forget it.

It is appalling to think how animal populations have diminished since 1964 when the film was made. There has been an approximately 80% reduction in numbers since, and only 20,000 lions remain in the wild.


BLOOD LIONS: There are many sad lions in Blood Lions, the recent documentary on canned hunting in South Africa (watch the trailer here). Ian Michler, a well known South African conservationist who participated in the documentary, introduced it at selected viewings in Australia.  In up to 200 unregulated facilities, lionesses are forced to have too many cubs.  After birth, the cubs are quickly taken away and are hand-fed to become human-friendly. Tourists pay to pat them as cubs and walk with them when a little older. Ultimately they are shot in enclosures by “hunters”. Like other animals, unwanted lions are sold for their bones and other animal parts to the Asian market. Volunteers, who pay to work at these facilities, are conned into thinking they are contributing to conservation. They are not. Breeding lions for canned hunting is not an insurance against the catastrophic decline in the numbers of wild lions.

The people making money out of canned hunting are mainly older Apartheid-era white men who, I imagine, have as little respect for the rights and welfare of lions as they did for black Africans.

President Zuma giggled about Cecil the lion’s death, describing it as “just an incident”.

Donalea Patman of fortheloveofwildlife who organised the viewings of Blood Lions, was so outraged by canned hunting that she wrote a letter to our Environment Minister Hunt. This has resulted in the ban on the importation of lion animal body parts and trophies into Australia which is an incredible achievement, and is the most effective way of eliminating canned hunting. Perhaps some of you may be inspired to write to the relevant ministers in your own countries – especially the EU and the USA.

GLOBAL MARCH FOR RHINOS, ELEPHANTS AND LIONS: On Saturday October 3rd we will meet at the Sydney Town Hall at 11.00 am and we are to be addressed by Mark Pearson of the Animal Justice Party in Martin Place. See details here.


CHRISTIAN THE LION: I loved a recent and very thoughtful email from Janice who said that Christian was obviously “loved, nurtured, cared for, and plain adored”. She goes on “But Christian’s tale isn’t a tale of tears. His tale is that of forever love, forever friendship, and of eternal freedom. No tears need to be shed for that lucky lion. If anyone wants to weep, he/she can weep for the Cecils who never received the blessings that were showered on Christian”.


WORLD: Europe is experiencing the largest transmigration of people since the 2nd World War. Germany is expecting 800,000 by the end of the year which is extraordinarily generous.  Some other EU countries are less welcoming and because of the volume of people, there is now talk of borders soon being closed.  The social and political consequences cannot be predicted. Lebanon and Jordan are also overwhelmed by refugees. Aid agencies do not have the resources to cope and urgently need donations.  Winter is approaching. Beyond making donations, the Saudis and wealthy Gulf States do not seem particularly helpful.

Last year 60 million people were displaced around the world, and 120 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

You may donate to the UNHCR Syria Crisis here. It is sad that it has taken the photograph of a drowned Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi to galvanise the world into action, despite many drownings in the Mediterranean over the last few months and 71 people recently asphyxiated in a truck. .

PM Abbott’s idea of a contribution to this humanitarian disaster is, apparently, by asking President Obama to invite Australia to drop bombs in Syria. We have accepted.  Doesn’t anyone ever learn?  What is the strategic aim or hoped for outcome in Syria? Bombing Syria will only cause more deaths and refugees.  If Assad is ousted who will fill the vacuum?  Russia is extremely unlikely to allow this to happen and is apparently ready to assist Assad.

Our unnecessary involvement can only further alienate our own Muslim population, as will the discriminatory intention to select mostly Christian Syrians ahead of others in our promised 12,000 refugee intake.

Abbott’s policies on asylum seekers of just turning their boats back to Indonesia – to an unknown future – were recently described in The New York Times as “unconscionable”, “inhumane” and of “dubious legality”. While Abbott is increasingly unpopular here in the polls, he is becoming a poster boy for some of the lunatic Tea Party Republicans in the USA. The popularity of Donald Trump is very disconcerting.

It will be fascinating to watch Jeremy Corbyn, the new socialist  leader of the UK Labour Party, and see how popular he will be. He is certainly a refreshing antidote to previous leaders.  In comparison, it is hard to know what our own Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten actually believes in. He is not as disliked as Abbott but is not performing well either. He has also made inexcusable gaffes, and is too close to the union movement. Unlike the PM however, Shorten’s party seems united behind him.

Update since first published: Tony Abbott has been removed as Prime Minister by his own party.  Bravo.  He was challenged and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull who in contrast to Abbott is intelligent, sophisticated and moderate. Turnbull is independently wealthy, arrogant and not particularly astute politically. Many Australians are very happy today that we have a new PM who is not so captive to vested interests and rigid ideology, who actually believes that climate change is real and requires urgent action, and that Australia should become a republic.

Bulga Coal Mine, Hunter Valley. Image sourced from The Australian.

Bulga Coal Mine, Hunter Valley. Image sourced from The Australian.

GREENIES: We are holding progress and development back in Australia!  We are the new scapegoats to distract from the government’s economic failures. PM Abbott is not going to “protect the environment at the expense of the economy”. Planned legislation would prevent environmental court challenges by 3rd parties. For example, I would have no right to participate in a court challenge to a mine, or to protect the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, if I did not reside nearby.  Ag-gag laws are also being considered. While ostensibly under the guise of “bio-security” and concern for the health of farmed animals like chickens and pigs, these laws are really an attempt to stop animal activists trespassing and exposing these cruel practices.

Apparently, if the proposed mining in the Galilee Basin in Queensland goes ahead, the world has no chance of limiting global warming by 2 degrees. One of the mines is owned by Mr. Adani who is a very wealthy Indian who is close to PM Modi.  A port would have to be expanded and would require dredging near the Great Barrier Reef. The company does not have a good environmental record to put it mildly. This proposal  is very unlikely to go ahead and it is not because of us “greenies”  – an expression I don’t particularly like. It will be primarily because of the low price of coal and that coal is becoming a stranded asset.  Major banks are refusing to finance the project.  The momentum for alternative renewable energy and divesting in fossil fuel shares will just keep growing. Realistically, coal will have a role to play for decades to come – but it will be a diminishing one.

In a bizarre move, the Mineral Council of Australia has a promotional campaign “Coal Is Amazing” starring a lump of coal!  It was immediately ridiculed widely.  Our PM Abbott has of course said “Coal is good for humanity”.  He also said that wind farms are “ugly” – could anything be uglier or more destructive of the environment  than the Bulga mine in the photograph above?  Could anything be more unsightly or unhealthy for the devastated local community?  Shenhua are proposing a mine like this beside the Liverpool Plains which has Australia’s richest food -producing soil.  A mine like this could only destroy the water aquifers.

Great White Shrk

CULLING: There is a campaign building to cruelly cull feral cats by baiting, and for restrictions on pet cats,  I will return to this subject in due course.  After an unusual 14 shark attacks on the NSW coast of Australia this year, there are calls to cull sharks, and a Jaws-like fear for the impact on the looming summer tourist season.  Apparently one reason for the sharks is their attraction to the “balls” of millions of small fish unusually close to the coast.  People are not sure what is causing this. There were several fatal shark attacks in West Australia last year, and the culling of sharks has been a very contentious and unresolved issue.

VALE: Oliver Sacks said “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet”.  What an intelligent and interesting man he was.

Khaled al-Asaad the 82 year old Syrian archaeologist was murdered by IS in Palmyra, and now the irreplaceable Temple of Bel and Temple of Baalshamin have been destroyed..

VIEWING: Last weekend I’ve enjoyed visiting the 2015 Sydney Contemporary Art Fair and the Sydney Antiques Fair.  I’ve loved watching the US Tennis Open and our Rugby League football finals.  The most popular recent TV shows in Australia have been cat and dog videos – programs that were probably quickly assembled when another show was cancelled. Their success hardly surprises many of us – we know what joy these animals bring into our lives.

Happy Birthday Christian

August 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Christian. Photograph by Ace, 1972.

Christian at Kora Photograph by Ace, 1972.

Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 at Ilfracombe Zoo, in Devon, UK. His parents were Mary and Butch.  A few years ago we were told that Christian was actually hand-reared by one of the staff. This probably explains why Christian seemed so comfortable with us right from the start.

We are often asked how long do lions live?  I usually say 10-12 years but they can live longer in zoos.  Christian was last seen in 1973 and even at four years old was growing into one of the biggest lions George Adamson had ever seen.  He proved to be courageous and smart and survived the most dangerous years.  Ironically, George regarded Christian, the lion from London, as one of the most successful rehabilitations.

The murder of Cecil the lion by an American hunter in Zimbabwe continues to be condemned around the world.

Let’s ensure Cecil’s death was not in vain. There are several petitions in circulation relating to Cecil  –  the AVAAZ petition is to the EU and the USA authorities asking them to classify lions as an endangered species and to ban the import of any hunting trophies. This is probably the most effective way to stop these senseless deaths, and you may want to sign here.

The United Nations has recently passed a Resolution “Tackling the Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife”.

All of us must redouble our efforts to fight canned hunting, and Cecil’s death will add momentum to the campaign against the breeding of lions for hunting, and the importation of animal body parts and trophies. I ring travel agencies that advertise tours to Africa and ask airlines about their policies on these issues. All volunteers and travellers to Africa should look at this updated Volunteers in Africa Beware Facebook page to ensure they are supporting reputable wildlife sanctuaries.

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Last Monday was World Lion Day and I cannot resist sharing last year’s message from Kevin Richardson and Tau the Interrupting Lion – who roared throughout! Watch the clip here.  I met Kevin when he was in Sydney recently and he posted this photograph of us on his Facebook page and there are of course wonderful photographs of lions on there too.

I am told our YouTube reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 is circulating on Facebook again and I am receiving emails, especially through the website,, from people just discovering Christian’s story.  For example, Monique has just emailed “And wasn’t Christian just the most remarkable being? He took everything in his stride and managed to bridge the animal and human worlds wonderfully”.

Many of you have let us know over the years the influence Christian’s story has had on you, and we of course will never know the full extent of his legacy.  I also recently received an email from a volunteer at Stichting Leew (Lion Foundation) in the Netherlands. I was thrilled to read that the owner was so inspired by Christian’s story and his successful rehabilitation that 3 years ago he opened his own big cat sanctuary to rescue animals from circuses, zoos etc. Their aim – see here – is to look after all animals that come to them, but to return purebred wild cats to the “semi-wild” where possible.  This is of course a very complex indeed contested issue.

Also based in Holland is AAP and I do know much more about their marvellous work with rescued animals, especially big cats, after meeting their representatives at the Animal Studies Conference in Delhi in January.

AAP are soon to officially open their Spanish branch, Primadomus, and the first occupants – 2 lions and 2 tigers rescued from a French circus wagon, are already in residence. See here.

George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian

GEORGE ADAMSON: The 20th of August is the anniversary of George Adamson’s murder at Kora in 1989. I love this photograph of George and Christian as it shows the love and familiarity of two good friends.  Christian looks so big I think the photograph must have been taken early in 1973 and is possibly the last photograph of him.  George, we thank you for your giant contribution to our understanding and protection of animals, and Christian…how can I express what you still mean to us and to so many others?

 OK, I confess, as it is his birthday I’ve just watched the Youtube reunion and sniffled through it as I did with Born Free last weekend.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN.

Lion cub and lioness in Naboisho Conservancy, Masai Mara, Kenya by Marja Schartz

Lion cub and lioness in Naboisho Conservancy, Masai Mara, Kenya by Marja Schwartz

I love this photograph, and many others entered in the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. Some of the other entries follow below and see here for a wide selection.  With so many people with cameras and the plethora of images in our daily lives with social media and Instagram etc, it is great there are now so many competitions giving photographers greater exposure. Countless images of our beautiful natural world and wildlife can only contribute to renewing our efforts for urgent protection.


BORN FREE: After the initial successful fund raiser for Animal Works and The Feline Foundation, I have been asked again to introduce the classic film Born Free on Saturday 8th August  at 2pm, at Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney.  I loved seeing the film again. The story of Elsa the lioness is sensitively told and Africa looks very fresh and beautiful.  Please spread the word as Animal Works do support such important causes and projects! You can purchase tickets here.

BLOOD LIONS: This documentary, which took considerable courage to make, addresses the horrific practice of captive lion breeding and canned hunting in South Africa.  It has just been shown at the Durban International Film Festival. No doubt it will soon be shown in Australia and internationally, so keep up to date via the Blood Lions website.

CECIL THE LION: the shooting of well known Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe by an American dentist has created a social media “firestorm” and international outcry.  The 13 year old lion who was collared and under surveillance, was apparently lured outside his territory by bait. He was initially shot with a bow and arrow and forty hours later was shot with a gun. He was skinned and beheaded. What sort of people take pleasure in this?  His cubs will be killed by another lion.  Sign this petition and we can only hope Cecil’s death will add to the momentum against canned hunting and a world wide ban on the importation of animal body parts and trophies.

TONY THE TIGER: Please sign this petition for Tony!  It is hard not to be very upset and pessimistic as the years go by and Tony remains imprisoned for the fifteenth year!  I have been told that our collective signatures are noticed and can make a difference.  There are now over 50,000 on this petition for Tony but they are aiming at 75,000.

A new sign on Tony’s cage at the truck stop says “we are proud of our record and it is a great joy to provide this free exhibit to you. Recent attacks by Animal Rights Terrorists and legal organisations against private zoos have resulted in huge legal fees.  Donations are greatly appreciated”!  This is just outrageous and we must keep the pressure up in any way we can to free Tony, the “free exhibit”.

Lion of al-Lat at Palmyra

Lion of al-Lat at Palmyra

WORLD: This 1st century statue of the Lion of al-Lat in Palmyra, Syria was destroyed earlier in the month by ISIS militants. Other sites in Palmyra are undamaged at this stage, but there has been widespread looting and vandalism across ISIS controlled areas. The unnecessary loss of cultural heritage is shocking – as is the plight of the millions of displaced people in the region.

It is hard not to be pessimistic about the world at the moment. There is new unsettling change, transition and insecurity. The sovereignty of some countries, particularly in the Middle East, is threatened and borders are reconfiguring. There are real fears over the territorial ambitions and influence of Putinism, and of China in the South China Sea. No-one really knows what repercussions there may be from the sluggish global economic growth, the disastrous handling of the Greek debt crisis, and now the Chinese stock market collapse.

However, with the end of his presidency in sight, and no election to face, Barack Obama’s recent activities are giving us some reason to be optimistic and people have a renewed admiration for him.  At least he is trying to break a stalemate with Iran with the nuclear deal. Yes, lifting sanctions will make Iran wealthier and even more influential in the region, but their nuclear ambitions can be much more closely monitored.  Obama also met with Native Americans which must be rare if it makes the news, as was his visit to a federal prison to meet with prisoners.

Photograph by Laura Keene for the National Geographical Traveler Contest

Photograph by Laura Keene for the National Geographical Traveler Contest

AUSTRALIA: There is growing frustration in Australia at the lack of any serious political debate or action on vital issues such as falling revenues, job creation, urgent tax reform and huge health and education budget shortfalls. The government – and opposition, play populist politics, both frightened of reform and of alienating core constituents. We are seemingly always in election mode, and policy reduced to inane slogans.

Respected journalist Laura Tingle recently wrote “we don’t seem to quite be able to take in the growing realisation that we are actually being governed by idiots and fools”.

Interestingly, in frustration, various diverse organisations are coming together to address the issues the government hasn’t:  tax reform, an economic and jobs strategy, and the implications of climate change. These groups include the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Australian Council of Social Services.

For an informed appraisal of the government’s performance and the state of the economy see the article Abbott hiding behind scare campaign by Ross Gittins in the SMH earlier this month (read full article here).  The PM “ wants to divert us from the hash he is making of the economy”. Our Australian government thinks National Security is a vote winner and is ramping up fear at every opportunity. The PM even repeated that the “ISIS death cult is coming to get us”. As Gittins points out more people in Australia are dying from smoking, alcohol, car accidents and domestic violence than in terrorist attacks.

Our government is legislating to take away citizenship from jihadists and has seized the opportunity to curtail our own rights and freedoms. Denmark now welcomes their jihadists back and attempts to deradicalise them with education and employment opportunities. Their “flow” of fighters has become a “trickle”.  By contrast, our government continues to alienate many in our Muslim community by often demonising them.

Photograph by Jez Bennett for the National Geographical Traveler Photo Contest

Photograph by Jez Bennett for the National Geographical Traveler Photo Contest

RENEWABLES: While windpower in Denmark recently produced 140% of power requirements, in Australia the government continues to attack renewable energy with a third attempt to disband the successful Clean Energy Fund Corporation. Unlike most of the rest of the world, the government are particularly targeting wind power and even small scale solar possibly because it is proving so popular. The opposition Labor Party have finally said something: they have announced a 50% renewable energy target by 2030 although there are no details or costings. Although the issue of climate change has had high profile political casualties, it will be a major factor in the next election.  I think our present government will be shown to be on the wrong side of history. A majority in the community now believe urgent action is necessary, as do forward planning business leaders.

ELECTRICITY COSTS: The central question is just how much will a transition from fossil fuels to renewables cost?  The Murdoch press, shock jock Alan Jones and the PM all predictably responded with wilful misinformation.  For those interested in this vital and complicated question – see this article The true cost of green energy by Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper (25/26 July) where he comprehensively quotes the actual likely costs. “The arguments against renewable energy are not just without scientific basis, they lack economic credibility”.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance compares the costs of new wind farms, large scale photovoltaic projects, coal fired power stations, and gas base load stations. They conclude “both wind and solar are already cheaper than coal” and “the cost advantage of non- polluting energy is rapidly increasing”.

Mike Seccombe also quotes the Climate Works Australia CEO Anna Skarbek who says “Australia could completely decarbonise its economy while maintaining current rates of economic growth and do it – mostly – using existing technology”. In the article she describes four basic steps to achieve this.

CLIMATE CHANGE / DUTCH COURT CASE: do see this article where 886 concerned Dutch citizens successfully sued the Dutch Government over climate change inaction. The government “inaction” is illegal, and an abrogation of their “duty of care”. Citizens in other countries intend to follow suit, although unfortunately in Australia it would be more difficult.

COAL: It is likely permission will be granted for a Chinese coal mine (Shenhua Watermark) to proceed on the Liverpool Plains in north/west NSW.  The threat to water is the main concern, not only for agriculture, but the area is a major catchment for the Murray-Darling Water Basin.  This is Australia’s richest food producing land and I think this proposed mine will be the line in the sand that unites conservative land owners, conservationists and the majority of the public.

I haven’t visited the once extremely picturesque Hunter Valley for many years, but apparently mining has trashed it.  Mining has threatened communities, tourism, vineyards and horse breeding and much else. The Indian Adani company seems unlikely to proceed with their vast coal mining plans in the Galilee Basin, Queensland, which also involved expanding port facilities and further endangering the Great Barrier Reef.

Refugees from North Africa heading for Italy. Photograph by Massimo Sestini.

Refugees from North Africa heading for Italy. Photograph by Massimo Sestini. Image sourced from The Australian.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: The opposition Labor Party have now backed the government’s brutal policy to turn back refugee boats to Indonesia. I’m sure our inhumane response to the relatively few refugees (compared to Europe) breaks International Refugee Conventions. The boats to Australia have apparently stopped although the government releases no information, have payed off the people smugglers themselves, and annoyed the Indonesian government. People can go and drown or fight to survive somewhere else it seems, and I am sad to say, the majority of Australians agree. We have inhumane off-shore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. 2 people have died on Manus Island, and not one person has been processed or resettled in 2 years.

Waleed Ali has commented that Australians are tolerant (or not racist) as long as “minorities know their place”. One of our best Aboriginal footballers Adam Goodes is currently being booed during games in a form of mob hysteria that has an undeniable racist undercurrent. He is a highly respected leader of his people who is unafraid to speak up, and he was Australian of the Year last year. During a match two years ago he objected to someone in the crowd calling him an “ape”.  As the person turned out to be a young girl, Goodes has been vilified ever since as a bully!


CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine Townend’s poetry collection, Walking with Elephants (published by Island Press) was launched on 13th July, by Dr. Dinesh Wadiwel, a lecturer in Human Rights (USyd). The launch took place at the recent three day conference, Animal Publics, Emotions, Empathy, Activism, held at the University of Melbourne. Read one of her poems, Walking with Elephants.  Her poems effortlessly express her love, concern and understanding of animals – and India.  See this excellent review.

The animals at the Working for Animals shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong KAS) in India just adore her – I’ve seen it!

Curlew by Zoe Tweedale, exhibiting at Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Curlew by Zoe Tweedale who is exhibiting at Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

BIRDS: Birdlife Australia reports an alarming drop in the number of birds including kookaburras, willy wag-tails and magpies which are seemingly plentiful where I live. The Australian Bird Index is a citizens project carrying out rigorous and systematic surveys of our bird numbers.  There are superb bird photographs on the website – and more photographic competitions.

Zoe Tweedale has named her current exhibition at Robin Gibson after Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and contains a painting of the star Tippi Hedren. The artist finds birds both extremely beautiful and exotic, but sometimes sinister and unsettling.

Raven by Zoe Tweedale, exhibiting at Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Raven by Zoe Tweedale, exhibiting at Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Kevin Richardson

Kevin Richardson

KEVIN RICHARDSON:  I very much enjoyed the successful fund raising event in Sydney with guest speaker Kevin Richardson visiting from South Africa.  There were many people keen to meet him and buy his book Part of the Pride so I didn’t really have time to ask my trite question “do you shampoo and blow dry your lions as they look SO gorgeous?”  He answered most of my more serious questions when he delivered his talk – including the dangers he inadvertently faces even though the lions obviously adore him. Of course George Adamson is a hero of his.

Only approximately 20,000 lions are  left in the wild.  Kevin is a leading campaigner against canned hunting, and he explained how, despite the assertions of the South African government and others, canned hunting is NOT a contributor to wildlife management or conservation. Do beware of visiting or volunteering at wildlife parks that are ethically compromised and are actually part of canned hunting.
I was also very impressed with the work of our hosts Painted Dog Conservation Inc and their work and fund raising efforts to protect African Painted Dogs and other animals.  They also support and work closely with local communities.

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke  Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

PETITIONS: An American recently paid US$440,000 to shoot a black rhino in Namibia “to help protect the endangered species”!  Apparently only 5 Northern White rhinos are left. Please sign this petition against the “catastrophic” levels of Rhino poaching here.
One of Australia’s leading campaigners against canned hunting, Donalea Patman, has asked us to sign two petitions.  The first is for the Australian Government to maintain the recent ban on the importation of lion trophies and body parts.  There is a rear-guard action to overturn this.  The other petition is to ask Qantas to stop the shipping of hunting trophies and follow the admirable example of Emirates, Singapore Airlines and British Airlines . Sign them here and here.

Ace Bourke and Christian 1972

Ace Bourke and Christian 1972

MARK PEARSON: The animal rights movement is changing and coming from the fringe into the mainstream. This was very apparent to me at the Animal Studies conference in Delhi this January.  It is also heartening to see so many young advocates and activists, especially girls it seems. See this interview with Mark Pearson, the first Animal Justice Party member of a parliament in Australia.  Mark has done his fair share of courageous direct action which he has found to be effective.  He now feels he is a little too old to be entering a piggery or battery hen farm or cattle feedlot at night and chaining himself to a cage. Like my friend Christine Townend (and many others), Mark was initially influenced by the work of Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher and animal rights advocate.

Mbeli with her baby gorilla Mjukuu at Taronga Zoo, Sydney

Mbeli with her baby gorilla Mjukuu at Taronga Zoo, Sydney

LYN WHITE: Do read this interview in the SMH with Lyn White of Animals Australia.  She has been prominent in the media over the last few years primarily exposing the cruelty in our live cattle industry – in Indonesia for example, and more recently in Vietnam and Israel.  Animals Australia also exposed the use of live baits to blood greyhounds. It is the unnecessary suffering of animals that drives her. The undercover footage she obtains of the extreme cruelty to animals especially in abbatoirs, and the thoroughness of her investigations, makes her both feared – and respected, by our government.

KANGAROOS: I urge you to email the Minister responsible for the unnecessary culling (killing) of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in the Australian Capital Territory, Mr Shane Rattenbury, Minister for Territory and Municipal Service – Read more information here and here.

DONKEYS: I know some of you think I ignore the plight of donkeys around the world.  In recent flooding in NSW, the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary at Clarence Town in the Hunter Valley was badly damaged.  Any donations to support these previously unwanted or neglected donkeys would be most appreciated – see  I am encouraged that so many people and organisations I have never previously heard of are doing such good work on behalf of animals.

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

WILLIAM T COOPER: the artist who David Attenborough described as “possibly the best artist of birds in the world”, died recently. As I live surrounded by bush I have slowly become more knowledgeable about the many birds I live amongst (cats notwithstanding), and understand why so many of you are very interested in birds!  I’m also noticing many contemporary artists are painting birds…

William was undoubtedly a very good artist and he often placed the birds in context in relation to habitats and food sources etc – assisted by his botanist wife.  Their work is an extremely valuable resource. I can sometimes find his paintings a little florid, or busy, and prefer, for example, the more understated work of Neville Henry Cayley (1854-1903) and his son Neville William Cayley (1886-1978) who published the definitive What Bird Is That? in 1931.

Great Blue Turaco by William T Cooper

Great Blue Turaco by William T Cooper

CLIMATE CHANGE & ENERGY: It was important that the G7 Group of Seven biggest developed nations recently declared that the world needed to phase out fossil fuel emissions by the end of the century. Australia has yet again been described as an international laggard for our inaction, and hopefully our government will just be dragged (or shamed) reluctantly along with the growing momentum.  Encouragingly, a majority of Australians again want action on climate change, after support dropped off owing to a lack of resolution at the Copenhagen conference years ago, and no subsequent leadership on the issue.

Congratulations to Pope Francis for accepting the science on global warming and man-made climate change, and for speaking up in his encyclical.  He gave quite a devastating critique of capitalism, our greed and consumerism, and the destruction and exploitation of our environment.  Unfortunately he did not mention contraception and another major contributor to our plight – overpopulation.

The PM’s proposed “consensus centre” at the University of West Australia that was to be headed by Bjorn Lomberg, has been rejected by the UWA after the predicted outcry.  Lomberg is the climate-change expert you use when you don’t want any action, or want to do as little as you can get away with.  Read this story about him in the SMH if you are interested.  I think he has received quite enough publicity myself.

See this interesting article “Progressives failing to tell the Big Story” by Alex Frankel from The Saturday Paper about how after decades of conservative political ascendancy, progressives “are yet to offer a simple counter narrative that critiques neoliberal values” or articulates “their vision of society”.  Conservatives, complicit with big business and media controlled by people like Rupert Murdoch, are masters of controlling the Big Story.  Progressives mistakenly think persuasion operates through reason, but “most things are shaped through stories rather than facts”.

Extreme weather - Angela Miall's Bondi Beach, winner of Clique’s May Challenge

Extreme weather – Angela Miall’s photograph of Bondi Beach, winner of Clique’s May Challenge

Alex Frankel cites climate change as an example of how debates can be “managed”.  Despite the evidence of 95% of scientists (and the extreme weather we are all experiencing), fossil fuel interests will delay any action for as long as possible, by “contesting the narrative”.

PM Abbott has been very successful in this debate, especially when in Opposition. The “Clean Energy Act” was renamed as the “carbon tax” which he then linked to increasing the “cost of living”, especially electricity prices.

Frankel quotes Frank Luntz who pointed out that “because the very expression “climate change” was scientifically focused, ambiguous and had no obvious story or villain, it could be manipulated by polluters”.  The current debate is “normalising climate change” as “just part of life” which is exactly what the polluters want.

Frankel says it is “better to talk about industrial change than climate change, and to frame the conversation in terms of a big polluting villain and a clean energy solution”.

PM Abbott recently was brazen or stupid enough to claim “coal is good for humanity”.  I suppose he meant that developing countries – especially India and China, will depend on coal for a long time.  See the recent The End of Coal from ABC’s Four Corners which I think is a fair summation. Tesla energy storage will be the game changer!

Two thirds of our electricity in Australia still comes from coal, and the government’s antipathy to renewable energy was illustrated lately when PM Abbott said he found wind farms “ugly” and that they are probably health risks. Is there anything uglier – or more unhealthy, than an open-cut coal mine?

Norway, with the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has decided to divest itself of stocks with assets that are dominated by coal miners and coal burners, as have the Rockefellers. Valerie Rockefeller of the Rockefeller Foundation asked why Australia is “so stuck in the past and not looking to the future?”.


DOLPHINS: It is great news that Japan’s peak zoo association has announced that aquarium members will stop purchasing dolphins captured during the horrific annual Taiji hunt.  Congratulations to Australia for Dolphins and CEO Sarah Lucas for their legal action that led to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums threatening to suspend Japan.  Sarah Lucas says “This significant decision marks the beginning of the end for dolphin hunting in Japan”.  Read more here.

AUSTRALIA: A recent poll by the Lowy Institute showed that many Australians are feeling bleak and gloomy about the future.  There is declining optimism about our economic prospects.  There is a greater sense of insecurity, with only 1/4 feeling “safe”, and terrorism a chief concern.  Rather than making us feel safe, the government has really just succeeded in making us more fearful with Abbott recently saying to us “Daish are coming to get you”!!!  His government has already proven to be incompetent when a letter the Sydney siege gunman had previously written to the Attorney General was “overlooked”!!!

Many people are depressed by the performance of both our major political parties and their adversarial and divisive conduct.  We seem to be in permanent election mode and hostage to the 24 hour media cycle and polls, and policy reduced to 3 word slogans.  Neither side has the courage to tackle any necessary reforms or have a strategy for increasing revenue (or employment) now that our resources boom is ending.

The Greens unexpectedly got a new leader, Richard Di Natale.  He is more pragmatic than his predecessor and wants to turn the Greens into a progressive mainstream party.

Temple of Ba’al, Palmyra. Photograph by David Forman.

Temple of Ba’al, Palmyra. Photograph by David Forman.

WORLD: No, Palmyra in Syria has not been destroyed yet, but imagine if this 3rd century BC site was? Palmyra was a major trading intersection for China, the Persian Gulf, Egypt and Rome. With ISIS already having destroyed Hatra and Nimrud in Iraq, and the recent earthquakes in Nepal, we are losing so much of our priceless cultural heritage.  It is hard not to feel worried about the world at the moment including the inept response of the West to ISIS and the territorial gains of the “caliphate” across swathes of Iraq and Syria.  All eyes are nervously on Greece and the repercussions if they do default on their multi-billion dollar debts.

Even sport has been depressing with FIFA and Sep Blatter in utter disgrace, but I am looking forward very much to Wimbledon!

Australia is likely to be involved in any dispute over China’s claim and development of the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea which is creating tension in the region. Looking at a map the islands do look much closer to The Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. The USA is establishing a base in Darwin, in our Northern Territory, and is apparently to host American B1 fighter jets, although we only found this out accidentally when an American official “misspoke”.

At least Tony Blair is no longer the Middle East envoy.  He seemed oblivious to conflicts of interest or the appropriateness of his associations with dictators, and is now very rich.  As apparently documented in the book Clinton’s Cash, it was stupid of Hillary to allow donations to Bill’s Clinton Foundation during her time as Secretary of State.

The only positive from the recent race-hate shooting in the USA is the extraordinary forgiveness some have shown, while so many of us in the world wonder what is it about Americans and their guns?

ASYLUM SEEKERS: This of course is one of the most pressing concerns for the world with apparently 50 million people displaced. The ABC Four Corners has just shown a horrific report Journey into Hell on the fate of the Rohingas as the government of Myanmar attempts to expel them. The situation has created an asylum seeker crisis in our region. Our eloquent PM Tony Abbott said “nope, nope, nope” to any assistance, while our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop demonised them by describing them as mostly “economic migrants”. San Suu Kyi’s silence has been glaringly obvious as she has her eye on the next election, and the behaviour of the Buddhist monks has been appalling.

It seems to our government the “end justifies the means”.  We are prepared to stop any asylum seeker trying to reach Australia even “by hook or by crook”.  It appears Australia paid “people smugglers” US$30,000 to turn a boat at sea packed with refugees back to Indonesia. I’m not sure how this is meant to “destroy the business model” for people smugglers…and the Indonesian Government is yet again angry with us.

How The Tribes Got Their Name by Balu Ladkya Dumada, 2014.

                     How The Tribes Got Their Name by Balu Ladkya Dumada, 2014.

WARLIS: I am opening an exhibition of Warlis tribal art from India in Sydney on 27th June at Coo-ee Gallery – see here for the details. I have collected Indian tribal art over many trips to India and the Warlis painters were the first I collected and exhibited in Australia. Tribal people in India share their forests and habitats with wild animals (often part of their religion and mythology), and all are equally threatened by “development” and competition for resources. In January, while looking for lions in Gir National Park in Gujarat, I saw several tribal villages. Some had been moved to safer locations, and others had augmented their defences against lions and other animals.  People in India, as they are in other countries, are working in a more enlightened way towards a more effective co-existence between animals and humans.

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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