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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

Baby Black Rhino. Photograph by Jodi Cobb. source National Geographic.

Baby Black Rhino. Photograph by Jodi Cobb. Source National Geographic.

OCT 4th World Animal Day: According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, half the world’s wild animals have been lost in the last 40 years from habitat destruction,hunting and deforestation. On this World Animal Day let’s work together and combine our efforts to reverse these terrible statistics – their survival is at stake.

SYDNEY: People are meeting beside Sydney Town Hall at 11am on Saturday 4th October. Organisers seem to be a coalition of Lobby For Lions, Animal Works and felinefoundation.org – see their sites for information. The March is for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions primarily…but let’s salute all animals!

MELBOURNE: fortheloveofwildlife is staging a fund raiser, primarily for a documentary exposing the cruelty of farming lions for the canned hunting industry in South Africa. Apart from the entertainment, the evening will feature Ian Michler, a well-known wildlife journalist from South Africa.

Please consider signing this petition to ban lion trophy imports into Australia – this is a very effective way of discouraging hunting.

Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations Conference

Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations Conference

FIAPO: The Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations staged a very informative and effective conference in Jaipur. A federation can combine all our voices and efforts and be very influential. People were eloquent advocates on behalf of a wide variety of animals and issues.  In attendance were esteemed elders, generous patrons, dynamic individuals and groups, and many concerned and enthusiastic young people.

There are strong laws to protect animals in India – it is the implementation that is problematic.

My Opening Address, illustrated with photographs, seemed to be quite well received – they love Christian’s story!  As the auditorium was full of animal lovers, this was not surprising. The audience clapped when Christian jumped up on us – and some shed a few tears – it was beautiful!

This is the link to the original and my favourite Youtube clip – as it includes Whitney Houston’s emotive back track I’ll Always Love You. 

At the conference there were many dedicated and hard working people (including some interesting foreigners that came to India on holiday and stayed).  Many run animal shelters where dogs, donkeys, camels, snakes, birds etc are rescued and cared for. Sessions ranged widely from dealing with the packs of dogs and rabies in communities, bears that have been rescued from a life of “performing” with gypsies, to the huge tracts of land required for elephants that have been “rescued” from miserable lives performing or working.

Listening to many of the speakers made me think deeply about animal rights, and how we use animals selfishly for our own purposes. We farm them cruelly for our food, work them hard, and use them for our “entertainment”.

We can visit animals in the wild and observe them appropriately…we can walk in our national parks full of birds…swim under water in our oceans….visit reputable wildlife sanctuaries, “open air” zoos, and conservancies where vast tracts of land are protected.

Incidentally, behavioural ecologist Justin O’Riain who is currently visiting Australia, has said electrified fencing can reduce the vexed issue of animal/human contact – from the baboons in the suburbs of Cape Town, to deterring lions and elephants from local villages.

We can stay home and watch the most beautifully filmed and educational nature documentaries. We can donate to causes we believe in. Most satisfyingly, on a daily basis we can look after the dogs and cats in our lives – preferably rescued from shelters.”Companion pets” so aptly describes the roles they play in our lives…

Camel shelter with Jeannette Lloyd-Jones

Camel shelter with Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Fellow Working for Animals committee member Jeannette and I visited the Camel Rescue Shelter established on the outskirts of Jaipur. Camels and a donkey were recuperating, and a cow was on a drip watched by the anxious owner. It was a reminder of just how tough village life remains for most Indians. While India seems to get easier to visit, and the middle class expands, one can’t forget that for the majority of Indians life remains extremely hard. Many live on the street, or in slums, and life remains precarious. The weather is extreme –hot and cold, monsoonal rains caused flooding in Kashmir (blamed on climate change, deforestation and unsuitable over development), and temperatures I would find unbearable (45!). Overall I love the vitality of Indians and many have a great sense of humour.  The new PM Modi seems energetic but it is too early to judge him.

MAC3: I’ve now been asked to show the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian at another important conference – the Minding Animals Conference 3 in New Delhi 13th January – 18th January 2015.  Minding Animals furthers the development of animal studies internationally and helps to establish legal and moral protections.

Hawa Mahal, built 1799, City Palace, Jaipur

Hawa Mahal, built 1799, City Palace, Jaipur

After three days of the conference I looked forward to a walk around the attractive City Palace, and dinner at the luxurious Rambagh Palace.

BENGAL TIGERS: I was deeply shocked to find out there were only 1500 Bengal Tigers left in the wild in India. Indians were equally shocked that only 20,000 wild lions remain in Africa. I was asked by people at the conference how to protect tigers – and a starting point was this petition on my last blog (sent to me by Francois) which most Indians were not aware of. 96,300 acres of forest are to be cut down in the state of Maharashtra for bamboo and teak – but it includes vital tiger habitat. Please sign the petition and circulate.

UNITED NATIONS: By abolishing our carbon tax Australia should have been embarrassed at the United Nations summit on Climate Change. 300,000 marched in New York and Obama is certainly talking about climate change with much more urgency. On the other hand our government is in denial and we are now on the wrong side of history.

We have no designated Minister for Science and funding for science and innovation is at a 30 year low.

Our PM sidestepped Climate Change to give a banal speech at the United Nations about joining the Coalition against the Islamic State. Our indecent haste to rush to war has “added to” making Australians more of a target to extreme Muslims. Our politicians (and some Murdoch journalists) are still in denial about the repercussions from the 2003 Iraq invasion and are no doubt in danger of making the same mistakes all over again – such as having no exit policy. War has conveniently taken the attention off the government’s inept handling of the budget and I still can’t think of one major initiative that gives me any confidence in the government.  Often I’m shocked at their behaviour: like the recent decision to send our asylum seekers to Cambodia for resettlement.  Cambodia is one of the worlds poorest nations with an appalling human rights record.

I liked the break in India from our newspapers…the conservatives in the Murdoch press here are still blaming “ the Left”, the ALP budget deficit, or imaginary “bias” at the ABC.

EBOLA: Isn’t this an emergency the world is inexplicitly slow to respond to?

HONG KONG: The world is admiring the bravery of your citizens as you demonstrate for your democratic rights and  we wish you well.

READING: I adored reading Gore Vidal’s Palimpsest memoir and Alice Walker’s unsettling and often funny In Love & Trouble. I find them fascinating individuals but I also enjoyed the more cerebral and interwoven stories in Belomor by Nicolas Rothwell. I’m listening to music by our composer Peter Sculthorpe, who died recently. His collaboration with William Barton on the didgeridoo is hauntingly beautiful.

Looking forward to celebrating WORLD ANIMAL DAY with you all around the world.

Photograph by Prince Eleazer. Source National Geographic.

Photograph by Prince Eleazer. Source National Geographic.

Bengal tiger

Bengal tiger. Courtesy National Geographic.

FEDERATION OF INDIAN ANIMAL PROTECTION ORGANISATIONS: I am about to leave for India to speak at the INDIA for ANIMALS conference in Jaipur on September 12th.   The conference is organised by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO).  I will be talking about Christian the Lion of course, but I will be wearing my Working for Animals hat. I am on the committee of WFA which runs two animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, and are co-sponsors of the conference.

WFA is also supporting the elephant training camps to be held in Kerala (October 11-13) and Assam (October 15-17) with Australian vet Dr.Ian MacLean, encouraging a more humane treatment of elephants. There seems to be a growing movement against tourists riding them etc…

I always love visiting India and I will report back!  Life in India can be challenging in many respects for humans and animals, but both seem to be intimately woven together in the rich tapestry of India.

TextaQueen Courtesy of sullivan+strumpf, Sydney

TextaQueen Courtesy of sullivan+strumpf, Sydney

TIGERS: Habitats for wild animals are being destroyed by the competition for resources and growing populations all over the world. There may be as few as 1500 Bengal tigers left in the wild in India. Unfortunately the government of the Maharashtra State has just given permission to clear 96,300 acres of critical tiger habitat – threatening their existence. You can sign the petition here.

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk. Courtesy National Geographic.

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk. Courtesy National Geographic.

LIONS: I was asked to appear on the Sunrise program on Channel 7 which was acknowledging the 25th Anniversary of George Adamson’s death. It turned into a bit of a Christian love fest and everyone at the channel was very into protecting animals and I had the chance to talk about the evils of Canned Hunting. You can watch the interview here.

George Adamson with Boy(left) and Christian wading in the Tana River at Kora.

George Adamson with Boy(left) and Christian
wading in the Tana River at Kora.

I presume many of my fellow lion addicts have seen the marvellous images on the fatherofthelions.org website. I was especially interested in some of the photographs donated by Virginia McKenna. Photographs include images from the filming of Born Free, Joy and George Adamson, and photographs of the well established camp at Kora, Kenya.

Andrew sent this short clip of a most enthusiastic leap by a lion into someone’s arms!

sitting-cat1

Francois sent this link to photographs of “Awkwardly Sitting Cats”. As cats are usually so elegant I do not entirely approve, but I have found them amusing and this cat does look very comfortable observing the world go by.

CACH: I do encourage you to read this comprehensive and reasonable article (sent to me by the indefatigable MoonieBlues) An Analysis of the lion breeding industry in South Africa by Anton Crone here.  The article has helped me understand the complexities of the situation and the vested interests we (and the lions) are up against.

As part of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting Australians may consider emailing our Minister for the Environment  Greg Hunt to encourage him to initiate a ban on the importation of hunting trophies. His email is greg.hunt.mp@environment.gov.au.

You could all consider approaching the relevant politicians in your own countries, as banning the importation of hunting trophies and animal body parts from Africa is one of the most effective measures to inhibit the farming, hunting and killing of wild animals.

I will also be mentioning in my email to the Minister the 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoils which were to be dumped – against all scientific and environmental advice – into the Great Barrier Reef. There is now a growing movement against this (assisted by an informative Four Corners program on the ABC), and there is now talk of “on land” dumping of these spoils that contain high levels of acid sulphate.

I will also refer to the Renewable Energy Target, which despite an election promise, the government is itching to abolish. A well-known climate-change denier and advocate for the fossil fuel industry was asked to do a review!  There is considerable public support for renewable energy but the government is sabotaging investment – and jobs – in the renewable energy industry.  With the scandalously retrograde axing of the carbon tax, carbon emissions from the country’s main electricity grid have risen by the largest amount in nearly eight years.

Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photograph by Scott Portelli.

Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photograph by Scott Portelli.

DOLPHINS: The incorrigible Japanese are beginning their annual slaughter and capture of dolphins, porpoises and small whales (see here) at the now notorious “cove” in Taiji, Japan.  Up to 20,000 cetaceans are killed each year in Japanese waters, and the Japanese are submitting a “revised program” to hunt minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean in 2015.

Gazan Zoo

Gazan Zoo

GAZA: While we concentrate on the appalling statistics of injuries and death in the thoroughly trashed Gaza  (2143 dead Gazans and 70 Israelis), do see this article (which comes with a warning about “Graphic Pictures”) about the destruction at the Gaza Zoo. In hostilities it is often overlooked how animals are also collateral damage. I don’t know how either side could claim “victory”. There is undoubtedly a world backlash against the Israelis for their disproportionate heavy-handedness leading to the deaths of civilians and children.  Criticism cannot just be dismissed as “anti-Semitism”.  It is estimated it will cost $8.4 billion to rebuild Gaza.  The only power plant was destroyed, 17,000 homes were razed and 106,000 residents are displaced, and an estimated 500,000 children are unable to go to school.  

Now Israel intends to “confiscate” a further 400 hectares of the West Bank!

While I am not a supporter of Hamas, their chilling rhetoric is matched by what the ultra-right Jewish settlers on illegal West Bank settlements say about the Palestinians. They, equally, want to eliminate the Palestinians – and not just drive them from their own land.

WORLD: I did want to end this blog on a more positive note, but what with the alarmingly inadequate global response to Ebola, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and horrific beheadings etc in the Middle East, it is difficult. Australia has rushed to support the USA against the Islamic State even before being asked, seemingly oblivious to the lessons of our last disastrous (and unnecessary) 2003 incursion into Iraq as part of the “coalition of the willing”. We are giving “humanitarian aid” to the Kurds at this stage which somehow includes weapons. The situation is so complex and potentially catastrophic in Iraq and Syria it is not surprising that Obama does not have a clear strategy. Australia inadvertently appears to have taken sides with the Shiites against the majority of Muslims who are Sunnis.  Our mostly moderate Muslim Australians are tired of being scapegoats.  Our PM refers to “Team Australia” and has shown little insight into why some young Australians do feel disenchanted and marginalised here and have become radicalised, even taking the truly drastic step of fighting for the Islamic State.

Our PM obviously thinks his foreign affairs activities will be a diversion from the most unfair and worst received budget many Australians can remember.  One has to question his judgement however at taking sides unnecessarily which includes Japan against China and Ukraine against Russia.  He has just visited India to sell them our uranium!

Palau

Palau

PALAU: There was an interesting story on Foreign Correspondent on this beautiful Pacific island. It is both a good and bad story. The bad is that it is being over-fished – Bluefin tuna down to 4% of previous numbers, and Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna are also threatened. The good story is that the government wants to ban commercial fishing (with foreign companies taking 94% of the profits out of the country), and wants to develop an “eco –tourism” industry. They have created a shark sanctuary and many tourists are coming to swim with sharks!  While I won’t be one of them, I applaud this initiative as the way of the future. No more hunting  or man-handling of wildlife, or unsustainable practices – just the joy of observing nature on equal terms, and supporting positive contributions to protect our unique, irreplaceable and beautiful fellow creatures.

WORLD ANIMAL DAY OCTOBER 4th:  This day is a “special opportunity for anyone who loves animals..to acknowledge the diverse roles that animals play in our lives…”  I am aware of activities in Sydney and Melbourne and will blog with more details soon.  I do know that Alison Lee Rubie of Lobby for Lions is hosting a Sydney March for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions on the 4th October, meeting at 11am beside Sydney Town Hall.  A March will be followed by a picnic in The Domain. 

MAIL: Thanks to Jane, Deb, MoonieBlues, Aidan and Tania, Andrew, Francois and all who have commented or emailed about recent blogs!

George Adamson and his lions

George Adamson and his lions

Today is the 25th anniversary of George Adamson’s death.  The Kenyan Wildlife Service are going to acknowledge this with a service at George’s camp Kampi Ya Simba at Kora, Kenya, on the weekend of the 30th August..

Through their observations, books, journals, photographs etc, Joy and George Adamson assembled the largest documentation about lion behaviour in the world. The book and film Born Free of course reached many millions of people and Elsa the lioness altered people’s perceptions of animals.  While some argued their methodology was “unscientific”, this huge archive may prove to be invaluable with only 20,000 wild lions left in Africa.

While Joy Adamson loved animals, she had a volatile and rather frenetic personality. George on the other hand, was very calm and considered.  He managed to create a neutral space where the two apex predators managed to co-exist with each other with respect and understanding.  These days he would be called a “lion whisperer”. Looking back now I wonder if he had too much confidence in all of us – the other people around, visitors, lions etc.

George’s assistant Stanley was killed by the lion Boy and was shot by George. When we were first there Boy would walk in and out of our tent at will.  At that stage Boy did not like “our” lion Christian and we were always uneasy about him. He had had a troubled life and we did not know him. He was however, Christian’s introduction to the lion world. Boy could have killed him as Christian was a potential rival as a younger male.  But after many months of rejecting him, Boy came to accept and love him and they became inseparable.  Christian had waited very patiently for this, but it had been heartbreaking to watch.

On the 20th August 1989 a guest at Kora was driving to collect another visitor arriving by light plane when she was held up by Somali “bandits” on the road.  George Adamson heard gunfire, jumped in his vehicle, and then drove straight at these people. He died in the proverbial “hail of bullets”.

George in his camp

George in his camp

George was 83. He was actually getting too old to remain living in such isolation – although he had described it as the happiest period in his life. I love this photograph in the hut where George worked, ate and socialised. Note the large photograph of Christian and George’s assistant Tony Fitzjohn on the wall. George did not play favourites but he deeply loved Elsa, Boy and Christian – and they loved him back just as deeply.

George Adamson was buried at Kora, beside his brother Terence.  The lion Boy, who George had known since he starred in Born Free, is buried nearby.

George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian

I also love this photograph – two friends just sitting together.  This must be one of the last photographs of Christian (early 1973?) as he is very big. In a recent blog I mentioned what I interpreted was Christian’s “cry for Africa”. “MoonieBlues” consequently sent me this fantastic “cry for Africa” from one of Kevin Richardson’s lions roaring as Kevin is recording a promo for World Lion Day!

CACH: Months ago I rang and then emailed the South African High Commission in Canberra to ask them their position on Canned Hunting.  I have to say their response, when I finally received it, appalled me.  I was sent the “position paper on lion hunting” from the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA)!!!

My opinion is that the South African Government are allowing the shocking farming and hunting of lions to go more or less unchecked, most probably for the income it generates.  PHASA claims 9,000 overseas hunters visit South Africa every year making it the top lion hunting destination in Africa!  Not a claim to boast of. Tourism is one of the Governments “six core pillars of growth” and PHASA disparages “photographic eco-tourism” as “not commercially viable”. Let’s show them how wrong they are. I’m sure in time they will notice a boycott by tourists who are opposed to the killing of Africa’s iconic wildlife, and who want their contribution to be one of protection not exploitation.

A conveniently ambiguous distinction is drawn between “canned hunting” (shooting drugged lions in a confined space) and the “responsible” (whatever that means) hunting of “captive-bred” lions on private lands. Canned hunting is actually illegal, while shooting captive-bred lions and trophy hunting is not.  PHASA states that private enterprise owns 3 times more land dedicated to wildlife (and 4/5ths of game) than all state owned parks and reserves.  PHASA states that it will monitor the aptly named South African Predators Association (SAPA) – but who would actually police the activities on private land?

George and Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

George Adamson and Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

I just do not believe that hunting contributes to conservation, helps local communities with training and jobs etc, and builds a “sustainable” future for lions and other wildlife.  PHASA even claims that trophy hunting was a major contributor to saving the white rhino!

Australian rugby union player Clyde Rathbone recently visited a lion park out of Bloemfontein in South Africa where young lions were handled, and Clyde realised that he and the others had been drawn into “complicity in the exploitation of African wildlife”.  Read his thoughtful blog here. His behaviour contrasts with another rugby team visiting South Africa. The Crusaders from New Zealand were photographed with a zebra they had shot!

The more I learn the more horrified I become. I am determined to be part of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting and I will keep you informed and I ask you to keep me informed.

I suggest you contact the various South African High Commissions and let them know your feelings about the farming and hunting of lions.  I also ring travel agencies that advertise tours to South Africa and I ask if visits to wildlife sanctuaries include cub petting and walking with lions.

George by Ace Bourke

George Adamson by Ace Bourke 1972

George Adamson and his brother Terence were both born in India.  I am looking forward to shortly visiting there again – this time to give the Keynote Address on September 12th at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) INDIA FOR ANIMALS conference in Jaipur.

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