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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.

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

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

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

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

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Day 1 – Willy wagtail with eggs in the nest

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

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

day8

Mother protecting a chick from heat

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

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

day13

Mother on guard

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

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The only survivor

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

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

Day 14 - Willy wagtail

About to leave the nest

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

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

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

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

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

cats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock 1952

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

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

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

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

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

Tippi Hedron with pet lion, Neil

Tippi Hedren with pet lion, Neil

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

Admire Rakti

Admire Rakti

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

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

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

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

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