Broken Cats by Britta Jaschinski winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist Award

Broken Cats by Britta Jaschinski. Winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist Award.

The winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year have just been announced. This annual competition is run by London’s Natural History Museum and attracted 42,000 entries from almost 100 countries. A selection of entries tour internationally. Broken Cats by Britta Jaschinski won the Wildlife Photojournalist Award.  The deadness in the faces of these humiliated animals performing in China, reminds me of the depression I saw in the lions bred for canned hunting in the recent documentary Blood Lions. I was horrified by the recent photograph of another animal being dissected in front of school children at a zoo in Denmark – this time a lion.

I suppose my blog is a sort of diary of what I have found interesting – or scary – over the last few weeks. I think most people would find the present times uncertain and this blog articulates many of my worries! In addition to family and friends, I know many of us find great solace in animals: as companion pets; working for their welfare and rights and to protect their habitats; or just for their sheer beauty and company. I always look forward to the Wildlife Photographers Awards touring to Sydney (usually early in the year), and the beauty of most of the photographs is extraordinary – and very contemplative and soothing. The winner of the Wildlife Photograph of this year (below) is both beautiful and rather grisly, and reminds us, as we learnt with Christian the lion and his on-going battle with the local wild lions, life in the wild can be tough!

 A Tale of Two Foxes by Don Gotoski - winner of Wildlife Photographer of the Year


A Tale of Two Foxes by Don Gotoski. Winner of Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

While many of you have winter approaching, in Australia our spring, like autumn, can be fleeting, and we have already had summer temperatures of 30+. Native plants like grevilleas and bottle brushes are flowering and gardening is even more of a pleasure. Bush-fire warnings have already begun.  The sea looks inviting – although none of the protection measures suggested recently to protect against sharks convinces me yet.

The Company of Three by Amir Ben-Dov - winner of Birds category, Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards

The Company of Three by Amir Ben-Dov. Winner of Birds category, Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

WORLD: I suppose we have all been concerned post GFC that our leaders are failing to properly address both the old fundamental problems and weaknesses in our global economic and financial systems and structures, but also new challenges, transitions and necessary reforms.  There is even more inequality. Most leaders seem to be floundering on most fronts, and some are confronted with the many millions of displaced people at present on the move and overwhelming Europe on a scale unseen in the life times of many. Read my extended view and comments on the Middle East, ISIS, Russia, China, and other anxiety-inducing topics HERE.

Flight of the Scarlet Ibis by Jonathan Jagot, France. Winner of Young Wildlife Photographers 15- 17 years old.

Flight of the Scarlet Ibis by Jonathan Jagot, France. Winner of Young Wildlife Photographers 15- 17 years old.

TECH REVOLUTION: It is obvious that we are going through a technologically driven social and knowledge revolution – apparently this sort of movement happens every 50 – 60 years. The potential for sharing knowledge, education, the global connectivity, the shaping of opinion, the changing of laws etc, is very exciting and transforming.  For various reasons I resist Facebook and I know I miss excellent articles, and more concerning, the dates of protests, or marches in support of animals. It will be so interesting to see the ramifications of this new – and not face to face, changing social interaction.

I love the potential of “citizen science” – from the reporting and data collection on bird populations, to “nodders” who, for example, are at present tracking forest fires in South East Asia online. I also believe in the power of “aggregate voices” – and clickitivism, and some of us have contributed to the success of some animal campaigns via this blog.

Tony the Tiger

Tony the Tiger

I have to say, despite efforts by so many people, the campaign to free Tony the Tiger has so far failed, and his continuing imprisonment haunts me.  He is now 15 years old. Dee de Santis tells me she visited Tony twice last month. This must be so heart breaking and I admire Dee enormously for her commitment to Tony. She says “Sorry there are no updates concerning his case, his petition remains open”. If you haven’t already, sign THIS PETITION to help free Tony.

By the way, it was a very successful March for Rhinos, Elephants and Lions on a recent lovely sunny day.  We were addressed by Mark Pearson, the first member in the world for an Animal Justice Party.

Other implications of the internet concern espionage and cyber warfare. Apparently the Chinese are very active hackers politically, militarily and economically.  State-backed theft of Western Intellectual properties is on a huge ‘industrial” scale and is bankrupting many companies.

But some people are also warning about the “undemocratic” power and monopolies of Facebook, Google and Amazon etc – so called “economic choke points”.

Edward Snowden informed us that as of last week, in Australia “everything you do online is being tracked and retained for two years”.

Aurora australis from Bells Beach, Victoria. Photograph by Pete James Photography.

Aurora australis from Bells Beach, Victoria. Photograph by Pete James Photography.

AUSTRALIA: We have had great news in Australia!  A cloud has lifted. Tony Abbott was thrown out in a surprise coup and Malcolm Turnbull is our new Prime Minister.

In his challenge for the leadership Turnbull said Tony Abbott “has not been capable of providing the economic leadership the nation requires”. Abbott was very unpopular – he broke election promises, he was inept and gaffe-prone, and tried to inflict unfair policies.  His world view was very out of date, like another dinosaur, Stephen Harper in Canada who has also just been thrown out.  Harper has been replaced as PM by the refreshing Justin Trudeau.

In The Saturday Paper editorial Abbott was described as the “worst prime minister ever”. See – it wasn’t just me!  Read my extended view and comments on Australian politics HERE.

ADANI COAL MINE: Despite the enchantment with our new PM, the government still has many distasteful policies, and has been especially shocking in relation to action on climate change. The government has just given permission for the huge Adani coal mine to go ahead in Queensland.  Immediately the Australian Conservation Foundation announced a nation-wide People Climate March – see here for details in Australian cities.  In Sydney we meet in The Domain at 1pm on Sunday 29th November.  This mine just cannot go ahead as it will be an environmental disaster.  Coal will be a “stranded asset” and several banks have already refused to finance the mine. As for the Indians without power who are supposedly the beneficiaries, they are off the grid, and domestic solar panels with battery storage is a much cheaper and cleaner option.

A Whale of a Mouthful by Michael AW, Australia. Winner, Underwater category Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

A Whale of a Mouthful by Michael Aw, Australia. Winner of Underwater category, Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

SHARKS: Eight Great White sharks have recently been tagged to try and understand the “spike” in shark sightings and attacks along the 2000 kilometres of our NSW coast. While those sharks have now scattered far away, there are still plenty of other shark sightings close to shore. The recent Sydney Shark Summit discussed netting (which some Sydney beaches have) and other physical and visual barriers, electric deterrents, physical aerial surveillance, and sonar, satellite and acoustic technologies. At this stage none are 100% safe – but are preferable to culling.

A recent report by researchers at the University of Adelaide states that warmer and more acidic oceans will lead to a food change collapse with large ocean animals like sharks, the most vulnerable.

Koala

KOALAS: Many of our koalas are suffering from a chlamydia infection that can result in infertility, blindness and death, and there is an alarming proposal to dramatically cull koala populations in the hope of eliminating the disease. Koalas “moderately” sick could be treated with antibiotics, but the others would be euthanised. Apparently the population would recover in 5-10 years. Koala populations also face the threat of deforestation, habitat reduction, and the dangers of cars and dogs.

SOUL SEARCHING: In Australia we have lately had to confront some very frightening statistics and home truths. There has recently been a spate of deaths of women through domestic violence which has illustrated the horrifying extent of this with one in four women having been the victim of domestic violence. The government has just allotted what seems to be a lot of money to fight DV, and while it has been welcomed, in general, funding to many essential front-line services such as Legal Aid, the Courts, shelters etc has been reduced. Drug addiction, and we are in an ice epidemic, is also under resourced. We have just had Mental Health Week which again highlighted the failure to adequately deal with the extent of mental health problems within the community.

A Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has continued to reveal the equally horrifying extent of this abuse. The Catholic Church has just described its own history regarding child abuse in Australia as “shameful, corrosive and complicit”.

This treatment of women and children has finally made more Australians also outraged about the women and children (and men) we imprison on our off-shore detention centres.

A 15 year old boy shot and killed a police worker here recently which has heightened the debate around terrorism, the tightening of security laws, and the radicalisation of youth. The new PM’s much more moderate and considered language (compared to Abbott’s fear mongering) has led to a more productive cooperation with Muslim leaders. We did not need the divisive Geert Wilders, the ultra right MP from Holland, to come to Australia to support the formation of an Anti Islam party.

Rebellious teenagers, especially from Middle Eastern backgrounds could feel marginalised in Australia – because they are. They do not feel they belong here, and they could find ISIS attractive – until they get there I imagine. Parents, church figures and schools often have very little influence on youth going through these stages – that’s the point of rebellion! The most insightful and realistic article I have read about teenagers and the “radicalisation” of Muslim youth was by Hussain Nadim in the SMH – see it here.

Casual champion Johnathan Thurston returning home with the League Trophy. Photograph by Brendan Esposito, sourced from The Herald.

Captain of the Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston returning home with the League Trophy. Photograph by Brendan Esposito, sourced from The Herald.

Racism in sport has also been a huge debate here. It is interesting the role sport plays in the national psyche, especially in the absence of an as yet defined Australian national identity. The Rugby League Final (NRL) was thrilling – a match none of us will forget. Both teams were led by charismatic Indigenous captains and the NRL is about to be dominated by Aboriginal, Islander, and Pacific Islander players. In comparison, while the Australian Football League (AFL) also has many Indigenous star players, a champion Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes, was booed by opposing teams and ended his illustrious career on a depressing note. He has lately also had to endure racist insults on social media for his promotional role with a leading department store. Adam was an articulate and outspoken Australian of the Year in 2014, and I hope he plays an important public leadership role in the future….

Thanks for reaching the end of an over-due and over-long post.  I appreciate your interest and patience.

Snow leopards at Brookfield Zoo - Only 4000 to 6500 remain in the wild. Photograph by Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society.

Snow leopards at Brookfield Zoo – Only 4000 to 6500 remain in the wild. Photograph by Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society.

I have been thinking a lot about this blog, but not rushing to publish.  With the social media facilitated revolution unfolding on a daily basis in the Middle East, the world seems to have shifted.  It has been fascinating, exciting, scary and unexpected.  This is against the new context created by WikiLeaks: seemingly endless revelations that have confirmed our suspicions, and sometimes our worst fears.  We have lost even more confidence in our governments to govern us effectively, ethically, or with transparency.  And the world has literally shifted, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and the survivors of the earthquake around Christchurch, New Zealand.  Is the natural world trying to tell us something?
 
I wonder how the victims of the Queensland floods and cyclone are managing – it is alarming how quickly and easily they have dropped out of the news.  I have been meaning to comment on the still appalling situation for many people in Haiti a year on, after what seemed such well organised promises of aid and assistance.
 
 

Bundeena, Sydney NSW

  

BUNDEENA:  I have been living in Bundeena, a small community on the southern edge of Sydney for several years.  It has beautiful beaches, coastal walks and drives, and is surrounded by the Royal National Park.  There are many varieties of birds (my favourites are the kookaburras), possums, and the occasional wallaby, snake or goanna.  I am aware of the environmental damage cats can cause, and I promise I attempt to bring my very well fed cats in every night.  Bundeena is just over an hour from the city, so I am close – and far, enough.  Originally a fishing village, the community of a few thousand is seeing an increasing gentrification– and Vanity Fair is now for sale in the newsagent.  People like myself are viewed as “city blow ins”.  Bundeena is however low-key, and it is possible to be pleasantly reclusive with no social pressures.  Quite a few artists live here (there is an Art Trail to many artists’ studios on the first Sunday of each month), and some are very well-known.  It has been hot (often in the mid 30s), but it has been very relaxing here over summer, reading, gardening, working on some upcoming projects and exhibitions, seeing family and friends, and of course, just being with the cats.  There has been time to reflect on the world, and try to digest the momentous events of the last few weeks and months. 

  

Grand Pacific Drive towards Wollongong, NSW

 

EGYPT:  Congratulations to the Egyptian people.  Their revolution was more organized than it appeared – by an internet savvy group, and was secular and largely non-violent.  We had not questioned or even thought about their decades of repression and it suited our governments to turn a blind eye for a useful ally.  The USA funded the regime with an annual US$2billion.  The revolution is not complete: the military is not going to relinquish their influence easily. Nor will the US!  No-one can really predict the outcome and the wider implications for the Middle East – least of all me.

The Egyptian revolution appeared to be led by a youthful, educated middle class, supported by a down-trodden and repressed general population.  Leaders are emerging in the vacuum.  Islamic fundamentalists seem a small minority voice at this stage.  I have had a friend visiting Egypt who said Facebook was finally useful.  I urged him to take care and wondered – how would I have responded if I lived there – and would I have had the courage to be in Tahrir Square?  Good luck to the Libyans – Gaddafi will go down with guns blazing (or chemical weapons) on his own population it seems.  The West watches impotently – and the Libyans ask legitimately: “why isn’t anybody helping us?”

LEADERSHIP:  Poor Mr. Obama.  No wonder he is going grey: inherited problems of the GFC, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Republican obstruction of his legislation and attempted reforms.  Now their repressive allies in the Middle East are all vulnerable in a shifting landscape.  The US are trying to juggle their support for their long-term  alliances, AND  be seen to be supporting emerging democratic movements and human rights in the region. Democracy is fine – as long as it doesn’t threaten their strategic interests it seems. Hard for them not to appear hypocritical.  For the record: US annual funding – Egypt $2 billion, Israel $3 billion, Pakistan $7.5 billion.

The SMH Chief Correspondent, Paul McGeough, has been writing comprehensively, and I think insightfully, about the Middle East.  For example, see his article SMH February 21 2011: “Lip service is all US pays in the drive for democracy”.  The US veto of a UN Security Council resolution to examine the legality of Israeli settlement buildings in occupied Palestine would not have gone down well on the “Arab street”, especially at the moment, and is a good example of the USA’s conflicting interests.  However, the unrest has not been particularly aimed at the USA – except in Pakistan at the moment over the presumed CIA operative that has been arrested.  Australia has also just been paying cautious “lip service” in support of these historic changes as well, despite the usual flurry of hyperactivity by our Foreign Minister – the ex PM Kevin Rudd.

I would like to see a very representative and uncorrupted United Nations type body with very strong international powers!  I think many of us have realised our leaders are, well, only human like us after all, but it should make us all the more determined to effect change through our own personal, often local, efforts. 

McGeough has written scathingly about Tony Blair who he likens to a “drowning sailor”.  Blair’s quotes in defence of Mubarek did not look good – or the re-release of those photographs of him helping to ease Gaddafi back into international acceptance in 2004.  Still in denial about Iraq – how has Blair got any credibility left in relation to the Middle East as “special representative” of the Middle East Quartet (UN,US,EU and Russia)?  I would think some of his reported “consultancies” and relationships would normally constitute a conflict of interest.  He is soon to visit Australia to earn even more money on the speaking circuit. Equally shameless it seems, the British PM David Cameron is visiting the Middle East with British arms dealers, looking for sales.

 

Water from the Queensland floods flowing into Lake Eyre, photograph by Kelly Barnes

 
  
POLITICS:  Yes, obviously I’m pretty passionate, which can be very boring for people who aren’t!  Obviously politicians play such a comprehensive role in our lives and futures we can’t just ignore them.  We have to rely on them, for example, to respond to Climate Change, and the formulation and implementation of environmental and animal and wildlife conservation policies.  They are susceptible to complaints from their electorates so I try to keep up the questions and pressure, especially by email.  I try to read as widely as possible and it is often hard to get to the truth or a deep understanding of a subject.  I view myself as a “trying to be informed” average citizen.  I do wonder why some of my more conservative friends and acquaintances don’t read anything much about subjects they have strong opinions about, or care about context. Why is there seemingly much more informed commentary from the Left rather than the Right, and why are “shock-jocks” on radio always from the Right ?  I know I must appear biased, but I promise I try and keep an open mind!  

LOCAL AUSTRALIAN ISSUES: (but with global echoes)

NBN:  National Broadband Network.  This is an example of a subject I find difficult to understand (like GM crops), especially given my own technical ignorance.  I believe in essential national infrastructure, but is fibre the right option – especially as the US has opted for wireless?  From recent articles it seems that a mixture is the answer.  With wireless subject to range limitations, and slowdowns with too many subscribers, fibre should be “the work horse of the data downloads”.

SURPLUS vs DEFICIT:  The Opposition here in Australia has got the government very defensive about financial management – “waste”, “big new taxes” etc.,  but unfortunately their criticism does not extend beyond these few effective but clichéd slogans.  They fail to acknowledge that Australia was the only developed nation that did not go into recession during the GFC, unemployment is at 5%, but they endlessly squeal about the deficit.  The government – already on a knife-edge with numbers, is hamstrung to actually govern and make some tough economic decisions – rather like Obama.  I don’t know why the conservatives are claiming the ascendancy on economic management here or in the US – the GFC developed on their watch, and in Australia the Liberal Party politicians haven’t yet explained the $7 – $11 billion hole in their last election budget.  In an article by the excellent economist Ross Gittins in the SMH February 14 2011: “Fiscal heaven is pollies worrying about deficits”, he traces this relatively new obsession with surpluses.  Our mining boom (and being the world’s largest coal exporter), will take care of the deficit.  But the Liberal Party were good hoarders, even though it was at the expense of infrastructure which was allowed to run down.  Shouldn’t an Opposition be offering constructive criticisms, and  alternative policies?  We are constantly in election mode and a 24 hour media cycle, and the government is too defensive to make any hard if necessary decisions.

“BIG NEW TAX”:  Last year we had people power Australia style when a group of mining millionaires and billionaires actually took to the streets with placards in a demonstration! It was surreal.  They backed this up with a $22 million advertising campaign against a proposed mining super profits tax on our non-renewable resources.  The tax was going to “ruin Australia” – investment would go elsewhere etc.  These people have been made to look ridiculous with the recent publication of their company profits or personal wealth.  Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart $9 billion, Andrew Forrest $6.9 billion, BHP $10.5 billion half-yearly profits, and huge profits for Rio Tinto and Xstrata.  The tax, which was watered down, will probably now be passed.

“STOP THE BOATS”:  Our scandalously inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees by both sides of parliament has been in the news lately.  This “race to the bottom” as it has been described, has been fuelled and possibly led by the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, and his electorate was the scene of the Cronulla race riots several years ago. He seems to think Muslim demonisation is a vote winner, and it has been reported that he recently suggested his party capitalise on public unease about Muslim immigration.  His party has also recently recommended cutting Australian aid to Indonesian schools  – a highly successful counter terrorism scheme started by his own party when in office.  I used to send him critical emails – he has a long and unattractive track record in my opinion, but lately he has been generating enough negative attention of his own.

CARBON PRICE:  I have been trying to chart on this blog the mixed fortunes of the Climate Change debate.  From the heady, optimistic days of Copenhagen and a consensus by a majority of people for urgent action, to leaders being deposed, flaky climate change deniers effectively slowing the momentum, and policies subsequently dumped. Both parties have lost credibility on this issue, and this contributed to the Greens doing unexpectedly well at the last election.  Despite promising not to introduce a carbon tax at the election, with the increased influence of the Greens, the Government has put Climate Change unexpectedly back on the agenda. They are going to set a price on carbon by July next year, which will lead on to an emissions trading scheme in due course.  Many in the Opposition are climate change deniers, and their party has a pretend policy, but this issue which should have bi-partisan support, is going to be, again, a very ugly and divisive debate.  This will test our PM’s considerable negotiating (and compromising) skills.  The Greens want much more ambitious cuts to our emissions, and no compensation as previously canvassed for the worst polluters (power, energy and transport industries).  Those mining zillionaires will be back on the streets protesting!

 

From Penny Tweedie's book "Spirit of Arnhem Land"

Tom Noytuna, photograph by Penny Tweedie

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
  
 
PENNY TWEEDIE:  Penny Tweedie (1940 -2011), an internationally admired  photographer died recently.  I am mostly familiar with her often extremely beautiful and intimate photography in Arnhem Land where she first visited in 1975.  I staged an exhibition of her photographs in Sydney in the mid 1990s.  For the invitation I used the photograph of Tom Noytuna decorated for a traditional ceremony on the telephone (above).  Google her, or look out for her books This My Country (1985) and Aboriginal Australians: Spirit of Arnhem Land (1998).  The Australian photographer, writer and blogger Robert McFarlane has a tribute to her on his very informative photography blog  www.ozphotoreview.com.

MY PHOTOS:  When I was angling for a compliment about some of my own photographs taken in India on my new Lumix DMC-LX5 which I adore, a friend replied: “you can’t miss with a mountain view like that”, “with digital anyone can take a good photograph these days” and “pity you cut the cat’s ear off”. 

  

From Penny Tweedie's book "Spirit of Arnhem Land"

 
  
WHALES:  Congratulations to the Sea Shepherd for terminating the Japanese whaling season in the Antarctic.  Let’s hope the Japanese are losing their taste for whale, and their pretend “scientific” expeditions.
 
WATCHING:  The indefatigable David Attenborough’s First Life documentary series about the origins of life, is starting on television here.
 
CAT NEWS:  I love it when cats or dogs are named and in the news in their own right.  Many others surreptitiously slip into photographs with their owners.  Larry a tomcat has moved into Number 10 Downing Street in London, from Battersea Pound.  The WikiLeaks leaker Daniel Domscheit-Berg, recently wrote that when Assange was staying with him in Germany “Julian was constantly battling for dominance, even with my tomcat….(He) would constantly attack the animal”.
 
CHRISTIAN:   The French edition of A Lion Called Christian, Un lion nommé Christian in paperback has just been released.  I was recently interviewed for French television, and as I had been told previously that our story had been co-opted in defence of performing animals in circuses in France, I was of course anxious to refute this.  I can’t wait to see the footage of the very unexpected cameo of my shyest cat emerging from under the sofa!

February 2009

March 12, 2010

 

Jason Morgan - Tiger Painting

Jason Morgan - Tiger Painting

Happy Chinese New Year and welcome to the Year of the Tiger. Let’s ensure the year focuses on its survival. In the last Year of the Tiger – 12 years ago, there was an estimated 6000 in the wild. With the loss of their natural habitats, the numbers have halved. There may be 50 to 100 wild tigers left in China, and serious attempts are being made in Russia and China to save the Siberian Tiger.

Can you believe that this Jason Morgan image is a painting! Prints can be ordered online.

South China Tigers are no longer found in the wild, but one organisation is supporting breeding programs of them in South Africa (http://www.savechinastigers.org/). India has seen a 60% decline in numbers over a decade to approximately 1411. There are quite a few reserves in India to see tigers, and in other places as well, such as out of Luang Prabang in Laos, or even the monastery at Kanchanaburi in Thailand (www.tigertemplethailand.com/index.htm) which has become a tiger sanctuary. The Panthera Foundation (http://www.panthera.org/) based in New York is primarily concerned about the 36 big cats, and is most worried about the survival of tigers. The AnimalAsia Foundation (http://www.animalasia.org/) is very active with their main on-going campaigns against bear farming and the eating of cats and dogs. The World Wildlife Foundation (http://www.panda.org/) has a current tiger initiative aimed at doubling the numbers of wild tigers by 2020.

It was fascinating to visit China last year – the year China revealed more of itself to the world than ever before, and demonstrated its political and economic power. I realised that they were much more concerned about the environmental consequences of their rapid economic development than we had been lead to expect.  It was reassuring to learn that going against most world-wide trends, panda numbers have actually stabilised.

In 1993 China joined an international ban on the trade of tiger products, but, like with ivory, this helped to push prices so high that it has encouraged poaching and smuggling. I have a feeling it is taboo in China to offer any criticism of traditional medicine, even if it is putting at risk various species. Tiger body parts used include bones, penis, testicles, whiskers, eyeballs, skin, tissue and blood, pelts for decoration and teeth and claws for charms. Thinking of Christian, I was very disturbed by the lion teeth I saw for sale in Siem Reap, Cambodia.