Übers Wasser laufender Basilisk by Stephen Dalton. Winner of the Fritz Steiniger Prize.

 Basilisk by Stephen Dalton. Winner of the Fritz Steiniger Prize.

Stephen Dalton has won the Fritz Steiniger Prize for his contribution to high speed photography for this photograph of a basilisk or Jesus Christ lizard running across water. I believe this  had never been photographed before.

The Nikon Small World Photomicrography competition was won by Australian Ralph Claus Grimm and see here for his photograph of a honey bee’s eye covered in dandelion pollen and magnified 120x.

These prizes are yet more examples of the many competitions for photography enthusiasts these days.

Elsa the lioness with Joy Adamson

Elsa the lioness with Joy Adamson

LIONS: Do watch this video of Will the Lion released from a Brazilian circus after 13 years by Rancho do Gnomos and his first reaction to more freedom, and the soil and grass. Have a hankie ready.

We want Tony the Tiger (and all caged animals) to experience this as well, so we must try even harder for the release of Tony from a cage at a truck stop in Louisiana, USA, to a sanctuary. Please sign the petition here if you have not already.

The tireless Donalea Patman, founder of For the Love of Wildlife, and Federal MP Jason Wood have both been honoured by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for their commitment to lion conservation. Their great achievement has been the introduction of legislation prohibiting the importation of lion trophies and body parts into Australia. France has just followed suit!  Donalea said “I do it because I believe Africa’s wildlife is under siege”.

Other news is that the president of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), who has viewed the documentary Blood Lions, acknowledges how the campaign against the breeding of lions for “canned” hunting is making the PHASA position “untenable”. He points out that with some airlines and shipping companies refusing to transport hunting trophies, PHASA has to realise that this issue is putting at risk “not only the reputation of professional hunting in South Africa but its very survival”. He also noted “broader society is no longer neutral on this question, and the tide of public opinion is turning”. At their just held AGM, PHASA voted that they could no longer support lion breeding and lion hunting.

Congratulations to Donalea and Jason, CACH, the makers of Blood Lions and everyone that is campaigning against canned hunting.  We should all be very encouraged to keep up our opposition.

Elsa's Kopje overlooking Meru, George's old camp and Elsa's old territory

Elsa’s territory in Meru National Park the site of  Elsa’s Kopje and George Adamson’s old camp

Aidan Basnett has organised another tour to Africa next year, the Adamson Experience Tour 2016. Apart from experiencing the beauty of Africa at Maasai Mara, Meru and Shaba National Parks, other highlights of the tour include visits to what are now almost regarded as Adamson and Elsa “sacred sites” including Elsamere (where we met Joy Adamson) and Elsa’s Kopje. Email Geoff@yellowzebrasafaris for the itinerary and more tour details. See here for Aidan’s George Adamson Legacy Australia Facebook page.

Killer Whale

Killer Whale

It is encouraging that SeaWorld in the USA will stop the killer whale shows at its San Diego park by 2017, and they promise the new killer whale attraction will have “a strong conservation message”! The reality is that more and more people are finding cruelty to animals unacceptable, and SeaWorld’s share prices and attendances have both been falling.

It is very encouraging that the US National Institute of Health quietly ended the Federal Government’s use of chimpanzees for biomedical research.

Pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India

Pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India

ART: Sylvia Ross photographs and loves pigeons and I have used my own photograph here of pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India. Sylvia has curated an exhibition called The Bird Show at SPOT81 (81 Abercrombie Street Chippendale, Sydney) until this Sunday, 29 November.  More details about the show here.

WORLD: I listed many of my geo-political anxieties last blog…and I did have a sense of foreboding, especially the more I learnt about the apocalyptic nature of ISIL, and how good they are proving to be at creating fear and dividing populations.  However, like most people, I was deeply shocked by the Paris bombs and horrific loss of life.  The event raises so many questions:  Why did the bombings in Beirut with 42 deaths, and over 100 dead in a “peace” march in Ankara, Turkey, receive so little attention in comparison? Why are we ignoring the fact that many more Muslims are being killed by ISIL, let alone the millions displaced? Why has France (and Belgium) failed so completely over decades to “integrate” their Muslim populations?  How should moderate Islamists respond to the fundamentalists, and how will Islam reconcile with modernity?  Are the West responding (in this case with the retaliatory bombing  of Raqqa in northern Syria) just how ISIL has strategised, and is this boosting recruitment?  What are the causes of radicalisation?  What are the real agendas of countries like Saudi Arabia who have a record of supporting terrorist organisations?

The complexities and competing agendas in the region have been illustrated by the shooting down of the Russian jet by Turkey who are probably more concerned about the Kurds than ISIL, and the Russians who have been attacking Turkmen villages and are more interested in supporting Assad.

In Australia the Grand Mufti has been criticised for saying in a statement that the violence was “provoked by discontent at racism, Islamophobia, security laws,and foreign policy decisions” and I think this is a legitimate comment. We are experiencing the inevitable reaction here from racists and xenophobes that can only further alienate our own Muslim fellow Australians. The responses of Trump and Ben Carson in the USA was appalling.

Are Bush, Blair and our own ex-PM Howard ever going to be held accountable for the chaos in the Middle East that resulted from the invasion of Iraq  in 2003 that has given rise to ISIL?  Other more historic causes include the artificial creation of “countries” by colonial powers oblivious to tribal and sectarian differences, and Western support for appalling dictators when it suited them, especially in the pursuit of oil.

See Australia’s Waleed Aly’s informative and indeed refreshing article The fight that goes around in circles in the SMH on the Middle East conflict here.  IS is the “Middle East’s illegitimate child: a byproduct of the power vacuums of a broken region”.

White peacocks in Bayview by Tim Berriman

White peacocks in Tim’s garden in Bayview, Sydney

Our own PM has been attending various meetings with world leaders and he seemed to have struck an immediate rapport with President Obama. PM Turnbull  proposed a Lebanese model of a power-sharing arrangement in Syria.  However, an opposition Syrian spokesperson has said that unfortunately each group would have their own militias and proposed instead a combination of the “reasonable” elements of the Assad regime (who apparently exist), and the “reasonable” elements from the opposition. After the vacuum created by the removal of Saddam in Iraq, no-one is quite sure what to do with Assad.

(Apparently Obama is aghast that Australia has leased the port of Darwin in northern Australia, where the USA now have a base, to China, for 99 years!)

It is wonderful that Aung San Suu Kyi won the election and hopefully will assume power in Myanmar. I’d love to speak about her unreservedly given her long struggle and sacrifices, but I have to say however, for political expediency, under pressure from the Buddhist ultra-nationalists, she has studiously ignored the genocide of the Rohingyas.

White peacocks in Bayview by Tim Berriman

Tim’s White peacock in Bayview, Sydney

Australia, however, has recently been severely criticised by the UN Human Rights Council by paragons of virtue like North Korea and Iran for our inhumane policies on asylum seekers, and the men, women and children who remain imprisoned on off-shore processing centres. I am ashamed to say these policies are supported by both major parties, although just when the Australian population finally seemed to be becoming uncomfortable about this, the events in Paris have hardened attitudes again.

While Malcolm Turnbull is still polling exceptionally well, it is primarily because he isn’t Tony Abbott, and in comparison he appears so measured, moderate and intelligent.

Turnbull likes saying that everything, like necessary tax reform for example, is “on the table” as in “up for debate”. The problem is that this government has been in office for over two years and so little has been achieved. An old Labor war-horse Graham Richardson recently wrote that Turnbull’s career has mostly been as an advocate, but that now  was the time for some over-due action as “both the Coalition and Labor have no plan to offer but a plan to develop a plan”.

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: This event begins next week, and I hope the optimism for this climate change conference will be justified. It will be the first test for our new PM who as an intelligent person knows action to curb carbon emissions is essential, but he now leads a party which has been sceptical of climate change and indeed, unimaginable as it seems, has even appeared  to be anti-science. The government policy has been to do as little as they can get away with, PAY the polluters with our taxes, and provide $5 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel production.

Atlantic Puffin. The populations of this bird, like the European turtle dove (below) are plummeting in the UK.

Atlantic Puffin. The populations of this bird, like the European turtle dove (below) are plummeting in the UK.

Do see a recent article by Ross Gittins Growth doesn’t need to cost the earth from the SMH about the limits of economic growth and sustainability of our natural resources – “economic growth cannot continue indefinitely because the natural world – the global ecosystem – is of fixed size”.

While Obama has cancelled the proposed Tar Sands Pipeline from Canada, Australia has just given permission for a friend of Indian PM Moti, Mr. Gautum Adani, to mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. The development of EITHER the Tar Sands or Galilee Basin would on their own, ensure that the global target of restricting global warming to 2 degrees warming is impossible.

I am hoping for a global moratorium on any new coal mines, or the expansion of existing ones. The planet requires it.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is taking the Australian Government to court over the deleterious effect the development of the Adani-owned Carmichael Mine will have on the Great Barrier Reef. – and for failing to protect our lives! See here.

The ACF has also organised the People’s Climate Marches around Australia on November 27 -29th to coincide with the Paris Conference and many other people marching around the world.  In Sydney we are meeting at 1 pm in The Domain on Sunday 29th November. See here for the day and times in other Australian cities.

Mr. Adani’s companies do not have a good environmental record in India, and one of his mines in Zambia polluted a river which was a source of drinking water, fishing and irrigation for many people. The company did not even report it. Greenpeace has recently been kicked out of India which is not a good omen.

However, Australians cannot be righteous either as the recent collapse of a dam in Brazil owned by BHP Billiton (and Brazil’s Vale) has killed over 30 people, displaced 500, destroyed villages and polluted land and water for hundreds of kilometres.

More than half the recent studies published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society indicate that human caused climate change has substantially influenced either an event’s frequency or intensity, or both.

We have already experienced the first bush fires of our summer season in West Australia and more recently South Australia.  Lives have been lost and the fires have been described as “unstoppable” and “catastrophic”.

European turtle dove. Photograph by Zahoor Salmi

European turtle dove. Photograph by Zahoor Salmi

MISC STATS: about 120 Australians are in the Middle East fighting with groups but mainly ISIL; only 27% of Australians think Prince Charles who has recently visited Australia should be our next head of state; and people are hoping that the actors De Niro and Di Caprio have donated the obscene $10 million that they were each paid to appear in a short film promoting our James Packer’s casinos. De Caprio has been a very generous and active supporter of environmental issues.

VALE: Jonah Lomu, who despite kidney disease, exploded on the Rugby Union scene in 1995, has died at 40.  I loved this fax sent by a 14 year old at the time: “Dear All Blacks, Remember, Rugby is a team game. All 14 of yers, pass the ball to Jonah.” Like many Pacific Islanders, despite his extraordinary ability, Jonah was a modest and humble man.

MAIL: thanks to many of you who keep me informed and amuse me. Thanks to Christine Townend for drawing my attention to Will the Lion, and an article entitled Your cat probably wants to kill you which many cat owners may relate to – or understand – I do! Thanks to Tim for the peacocks in his garden at Bayview, and “Hi” to Hugh who has watched Christian’s documentary or our reunion with him over 200 times, according to his mother!

Congratulations to Bindi Irwin (our Jungle Girl) who has won the US version of Dancing with the Stars.

Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo

BIRDS: So many birds have ended up – almost inadvertently – on this blog, but this probably reflects the interest so many people have in them. Like so much wildlife and the Atlantic Puffin and European turtle dove, the Carnaby’s Black-cockatoo is struggling to survive urban sprawl in West Australia.  Birdlife Australia’s Cocky Count co-ordinator has said that on current trends their population would halve again in the next five years. They are the most endangered of the species which includes the Glossy, Yellow-tailed, Red-tailed and White-tailed Black cockatoo. I quite often see a flock of Glossy Black cockatoos in the same area as I drive out of the Royal National Park from Bundeena.

Champion singer Raden Hud Nad, a white-rumped shama

Champion singer Raden Hud Nad, a white-rumped shama

Bird keeping has a long tradition in Indonesia and competitions for song birds (kicau-mania) are hugely popular. Birds are assessed on their volume, power, melody and their ability to mimic other birds. This hobby took off when many men were made redundant during the Asian economic crisis of 1997-8. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, their popularity and their shrinking habitats are contributing to declining songbird populations.

Northern Quoll. Image sourced from Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Northern Quoll. Image sourced from Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

The disastrous and ongoing march of the introduced poisonous cane toads across northern Australia has nearly driven the Northern Quoll into extinction – like much else. The Island Ark Project established a colony on two islands and next year they will be introduced back to the mainland. They will hopefully have been conditioned by “taste aversion” to no longer eat toads. Read more here.

Tasmanian Devil. Image sourced from Devil Ark

Tasmanian Devil. Image sourced from Devil Ark

Tasmanian Devils have had their populations decimated by an epidemic of devil facial tumour disease.  Over 4 years a healthy colony has been established on the mainland as an “insurance population”, and they are to be re-introduced back to Tasmania. See Devilark.org.au for more details.

The issue of species extinctions is both complex and contested and this recent article Animal pragmatism by Maddison Connaughton in The Saturday Paper is a good introduction. “The battle against species extinctions is ethically fraught, with questions about the purpose of zoos and how we go about choosing winners in the animal kingdom. As habitat diminishes, what is the purpose of conservation?”

PETA however, are unequivocal about zoos: “Zoos teach people that it is acceptable to interfere with animals and keep them locked up in captivity”, and I certainly agree. Do see this article from Animals Australia titled “5 things we need to stop telling ourselves about zoos“.

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

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

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

BornFree

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

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

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

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

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

Lion of al-Lat at Palmyra

Lion of al-Lat at Palmyra

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

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

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

Photograph by Laura Keene for the National Geographical Traveler Contest

Photograph by Laura Keene for the National Geographical Traveler Contest

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph by Jez Bennett for the National Geographical Traveler Photo Contest

Photograph by Jez Bennett for the National Geographical Traveler Photo Contest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

townend-cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

Christian By Ace Bourke 1972

CACH: (Campaign Against Canned Hunting). I really believe in this cause, and I think we all have the chance to make a difference.  The practice of breeding lion cubs to be petted, then shot by “hunters” horrifies all reasonable people.

See this very recent educational presentation video from CACH and we can help by circulating it as widely as possible.

On the video they have a Call to Action on how we can contribute.  I gathered from reading the CACH website that they seem to hold little hope for appropriate action from the South African Government.  But we are still urged to contact the South African Government and their representatives in our countries.  Despite their growing unpopularity (we all heard the boos at the Nelson Mandela service), President Zuma and the ANC were recently re-elected.

This quote from President Zuma is chilling (and untrue): “compassion for animals is “unAfrican””.

Christian's paw by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian’s paw by Ace Bourke 1972

CACH is also very concerned for lions in the wild – and Chris Mercer from CACH has confirmed for me that there may be only approximately 20,000 lions left in the wild in Africa.  Owners of lion farms kill adult wild lions to capture the cubs to prevent in-breeding and replace depressed animals in their lion farms.

There were 2 petitions in circulation (Care2 and Change. Org) to have lions listed as Endangered in the USA, so let’s hope the USA Government acts.  This would act as a disincentive to would-be American hunters.  Apparently many of you signed the petitions and there was an observable lift in numbers – so many thanks!

CACH is by-passing World Lion Day in August and putting considerable energy and global organisation into World Animal Day on Oct 4th.  CACH will soon be listing ethical travel agents on their website. People around the world are contacting travel agents and explaining how cub petting and walking with lions is often synonymous with canned hunting.  I too will be contacting travel agencies about this and explaining how tourists would love to be contributing to the greater good for wildlife – and not, often unwittingly, being part of the problem.  I think it is important to be able to recommend reputable wildlife sanctuaries as an alternative.

VOLUNTEERS: Quite a few people ask me where they could volunteer to help and work with animals. I usually recommend inquiring about helping animals locally – at animal shelters, and to Google animal organisations.  Perhaps ask your local vets. I have tried to list many reputable animal organisations on this blog over the years.

Alison Lee Rubie who I met at the Sydney Global March For Lions has forwarded me a link from Facebook for Volunteers in Africa Beware listing reputable wildlife sanctuaries. If you don’t have Facebook, you can access the list here. Well-intentioned volunteers have also been unwittingly used by the lion farmers.

Tiger and cub

Tiger and cub

CHEETAHS: See this cute cheetah video.  I have a friend Barry who is obsessed with cheetahs, so this is for him especially.

TONY THE TIGER UPDATE: Read here and visit here for recent updates. The Animal Legal Defense Fund urgently asked Louisiana residents to contact House Members to vote against the “exemption” bill.

The vote earlier last week was adjourned and is now scheduled for next week May 28th.  Louisiana residents are URGENTLY asked to contact your House Members!

One has to wonder just what sort of influence  Tony the Tiger’s cruel “owner” has?

FAROE ISLANDS:  The Faroe Islands are an autonomous country within Denmark.  These photographs are sickening. Copy and paste the photos and petition into an email and forward to others to show your support against this absolutely appalling annual slaughter of whales, dolphins and porpoises.  It happened in August last year so it will probably happen again at this time. We don’t care if it is a local tradition going back centuries, and what sort of bloody “right of passage” is it for young men?

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

Kookaburra by Neville Henry Cayley (1853-1903)

BIRDS: I have to admit I’m getting more and more interested in birds and I know many of you are. We grew up with a Neville Henry Cayley painting, and last year Penny Olsen published Cayley and Son: The Life and Art of Neville Henry Cayley and Neville William Cayley.  This book looks at the lives and work of this father and son and demonstrates the generational changes in attitudes to natural history, conservation, national ornithology, bird art, Australian publishing and commercial art.

Gang-gang cockatoo by Neville William Cayley (1886-1950). Courtesy National Library of Australia

Gang-gang cockatoo by Neville William Cayley (1886-1950). Courtesy National Library of Australia

Neville William Cayley wrote and illustrated the hugely successful 1931 book What Bird Is That?  Unfortunately, and unfairly, both father and son died impecunious.  I am advised by my friend Madeleine that the best Australian bird apps are Michael Morcombe’s Australian Birds which is easy to use, has all the calls, distributions, list making and the text and illustrations from his book.  Pizzey and Knight is a more expensive app but has more options. I love the way that bird sightings and locations are now immediately registered, making estimates of populations etc. much more accurate.

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Lesser Birds of Paradise by William T Cooper

Penny Olsen has also written the recently published An Eye for Nature: The Life and Art of William. T. Cooper. I heard an interview with Penny and William and apparently David Attenborough has described him as the “best ornithological illustrator alive”.  He grew up near Newcastle, NSW where I too enjoyed growing up surrounded by the bush.  His paintings are excellent, and while his background landscapes are atmospheric, they can be for me, a little florid.  His work certainly puts the birds (and other animals) in context with their habitats and food sources etc.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

Eastern Barred Bandicoot. photographed sourced from Arts Victoria.

EXTINCTION: There is an ongoing debate here – and no doubt in many other parts of the world, about the extinction of so many species.  Some argue about saving “key” species – The Eastern Barred Bandicoot and koalas may be “out” for example, but bees are “in” because of their essential pollination.  Incidentally, 30% of our bees have been wiped out by drought and bushfires, although Australia is still mite-free at this stage.

Our beautiful Kakadu National Park in northern Australia, has been described as a biodiversity “basket case”.  We have lost 90% of our small native animals and about 100 marsupial species are at risk. Various introduced species or “pests” are usually blamed, including cane toads who are continuing their march across northern Australia, and the usual suspect, feral cats.

FERAL CONTROL:  People are now beginning to question the cruelty with which these “feral” “pests” – cats, foxes, rabbits, pigs, dogs etc are controlled or eradicated.  They are often poisoned and die agonising deaths. Dr. Clive A. Marks has written an important article: How much suffering is OK when it comes to pest control  He questions why cruelty to  “feral” animals remains largely sidelined in the clash between conservation and animal welfare over “control” of these animals.

I especially object to the vilification of cats who are always photographed in this context snarling – who would not snarl under the circumstances?  It is hardly their fault if they were introduced to deal with the plague proportions of rats…….

Grumpy Cat

Grumpy Cat

CATS: Meanwhile, some other cats are laughing all the way to the bank!  Maru has had 175 million monetised views and Grumpy Cat will soon be starring in his own feature film and has his own agent.  William Braden’s marvellous French cinema spoof Henri le chat noir has been viewed more than 15 million times and earned more than $US25,000.

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

Eartha Kitt & James Dean

Deb sent me the most wonderful collection of vintage photographs of celebrities and I have reproduced three here. They are mostly not studio or posed photographs, or paparazzi – just celebrities with each other, and often an interesting cross-generational mix of some of the most dazzling or interesting stars.

MEDIA: I have the Sydney Morning Herald delivered each morning, but it is so slim these days and there has recently been even more sackings of at least 30 photographers.  I have to confess that I now buy Murdoch’s The Daily Telegraph and The Australian on my afternoon walk.  Despite their brazenly partisan conservative views, they are undoubtedly meatier.  The Daily Telegraph is a trashier tabloid which can be fun – and is also more likely to have photographs of animals and wildlife exhibitions etc that I can use on my blog.  The Australian remains obsessed with the opposition ALP and long past sins – a pity they did not subject our PM Abbott and his mere 3 slogans to any scrutiny while in opposition.

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

Sophia Loren & Jayne Mansfield

It is fascinating watching the Murdoch journalists now beginning to turn on this unpopular government and actually doing their job examining the policies and broken promises.  It is getting harder to defend the indefensible.

The Letters to the Editor in both Murdoch papers are often shockingly cold hearted and completely lacking in any compassion for…humanity.

I did love the account of the Murdoch divorce in the March Vanity Fair – his mother (yes, she died at 103 and was rather marvellous) warned him about the Wendi Dengs of the world. What an incorrigible opportunist Tony Blair appears to be.

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

Andy Warhol & Alfred Hitchcock

ENERGY:  Australian households are being conned over electricity. Not the carbon tax!  It is the power of the fossil fuel industry and “gold plating” (where unnecessary poles and wires are built) that is affecting our electricity costs. Peak demand is actually falling. Many people face “energy poverty” – with 10% of their disposable income spent on energy.  Winter is coming with additional heating costs, but we have actually been having the most lovely warm and sunny weather.
Storage of solar energy in batteries is hopefully going to be developed soon which will de-link people off the grid.
Our Treasurer recently attacked wind farms and he particularly referred to the wind turbines at Lake George (on the way to Canberra) which I have also criticised as a blight on a rather beautiful landscape.  I confess I think wind farms should be located where they don’t ruin a great view….

There has just been a victory for a local community in the Northern Rivers of NSW with the suspension of gas drilling at a well. The company, Metgasco, apparently “misled” the public and “did not consult” with the community. Social media helped build and galvanise an effective if unlikely alliance of landowners, locals, and environmentalists.

The current low price for iron ore and coal (especially low grade coal), will hopefully make it not viable to develop some new mines, and they will become “stranded assets”.  Deutsche Bank have just announced that they will not be funding the expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point,Queensland, ostensibly over the dangers to the Great Barrier Reef from the dredge spoils.

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

Frog photograph by Sylvia Ross

CLIMATE CHANGE: I find it fascinating that the climate change deniers have been squealing that they are treated “unfairly” by the media.  They have been amazingly successful in the debate although virtually unable to produce any credible evidence to back up their arguments.  This is what happened with the tobacco industry and their lobbyists (some of the very same people) which caused many many unnecessary deaths by warding off any action against smoking for decades.

We can’t expect the 97% of scientists that agree that global warming is happening to “sell” the proposition – that should be the job of our political and community leaders.

So it is up to us more than ever to keep emphasising the urgency – and as Annie commented on a recent blog – we live in a very polluted planet regardless…and it is a health issue.  In parts of China it is dangerous to breathe the air on certain days and in many other cities around the world.  Even in Sydney more people are dying from pollution- related illnesses.

In Australia, rather than earning $4 billion in needed revenue from polluters with the Carbon Tax, the government wants to abolish it – and reward the polluters with tax payers’ money. Does this make any sense?

My friend Christine recently heard Clive Hamilton discuss his book Earth Masters  which is about climate change.  I do want to alarm you – he said it is already too late for action!

President Obama is at last speaking up for urgent action. The Republicans are of course  not supportive  as it is a “threat to the economy”.  I thought we lived in a society WITH an economy?  Obama has been briefing weather presenters, hoping people will believe them more than politicians or scientists.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 2007.

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

Black bears in northern New Hampshire, 25 April 2008

Black bears usually have 2 cubs.  So it was very exciting when people in northern New Hampshire spotted a bear with 5 cubs. A photographer, I presume to be Tom Sears, waited patiently for over six weeks until he managed to photograph them.  He could not believe it the following year when the family emerged after hibernation and he could take such a rare family portrait again.

LION DOCUMENTARIES: Recently the documentary Martin Clunes & A Lion Called Mugie was shown on UK television.  Mugie was the first lion returned to Kora in Kenya after George Adamson’s death in 1989.  As The Guardian commented, Martin Clunes is certainly no David Attenborough and seems to have no natural affinity with animals. It ends very badly – with Mugie tragically killed by hyenas.  It was great however to see some of the footage of Kora, especially some images of Christian. I was reminded just how dangerous Christian’s return to the wild in 1970 was, and I did wonder if George Adamson would have taken a different approach to Mugie’s rehabilitation.  I did think it was discourteous (putting it mildly) that footage of us with Christian in London and the famous reunion in Kenya with him in 1971 was included in the documentary, but we were not even identified!

Also recently shown on Australian television was ELSA, The Lioness That Changed the World made in 2011.  I loved all the old footage used, especially of Elsa.  She did illustrate for the world that, like Christian, an emotional connection was possible with humans, and that every animal is unique. The book Born Free was translated into 25 languages. Again I thought there was a certain amount of rewriting of history or a shift of emphasis.

Elsa the lioness. Sourced from www.fatheroflions.com

Elsa the lioness. Sourced from http://www.fatheroflions.com

Elsa’s documentary seemed to me to imply that George Adamson’s camp at Kora in Kenya was established to rehabilitate Boy, one of the lions used in the filming of Born Free, and who was recovering from injury.  Christian seemed to just turn up from London!  In fact Kora was allotted to George Adamson by the Kenyan Government primarily for Christian’s rehabilitation, and paid for through the success of the two documentaries which starred Christian.  This was thanks to Bill Travers,Virginia McKenna and Morningstar Productions who made the two documentaries.  Despite the huge success of Born Free Joy Adamson did not give George any money towards his projects.  Boy was the adult male lion conveniently available for George Adamson to build a pride around Christian. George in fact described Kora as a monument to Christian – not Boy.

For the record, Christian’s initial introduction to the wild at Kora in 1970 was entirely overseen by George Adamson. Christian was very young and inexperienced.  He had to survive his introduction to Boy who finally accepted him, and negotiate the wild lions in the area. We first met Tony Fitzjohn, now Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, on our final visit to see Christian in 1972, and Tony was of invaluable assistance to George and his lions.

Jumbo at London Zoo, circa 1890. Photograph: Getty Images

Jumbo at London Zoo. Photograph: Getty Images

ELEPHANTS:  Mark Shand, a well known supporter of elephant causes especially through Elephant Family, sadly died recently after an accident.

There is a recent book by John Sutherland called JUMBO The Unauthorised Biography of A Victorian Sensation. Jumbo’s mother was killed in the Sudan and he was taken as a young calf to Europe, ending up as the star attraction in the London Zoo in the 1860s where he and his keeper Matthew Scott became alcoholics!  Jumbo’s story is both disturbing and fascinating.  He was bought by P.T. Barnum for $10,000 to be part of The Greatest Show On Earth in the USA. Jumbo seemed happier in the US as there were 31 other elephants in Barnum’s travelling menagerie. Jumbo was tragically killed in 1885.  He was the template for Walt Disney’s Dumbo, and I still have my Dumbo ornament!

Untitled (2014) by Daniel Boyd. Courtesy: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Untitled (2014) by Daniel Boyd. Courtesy: Art Gallery of New South Wales

DANIEL BOYD:  Congratulations to Daniel Boyd for winning the 2014 prestigious Bulgari Art Award. This painting references a found photograph of Pentecost Island in Vanuatu.  Daniel’s great great grandfather was captured and brought to Australia as a slave to work in the cane fields, like many others.  It is a largely untold and unacknowledged history.  It is a quite mesmerisingly beautiful painting and technically brilliant.

In 2008 I staged an exhibition Lines in the Sand: Botany Bay Stories from 1770 which examined the arrival of Captain Cook in Australia in 1770 and then the First Fleet in 1788, through colonial material and primarily contemporary indigenous artists.  Daniel is one of the most talented and interesting commentators on the Eurocentric perspectives of Australian history and his installation and paintings were a major contribution to my exhibition.

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

AUSTRALIA: We have finally had our budget delivered from the new government and they have shown their true colours. They have broken many election promises and hit the most needy the hardest while insulating the wealthiest. The budget was foreshadowed in the Commission of Audit and do read Ross Gittins response to that here. The dystopian view of these extreme economic rationalists is of a “harsher, less caring world, where daily life was more cut throat, where the gap between rich and poor widened more rapidly and where the proportion of households falling below the poverty line increased each year”.

As Gittins, the son of Salvation Army officers also says “The report fits with the wry observation “The rich need more money as an incentive and the poor need less money as an incentive”.

The book Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty is getting worldwide attention – although I’m hardly surprised post the Occupy Wall Street Movement. It illustrates that “progressive inequality is inherent in modern capitalism” with the remedy a return to steep progressive taxation and taxes on capital through inheritance taxes etc.

The Australian Government is arguing that it inherited a budget “debt and deficit” “crisis” or “emergency”.  Most agree this is largely confected, although there are undoubtedly middle to long term budgetry problems and sustainability to be addressed.

However FOR THE RECORD, with the ALP (the previous government), Australia survived the GFC better than virtually every other country and did not go into recession. This incoming government inherited an economy with a triple AAA credit rating, record low interest rates and inflation, the third lowest debt in the world, and low unemployment.

The previous government did think big and spend on a National Broadband Network, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and attempted to reform the scandalously inequitable education funding.  I agree that much of this was not properly costed.

The downturn in the resources boom is a major factor in our present budget situation and the “middle class welfare” the previous conservative Howard Government used to buy votes, spending with “epic profligacy”.  Unfortunately this was matched by the incoming ALP Rudd Government.

See more of my Australia rave and some back up statistics here.

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

A disturbing article in The Monthly The Abbott Club May 2014 details how Tony Abbott has surrounded himself with rich, older businessman.  He depends on them for advice, and several are tasked with conducting key reviews. These people have no idea about the lives of ordinary citizens and represent only the business big end of town. Several of them are avowed climate change deniers – Dick Warburton for example has been given the job of reviewing the Renewable Energy Target!

So the budget was predictably mean, unfair, narrow and littered with broken promises. See Ross Gittins for his very fair summary of the budget which gives credit – and criticism where due… “the truth is most of us have been left unscathed…only those right at the bottom of the ladder have been hit hard”. Low-income families on benefits will lose as much as 10% of their incomes, an Australian earning three times the average wage will lose 0.9%, while a childless couple on $360,000 will lose nothing!

See this follow up article by Ross Gittins on the budget which seems to be getting even more criticism as the details are closely examined.  In addition the Prime Minister and Treasurer are selling it to a cynical public very badly.

I am particularly worried about what will happen to some young people who are already facing high unemployment levels and will have NO benefits whatsoever – a recipe for homelessness and a crime wave. The States were swindled unexpectedly and without warning  and have to find $80 billion to fund Health and Education. The government intends building more roads rather than public transport, and supports the fossil fuel industry, particularly the coal-fuelled power sector, at the expense of renewable energy.

Unforgivably, climate change action has effectively been halted with big cuts to research and renewable energy which will make further investment difficult, and will set us back decades.

The Prime Minister, never popular in the polls, is even more unpopular, and it is one of the worst received budgets ever.  Students, who have been docile for decades are protesting nearly daily at changes that will make tertiary education at least twice as expensive, and similar to the inequitable “”two tier” system in the USA.

My sister and I – with up to 10,000 others, attended the March in May in Sydney which was full of mostly young, bright, angry people who despise this government, but also don’t trust the ALP or the mainstream media.  The Daily Telegraph described us as “ferals” and “delinquents”!

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

Bundeena, NSW May 2014 Ace Bourke

MAIL: Thanks to Deb, Maura, Sylvia, Melissa, Madeleine, Lindy and others for sending images and information.  I love the emails that keep coming thankyou…about Christian, about your animals (especially cats), families and lives etc. Hi to Tiger aged 7 making her own Christian-based iMovie.  Yui in Japan thought he didn’t like animals until he read Christian’s story and now wants a pet.  Also from Japan, Rei tells me he is very against whaling – and the Japanese have resumed whaling already.

I haven’t forgotten about the world at large: both sides now seem as bad each other in Syria; the worrying future of Ukraine; missing school girls in Nigeria; the loss of many miners in Turkey; catastophic floods in the Balkans with a huge displacement of people, the risk of disease, and all the unexploded landmines from the 1990s; a coup in Thailand – the 22nd since 1932; dissidents disappearing in China with the 25th anniversary of Tiananmen Square coming up; and the corrupt Congress Party thrown out decisively in India.

Crown, Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI, second quarter of the 1st century CE, gold imitation turquoise, 45 × 13 cm, National Museum of Afghanistan. Photo: Thierry Ollivier

Crown, Tillya Tepe, Tomb VI, second quarter of the 1st century CE, gold imitation turquoise, 45 × 13 cm, National Museum of Afghanistan. Photo: Thierry Ollivier

ART GALLERY OF NSW: The exhibition Afghanistan Hidden Treasures from the National Museum in Kabul is currently in Sydney at the AGNSW until 15th June. It is full of absolutely exquisite items and a reminder of another side of Afghanistan and their rich cultural history that we have perhaps forgotten or overlooked in the last few years.