George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian (c. late 1972- early 1973)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

During the last world crisis, the Global Financial Crisis, Christian’s “reunion” footage with us in Kenya on YouTube was a soothing and positive diversion, and this helped to make it so popular. I have been getting emails recently with people saying they have been watching Christian’s story as a distraction, or to make them feel better in “lockdown”. It amazes me that Christian still casts this spell over so many of us.

See here should you want to watch the version of our reunion with Christian with Whitney Houston’s song, as it gets harder to find on YouTube, and needless to say, it is my favourite version.

Many of you no doubt celebrated World Lion Day on August 10th, and International Tiger Day on the 29th July.

LIONS: We all remain concerned with the crisis in lion and wildlife populations. I am presuming “canned hunting” is not thriving with the widespread COVID-19 virus in South Africa, but at a time like this the owners of the numerous “lion farms” that have profited from this dreadful practice may start to maltreat the animals including not feeding them properly or looking after them. Even worse, the current situation may encourage the participation in the illegal trade in lion body parts. The human population in South Africa, with widespread unemployment, is also faring very badly.

Image source: Allen & Unwin

While I have as yet only read an extract, there is a new book The Last Lions in Africa: Stories from the frontline in the battle to save a species by Anthony Ham. He is, to my surprise, an Australian.

The author states that as of 2019, there are approximately 22,509 lions left on the African continent. At the end of the C19 there were 200,000. They have disappeared from 95% of their historical ranges, and from 26 countries. By now we know most of the reasons, primarily, destruction of habitats, hunting and human and animal conflict. The author also notes that there are approximately only 4,000 tigers left in the wild, and 1,000 mountain gorillas.

Depressingly, in my blog after blog over the years, we have been watching these figures diminish despite many organisations and individuals doing good work. Rather like action, (or inaction) on climate change, nothing seems to be reversing the “extinction vortex” we are witnessing.

These giraffes from the Mogo Wildlife Park, NSW, nearly died in the bushfires and have now welcomed a new born calf

BUSHFIRES:  In Australia we had a horrific fire season with 10 million hectares of the east coast burnt, which was news around the world. We were all in shock at the scope, the intensity, and that the fires were described as “unstoppable”. I live surrounded by a National Park which was very dry, but we were lucky this time. The smoke and air quality from the fires was a danger to health over vast areas. I put my art collection in storage, and like many others, had a suitcase and the cat box by the door for months on end.

Quite a few people lost their lives, including fire fighters, and many lost their houses and businesses. Many animals died – they estimated a billion at the time, but that has just been updated to 3 billion dead or displaced. This does not include the cattle and sheep lost. Despite the early start to the fire season and the incredible ferocity of the fires, despite all intelligent people and fire experts pointing to climate change as a factor, our conservative government said “now was not the time” to talk about such things. Now we are heading towards the next season as ill prepared as we were last year. We continue not just to ignore the experts but also indigenous fire practices honed over centuries.

As many as 5,000 koalas lost their lives during the fires, and their habitats destroyed.  There is even talk of extinction. Our NSW Government has stated it wants to double koala populations by 2050, but this government has not stopped land clearing and habitat destruction, which like creeping urbanization, are the major threat to koalas, along with bush fires, disease, dogs and feral animals. The government fully supports mining, even allowing mining that threatens Sydney’s water supply.

Australia has the worst record in the world in relation to the extinction of mammals – 30 species lost since colonization (1788), and 14 in the past 50 years.

COVID-19: Who would have thought how much the world would have changed since Christian’s last birthday? We have all been overtaken by COVID-19 and I hope all of you and your families are managing. Everyone has been affected in some way. Australia had coped quite well up until recently, although due to some inexcusable quarantine carelessness, we now seem to be having a dangerous “second wave” in Victoria, and some outbreaks in my state of NSW. Luckily as an island continent we can close our borders, although our state borders are more porous. The lucrative international tourism industry and the international student sector, have been decimated.

Interestingly, the Federal Government has responded quite well and suddenly and unusually, listened to medical experts and scientists – unlike their ongoing climate change denial. The government is now getting very worried about the economy and is anxious to reopen everything and for it to be business as usual. They have been forced to embrace spending and borrowing billions of dollars after criticizing the Opposition for years, although it was the ALP who were then in government and successfully navigated us out of the Global Financial Crisis.  Our economy and jobs growth have not been strong for years, and as yet there are no proposals or ideas for job creation or economic stimulation. The Treasurer even referenced Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as his models for economic recovery which is rather indicative of the government’s outdated ideological mindset.

The arts and entertainment industry here has also been decimated and given very little support, and none of it as yet has been forthcoming. Galleries and museums are tentatively reopening. Under the cover of “Covid”, funding to our national broadcaster the ABC, universities (especially “the Humanities”), the public sector and the arts, all imagined enemies of this government, will be minimized.

People around the world have appreciated surprisingly clear skies and clean water. Now would be an ideal time to have a new low carbon and green approach to the economy, and transition to renewables. In Australia we still don’t have an energy policy that business can invest in, and the government remains fixated on coal and gas. Now is also the chance to review: overdue taxation reform; much needed public housing policy; aged care; wage growth and the casualization of labour; and to consider free universal childcare, and the vital role of women (and migrants) in the health and service industries.

I’m glad I don’t live in Sweden where my age group seems to have just been sacrificed for the greater good, although their economy, and the number of deaths, does not indicate that this approach has been successful. I have been very worried about friends in the UK, the USA and Brazil. Trump and Bolsonaro have both been criminally negligent. I am also very worried about friends in India, and especially Rajat, a very intelligent and dedicated young fan of Christian’s who is battling a serious disease I’m sure he will overcome, and my thoughts are with him and his family.

Over the last year, the leaders of America, Russia and China have shown their true colours, and there has been a dangerous unravelling of the old world order. Cyber surveillance and warfare is the norm and it is difficult to ascertain the truth with the claims of “fake news” and the widespread conspiracy theories. In the USA I have no confidence in Biden, but removing Trump would do the world a service. My prayers for the future of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, and for the citizens of Beirut.

Congratulations to the few countries like New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam that acted quickly and effectively against the virus. In Vietnam they have banned the trading in wild animals and their body parts which is good, although some are allowed for “medicinal purposes”. Wild life products do seem to be incubators of disease.

So take care, wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance.

The ice keeps melting…. Photograph by Michael Ginzburg for PBS.org

We listen to scientists and medical experts with the epidemic – why don’t we listen to climate change scientists and their predictions?

SELF-ISOLATION: How have you all managed in self-isolation? People initially seem to have found it frustrating but also quite interesting. Most have enjoyed more time with the family, although “home schooling” has been a challenge for many. With so many working from home, and Zoom, this may change work habits and paradigms. Musicians have made music in their bedrooms, and artists and galleries have been imaginative about art online. Cooking, eating, gardening and DIY home renovations seem to have been popular.

Many people binge watched Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix but I resisted, although I did later see a documentary on these unsavoury people, messing with such beautiful animals. There are more big cats in private hands in the USA than are left in the wild. There is no conservation value as their breeding practices are indiscriminate. What is going to happen to the animals if these zoos are closed down, and the owners in jail?

Many of us have been supported at this time by our companion animals, who have had to adjust to us being home much more! Initially there were many more adoptions from animal shelters which was encouraging and understandable. I do wish even more people would adopt these animals, at risk of euthanasia, rather than buying expensive hybrid dogs like Cavoodles, Groodles and Moodles. I have noticed that Dachshunds have become very popular. My cat has been a great source of comfort even if she has manoeuvred/manipulated me into now being fed on demand, and I now realise she can sleep 23 hours a day.

I have got some overdue writing projects actually finished or well advanced, and have read some very good books. I have found classical music very soothing. Luckily Bundeena where I live is very beautiful and this winter quite mild so I walk every day. I have always felt in quarantine here!

“Misunderstanding” by Tony Albert. Courtesy Sullivan +Strumpf.

BLM: Aboriginal people in Australia have been protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and across the world, and of course they have much to relate to. As in America, there has been a growing section of the white population that also agree that enough is enough. Aborigines have a shocking incarceration rate, and there have been many Aboriginal deaths in custody, with no-one EVER bought to account.

White people have increasingly had to face our privilege in the last few years, and acknowledge the results of dispossession of indigenous people by colonisation. We also have to realise the amount of “casual” racism that exists, let alone the overt racism people of colour deal with on a daily basis. Enough IS enough!

Recently, the mining company Rio Tinto blew up two caves in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia that were sacred to Aboriginal people. Artefacts dated to 46,000 years had been found there, so the caves were one of Australia’s most significant archaeological sites. The company said it was a “misunderstanding” – hence why one of our best Aboriginal artists Tony Albert called his artwork “Misunderstanding”. Google him to see more of his wonderful work. The nation was very shocked – briefly.

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Our thoughts are with our WFA staff in India where the virus is particularly severe. The best news however is that the new cattery at the Kalimpong Animal Shelter (KAS) is now being built and finally cats will have the necessary space that they require. We are particularly grateful to Laura Louie and Harry Bohm who very generously donated money to purchase the additional land and build the cattery. I am very much hoping I can visit when travel is permitted again.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s new book

BOOK: Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has a new book Lost Companions, Reflections on the Death of Pets. This is possibly his 13th book, and dogs have been his speciality. Many of us have had the trauma of dealing with the death of loved pets, and Jeffrey recounts various stories about our special bonds with animals and the different ways people deal with their grief. I always regret that it is not possible to express our last words, explanations, or our thanks to them for all they have meant to us.

Jeffrey mentions Christian, as an example of interspecies relationships. Of course we don’t know what happened to Christian which I am quite relieved about. That is one death and trauma we didn’t have to face. About our reunion with Christian, Jeffrey, who is a friend of mine, says about me “I understand why this single encounter has stamped his life forever”. I think it has but I’m not sure how! While I was not surprised Christian remembered us, I may have been surprised at just how exuberant he was. Jeffrey noted what I also found extraordinary, that Christian’s “pride” who were not familiar with humans, milled around us, caught up in and sharing Christian’s excitement. He was loved by lions and humans alike.

MOROCCO: I was very fortunate to have a great trip to Morocco, Paris and London late last year, as international travel for us all is unlikely for the foreseeable future. There were cats and kittens everywhere in Morocco – no doubt too many, but I was pleased to see they were treated well.

In Fez I visited the American Fondouk, which was established in 1927 by an American woman to offer free veterinary care for “four legged” animals – mules, horses and donkeys. If these animals get injured, the families often have no other source of income. American Fondouk (hotel) is very well resourced with the latest equipment – for weighing and moving heavy animals, an operating theatre, and a test laboratory etc etc. The staff and volunteers were very welcoming to me – as they are to anyone who would like to visit and see their work. The founder’s family continue to support the Fondouk, but extra donations are always appreciated.

Speaking to the two young vets who showed me around, I said I had been lucky enough when I was younger to meet and know Joy and George Adamson. To my surprise, they had never heard of Elsa the lioness, the Adamsons, or Born Free. They said “we only know about those two young Australians who took their lion from London back to Africa”. They seemed to believe that I was one of them!

I was very shocked that generations now may not know Elsa’s extraordinary story, and the film and book Born Free that affected millions of people all over the world in the 1960s. Although I didn’t read the book at the time, I was very aware of the story. We were fascinated by Elsa’s affectionate relationship with the Adamsons and her successful rehabilitation back into the wild. It was almost unimaginable. Like David Attenborough who had begun making his documentaries, the spotlight was put on wildlife, and the affirmation that, like us, all animals, including “wild” animals, were sentient beings. I finally read Born Free a few years ago, and Elsa, like Christian, was an exceptionally intelligent animal. The Adamsons could take her on holidays, and she would just jump into the back of their vehicle. Joy Adamson was a very creative woman, and the photographs in the book were wonderful.  I have seen the film more recently at fund raising events, and it remains amazingly fresh, and a feast for lovers of lions.

I can’t really completely explain or understand why Christian’s story still has such resonance so many years later. He was very charismatic, attractive, and full of personality.  His life was very well documented, and years later, he has had the benefit of the social media age and YouTube.  He demonstrated an obvious capacity for love. He too was successfully rehabilitated, and we can presume a happy ending. For some people our story also represents a more adventurous and less regulated era …… what do you think?

I would love you to Leave a Comment on your thoughts on what Christian and his story (or Elsa and Born Free) has meant to you!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN we are all still thinking of you, especially today.

Christian photograph by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian photographed by Ace Bourke 1972

High res Ace and Christian

Ace with Christian, 1972. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN

Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 in an unprepossessing and long closed down zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon, UK. Who could have imagined after five generations of captivity in Europe, he would be returned to Africa, and be successfully rehabilitated by George Adamson of Born Free fame?

For those unfamiliar with Christian’s story, see his website alioncalledchristian.com.au.

I am most often asked what happened to Christian. No-one knows. Christian was last seen by George Adamson in early 1973 when he was nearly four years old and was growing into one of the largest lions George had ever seen. He had survived the most dangerous years, although life as an adult lion would also always be very challenging. George thought he was looking for a territory of his own, away from the aggressive local lions of Kora. We like to think Christian created a pride of his own and lived at least the average 10 -12 years of lions in the wild.

Christian remains very popular and I continue to get many emails from nearly everywhere – often in waves from another round on Facebook, or as other countries discover him – like India more recently.

It was the posting on YouTube in 2008 of our reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 which brought Christian’s story back to a new and wider audience (100 million+ views), and our clip was recently listed as No. 5 on the top 20 to 1 Viral Sensations (Channel 9).

Sony bought the rights to our story in 2008. Given Christian’s enduring popularity, and the many relevant issues his life exemplifies, I am disappointed that many years have now gone by and sadly we are no closer to going into production. My feelings are exacerbated by the fact that there is such a crisis in wildlife, indeed we are at a tipping point for many species, not only lions, elephants and rhinos. Christian’s story could possibly make a contribution to generating more urgent action on behalf of animals in the hope of saving and protecting lives.

I’m relieved I’m not presently writing or commentating about the precarious state of the world which has unravelled even more dangerously than when I last blogged. We all deal with uncertainty and anxiety in different ways. I find it very relaxing living near the water, beside a National Park on the edge of Sydney.  I like to walk, garden, read, spend time with friends and family, listen to Radio National, spoil the cat, and even do some interesting work! Despite the criticisms – and the costs to Brazil and the local population, I’m loving watching the Olympic Games and am, so far, finding it life-affirming.

Leo DiCaprio GAWPT photo

Rhinos from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Facebook page. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

GAWPT:  Leonardo DiCaprio is such a great advocate for the environment and through his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has recently donated US$15.6 million in grants – towards wildlife and habitat conservation, to aide indigenous rights, and to combat climate change and solve environmental issues. Visit his Facebook page here.

Included among the “grantees” in Africa are the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (GAWPT)/ Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary, and the Elephant Crisis Fund (in partnership with Save the Elephant) – both very worthy recipients.

WFA: Working for Animals has a new website www.workingforanimals.org.au primarily about the WFA animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India. I am on the Committee of WFA and will contribute to News and Blog items from time to time. The founder, Christine Townend, is very well known internationally for her pioneering work in animal welfare and rights, and is well informed about the most pressing animal issues and debates world-wide.

We both hope to attend the upcoming Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in Mumbai 21-23 October 2016. We spoke at the last FIAPO conference in Jaipur in 2014 and look forward to hearing wonderful and dedicated people talk about the successes and advances made in animal welfare in India, despite the many challenges.

WFA will continue to post information about various campaigns – and I remain especially concerned about canned hunting in Africa, and the continuing captivity of Tony the Tiger at the truck stop in Louisiana.

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Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

TIGERS:  I remain very excited about seeing tigers at close quarters in the Ranthambore National Park in India earlier in the year. On my return I watched several fascinating David Attenborough tiger documentaries, but as they were made several years ago, I hope the poaching and sale of tiger body parts and skins, and the flawed assessment of tiger numbers in the wild etc, are now more closely scrutinised and policed. Many issues conflate including the pressures of balancing sustainable tourism, competition for resources, the danger of wildlife to local villagers, and the expansion of wildlife corridors etc.

Officially, there are 2266 tigers approximately in India at present and 70% of the world’s tigers are in India. The most recent WWF survey states that 3890 tigers remain in the wild. I think seeing tigers up close reminded me of just how privileged I have been to know – and love – a big cat, and to be reminded of their magnificence, their power, and how they need us to fight – harder – for their survival.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great White Shrk

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Richardson

                                   Kevin Richardson

I am very much looking forward to meeting “lion whisperer” Kevin Richardson when he comes to Australia next month. See here for details of when he is appearing at fund raisers in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney (17th June) for Painted Dog Conservation Incorporated. I want to ask Kevin about the risks he seems to take with lions that I never would, and if he shampoos them – they look so fluffy and gorgeous.  He is an active campaigner against the “canned hunting” of lions.

I have heard two interesting interviews relating to animals on our ABC Radio National lately. Jacqui Sunderland-Groves, a primatologist and Senior Advisor at Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia described “forest school” where orangutans are taught and prepared to be returned to the wild. 170 have been rehabilitated successfully to natural habitats and are forming viable populations.

The other interview was with Australian Damien Mander who brings his experience as an ex-soldier to the Anti-Poaching Foundation primarily working in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He seems mainly concerned with the prevention of the poaching of rhinos, especially that rhino horn can now command up to $75,000 a kilo!

Christine Townend sent me this link to Psychology Today.  There are many articles which illustrate the fantastic range of contemporary thinking about animals.  Through a wide variety of animals and experts, there are many discussions and views on subjects as diverse as sentience, rewilding, compassionate conservation, and interspecies friendships.

In NSW we are celebrating that Mark Pearson won a seat for the Animal Justice Party in the NSW Parliament Upper House.

BORN FREE: I loved seeing Born Free again and it was a successful fundraiser for The Feline Foundation and Animal Works. The film was not dated and Africa looked so beautiful and fresh. Virginia McKenna, although more English rose than the volatile Austrian Joy Adamson, is an excellent actress. The lions were wonderful and Elsa was an amazing animal. The film portrayed Joy Adamson as the one keenest to keep the cubs, but it was George who relented at the last moment and did not send Elsa with the others to a zoo in Holland. George Adamson later said they should have kept the three cubs as this would have made Elsa’s lonely and precarious rehabilitation easier. This was why he created a pride around our Christian the lion, with Boy as the adult male.  George gambled that Boy would not kill the younger Christian who was nearly old enough to be perceived as a threat.  Only 3 out of 15 lions used in the filming of Born Free were rehabilitated, which angered Joy and George and Virginia and Bill Travers.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.
Photography by City of Sydney Paul Patterson.

WAR: Tony Albert is a highly regarded Aboriginal artist and his striking memorial to the previously overlooked contribution of Indigenous soldiers to our armed forces was recently unveiled in Hyde Park, Sydney. Last month was the anniversary of 100 years since Australians and New Zealanders landed at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915. 8709 Australians and 2701 New Zealanders were sent to their deaths by incompetent British commanders. Those precious lives – great losses on both sides – should serve as a lesson against war, but they haven’t.

The $325 million spent on this anniversary could instead help many still struggling Vietnam Vets, or families of servicemen.

I think Australians were probably good soldiers: they were fit and brave, supported their “mates”, had a healthy suspicion of authority, were perhaps a little “crazy” brave and exhibited “careless behaviour”.  Arthur Conan Doyle described them as “rude and rough, but honest, kindly and true”.

Australians seem to be sent to war by conservative governments or at the request of our allies who we hope will come to our defense sometime in the future. Conservative PM Menzies sent troops to Vietnam in 1965, but at least that war was in our region. Conservative PM Howard sent us into Iraq in 2003, and present PM Abbott has just sent another 300+ back to Iraq. On the day this “mission creep” was announced, our Minister for Defence could not name the commander of Islamic State although there is a $US10 million price tag on his head.  Mind you, I couldn’t either.  His name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and he is now rumoured to be injured.  He apparently planned his IS Caliphate while imprisoned in the notorious Iraqi Abu-Ghraib prison.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

I’m thrilled that friend and fellow Bundeena resident Ildiko Kovacs has won the prestigious Bulgari Art Award. The painting has been acquired by the AGNSW, and includes a residency for the artist in Italy. Ex Bundeena resident George Gittoes has just won the Sydney Peace Prize 2015. He has set up a Yellow House (à la Vincent Van Gogh and Martin Sharp) in Jahalabad, Afghanistan, which he describes as “Taliban Central”. He is a very interesting and intrepid artist who has documented many wars and their aftermath, and believes that art is more effective than weapons.

AUSTRALIA: As Donald Horne said in his 1964 book A Lucky Country “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise”.

Unfortunately this remains quite true so many years later. I just can’t see any constructive strategy from the government for addressing our problems and changing economic circumstances. The looming May Budget  next week will be a huge test.

I did love Tony Abbott’s frank answer to Angela Merkel who asked him what drove our relationship with China: “greed and fear”, although, unfortunately our resources boom and exports to China now seem to be dwindling.

I also loved this tweet from cricketer Shane Warne who I also criticised for talking about alcohol after the Australian World Cup victory: “Do gooders get stuffed. Straya (Australia) is the best place in the world, not politically correct, keep it real. Aussies celebrate properly!#thirsty

Jonathan Jones 'Luminous'. Image sourced from Museum of Contemporary Art.

Jonathan Jones’ celestial fluorescent wall in Luminous  at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

CLIMATE CHANGE: Australia has been criticised recently for inaction on climate change as 193 countries get ready for the conference in Paris later in the year.  We are the highest per capita emitters in the world and we are not transitioning – or diversifying, out of our reliance on coal.  Environment Minister Hunt has been hailing his Direct Action policy a great success.  The government abolished the carbon tax as unfair on tax payers, (and emissions have consequently risen), yet this policy pays polluters (with our money) to stop!  Already most of the money allocated for these projects has been spent, yet we are still well short of our targets.

While the government has scandalously slashed funding to science, climate change bodies and education, they have found $4 million for Danish Bjorn Lomborg to establish an “Australian Consensus Center” at the University of West Australia. Lomborg acknowledges the human factor in climate warming, but is a “sceptical environmentalist” and does not seem to actually want to do anything about it in case it affects the economy!  He seems to have low academic qualifications (in political science!) and I think the outcry against him and the university will only grow.

This is unfortunately yet another example of the government’s shameless ideological bias. Other recent examples are  a government “White Paper” on Energy which mentioned climate change ONCE, and a decade-long Intergenerational Report which also overlooked climate change.  This report was described by respected economist Ross Gittins as a “blatant piece of political propaganda”.  Is this the objectivity one should expect from our government as they supposedly plan our future?

Despite our considerable sun and wind resource base in Australia, the government has made investing in renewables as unattractive as possible. They are on “the wrong side of history” and recent advances like the Tesla Powerwall and Tesla Powerpack will revolutionise the potential for storage of electricity generated from solar panels, and will be cheap enough to solve the reliability of intermittent solar and wind.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

There is an exhibition at The Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne entitled Nature/Revelation. It is a key component of the “Art+Climate=change festival” and seeks to “celebrate the unique capacity art has to cut through prevailing rhetoric to stimulate individually and emotionally in the face of current environmental issues”.

ECOMODERNIST MANIFESTO: A conservative group of international scientists has issued this manifesto and believe that “the next generation of solar, advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion represent the most plausible pathways toward the joint goals of climate stabilisation and radical decoupling of humans from nature”.

An ANU Report states that Australia’s abundance of renewable energy resources should make exiting fossil fuels possible by 2050, at a manageable cost to the economy. AGL – listed last blog as one of Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, is to exit coal-fired power plants by 2050, and not build new ones. I am cynical of this attempt to appear “green” as the announcement follows a recent stocking-up spending spree.

The Salt of the Earth poster

The Salt of the Earth poster

I’m looking forward to seeing The Salt of the Earth, the documentary about the great  Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado made by his son and Wim Wenders. Salgado’s often beautiful and powerful images have been criticised for ennobling or romanticising the poverty or working conditions of some of his subjects, but they equally also garner necessary attention. See a review of the film here.

WORLD: In Australia we were recently shocked by the recent execution in Indonesia of 8 convicted drug smugglers, including two Australians.  Capital punishment is appalling and has been proven not to be a deterrent.  It was all handled in a very chaotic and cruel way, and unfortunately President Joko Widodo appeared weak. He was recently humiliated (again) by his Party chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri, herself a failed president.

Up to 10,000 people may have died in the recent earthquake in Nepal. The country is one of the poorest in the world and the devastation so comprehensive that they urgently need extensive international aid.  Co-ordination of relief efforts and rebuilding does seem beyond the capacity of this government.  Apart from all the lives and livelihoods lost, many historical and culturally important buildings have been destroyed.  Animal victims are receiving emergency aid from the Humane Society International’s Vet Team.

Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

                    Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

I read reports that Egypt is massing large-scale ground and air forces along the Libyan border in preparation for a military campaign to capture eastern Libya from IS occupation.  I suppose more will flee to Europe with 1500 lost at sea already this year, including the 750 people that drowned recently. 5800 were rescued last weekend!  Apparently Assad’s grip on power in Syria is finally weakening.

I am glad Pope Francis, among many others, has spoken up on the centenary of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who were killed by the Turks, and it is time Turkey faced up to this historical reality.

The UK election seemed to be very close with no party likely to win a majority in their own right, but exit polls today are however pointing to a Tory victory.  While there has been some growth in the British economy, especially compared with most other countries, the general population do not feel they are sharing any benefit. Apparently Rupert Murdoch continued to interfere in the democratic process with his biased newspapers, while in Australia, his papers just blatantly back the government.

I suppose I hope Hillary Clinton wins the next US presidential election. She does carry a lot of “Clinton” baggage, but I thought she was a competent state secretary. All the Republicans seem too closely allied to that loony right wing Tea Party  – and who could bear another Bush as president? Hillary has a $US 2.5 billion war-chest for her campaign.

The rioting and destruction in Baltimore followed yet another death of a black American at the hands of the police or while in custody.  It is a breaking point in race relations, and long standing social problems and disadvantage remain unaddressed.

The stalling of growth in the American economy is concerning for us all.

The exhibition Indigenous Australia – Enduring Civilisation has just opened at the British Museum, UK. It includes Aboriginal objects, weapons, art etc. collected early in the white settlement of Australia, and includes a wooden shield and spears collected by Captain Cook’s crew in Botany Bay in 1770.

The annual exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year is at the Australian Museum, Sydney and runs until 5th October.  It isn’t too late to enter the National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest 2015  – the competition closes on June 30th!

Photograph by Matty Smith, BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 Finalist, see at Australian Museum

Photograph by Matty Smith, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 

See more marvellous ocean and wildlife images by Matty Smith here.