Cheetahs

3 Cheetahs, South Africa, courtesy National Geographic

I’ve just been in Melbourne where I gave a talk about Christian to a most receptive audience at the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria.  I am constantly surprised at the “magic” of Christian’s story.  It has had such an effect on so many people – and seems to bring out the best in everyone.  I hope we can harness all this goodwill into making a difference for wildlife and our environment. It does mystify me on an existential level – what is Christian’s message for us, if there is one?  I was once asked in an interview about this and as I hadn’t really solved it myself I blurted out “I think it is a cry for Africa”.  Many people would probably say it is about loving one another.

In a recent report on TV it was stated that there may be less than 30,000 lions left in the wild, and that lions, like elephants (and much else), may be in an extinction vortex. We have been saying now for several years that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time forty years ago. Lions are being shot, poisoned and speared at an alarming rate primarily because they are in competition with local villagers for diminishing resources and habitats. Apart from us loving them, apart from them being an essential link – like everything in our ecosystem, they are Africa’s number 1 tourist attraction.

Alfred Hitchcock with the MGM lion, 1958. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull from the John Kobal Foundation Archive.

Alfred Hitchcock with the MGM lion, 1958. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull from the John Kobal Foundation Archive.

MIDDLE EAST:  Libya is not unexpectedly floundering – with competing regions, personalities and militias, and an understandably inexperienced leadership of the National Transitional Council that is paralysed by the rivalries.  There are reports of militia violence, looting and torture.  It has been described as “it is everyone against everyone else”.  Syria seems to be descending into civil war, while the world stands by.  It is a humanitarian catastrophe.There have been reports of widespread systematic torture, and the threat of being tried for crimes against humanity does not seem to have inhibited the government. The opposition to the regime is unfortunately divided, and as commented on before, there are so many agendas driving the conflict, both within and outside the country.

Despite the uncertain outcomes of the Arab Spring, and so many lives sacrificed, it is inspiring to see a critical mass of courageous people speaking up.

It makes me wonder – how would I respond in their situation?

JULIAN ASSANGE:  It is ironic that the latest release of confidential emails by WikiLeaks from the private intelligence firm Stratfor indicates that the US Department of Justice has issued a secret sealed indictment against Julian Assange.  The case against him in Sweden has recently been described as very slight, and mostly grandstanding by Swedish prosecutors.  Some of the threats made to him have been appalling – and very frightening.  With the example of Bradley Manning who has been held without trial in the US for over 600 days (and his trial finally scheduled for August), Julian has many reasons to fear extradition to the US.  I’d also be worried about those drones that the US seem to be increasingly using to murder people, with the push of a button from the safety of an office, presumably in Washington. The publication of classified material of foreign powers is apparently not a crime under Australian law, but the Australian Government has not, and probably will not, assist our Australian citizen.

It has been pointed out that “award-winning journalist” Assange’s new TV show The World Tomorrow will air on a state-owned  network in Russia, a country where 40 journalists have been murdered in the past decade.  Raffi Khatchadourian commented on Julian’s contradictory nature in The New Yorker (repeated in the SMH): “He is a charismatic figure precisely because of the way his contradictions – manifest in WikiLeaks from the start – magically seem to hold together: his self absorption tempered by his more abstract but genuinely felt, pursuit of justice…his utopianism hemmed in by a do-what-it-takes view of combat; his search for hidden truths shrouded by his own secrecy and willingness to equivocate, if not lie.”

GREECE: Greece was faced with one of two unattractive options – a European fiscal strait jacket that will please bankers and Germany especially, or leaving the EU, whatever the scary ramifications of that would be. Sadly, neither option seems to address the challenge of growing the Greek economy, and the majority of people face years of real hardship.

Sydney Morning Herald 20 February 2012 Moir Cartoon

Sydney Morning Herald 20 February 2012 Moir Cartoon

AUSTRALIA: We have had the most extraordinarily bitter leadership battle that would have been fascinating if it didn’t threaten to damage the government so badly.  The deposed but still ambitious ex PM  Kevin Rudd is more popular in the polls than the PM Julia Gillard which would not be hard.  It seems Rudd has constantly been undermining her, and subsequently the government, in the process. He seems totally addicted to media cycles, polling, his own importance and people in shopping centres.  David Marr in the SMH wrote that another former Labor leader Mark Latham “once told Rudd to his face that his rise… was due solely to his popularity with people who have never actually met him”. I think the psychological analysis by Michael Duffy in the SMH Feb 27 best sums up how I also feel about Kevin Rudd.  He reduced government to a reality TV program, and one wonders what he actually believes in.  Moir captured in his cartoon (above) the nightmare Rudd has become for his own political party.  After being convincingly beaten in a leadership ballot, Rudd promised his “unconditional support”. Sure.  In fairness I must say that he is extremely intelligent, was a very energetic Foreign Minister, and cleverly outmanoeuvred John Howard in the 2007 election. I also believe he reacted quickly and effectively to the GFC.

GETUP!: GetUp! asked their members in a survey what are the 10 major issues we would like them to campaign for on our behalf in 2012.  The top four concerns were: investment in renewable energy, followed by protecting Australia’s native forests,  stopping harmful coal seam gas mining practices, and the fair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

FACTORY FARMING:  There is an obvious momentum of public opposition to factory farmed animals and chickens.  The organisation Voiceless has done much to bring this issue to public attention in Australia. The live cattle export debate has also brought more support for animal welfare and rights issues – and recently more examples of inhumane treatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs have emerged which has reignited the debate.  There are calls to ban live cattle exports, or for mandatory pre-slaughter stunning on all animals exported. Interestingly, or depressingly, in the first edition of A Lion Called Christian in 1970 we talked about the inhumane treatment of Australian sheep being sent to the Middle East!  There is a petition for banning live cattle exports on change.org, and in the US the ALDF has a petition to US legislators who are being pressured by the corporate agriculture lobby to make documenting and distributing damaging footage of factory farm practices illegal.

Donkey

DONKEYS: I have two friends Jonathan and David who are very concerned about donkeys and other working animals and think I don’t pay them enough attention! The Brooke is a highly respected international welfare organisation dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules.  A recent campaign has been teaching basic animal welfare and care for Ethiopia’s grain market donkeys.  William from Florida informs me the organisation was started in 1930 in Cairo by the wife of a British Army officer in response to the condition of many horses left behind in Egypt after the First World War.  (I imagine many of you would have seen Stephen Spielberg’s film War Horse).  The organisations Pegasus and WSPA have been working for better conditions and more effective laws to protect working horses and donkeys in Israel that are also often cruelly overworked, overladen and neglected.

Koala at Taronga Zoo Sydney

Koala at Taronga Zoo Sydney

AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE:  Recently our attention has been drawn to the increasingly precarious situation of some of our unique wildlife.  Our koalas are under threat, and it is estimated that as few as 100,000 may remain in the wild, their coastal habitats destroyed by the vast number of Australians that now live along the beautiful eastern coast.  Our Tasmanian Devils have very contagious facial tumours and there is a battle to save the few healthy ones remaining in the wild, and ironically they are safer in zoos at this stage. The Australian Marine Conservation Society works hard to protect our ocean wildlife, and a recent campaign has highlighted how up to 100,000 sharks around the Great Barrier Reef can be legally killed annually for shark fin soup, or fish and chips.

Orangutang

Courtesy of wallpaperweb.org

ORANGUTANGS:  I have friends who have recently visited or drawn my attention to various centres in our region that do great work protecting orangutangs.  These include the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan Borneo and the Camp Leakey Orphan Orangutang Care Centre in Kalimantan.  Apparently the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yuddhoyono was recently seen in a Jakarta IMAX watching a documentary on the orangutangs of Kalimantan.  Let’s hope he was sufficiently moved to do more to protect the habitats of many animals that are being destroyed, especially by palm oil plantations.

ENERGY:  Despite all the cries of “we’ll be ruined by the impending carbon tax” by our conservative opposition party, and some millionaires and billionaires, there has been surging investment in coal exploration.  Apparently there has been a break-through (after many years) in carbon capture and storage. Let’s hope so, but I remain sceptical.  The newish (conservative) leader of my state of NSW, has lifted a ban on uranium mining. Waste disposal is of course a still very unresolved and contentious issue, with a remote Aboriginal community, Muckaty in northern Australia, being targeted as a nuclear waste dump. Despite the catastrophe of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, in the US the government has approved the building of two nuclear reactors. There are also more worrying reports about mining for gas: double the anticipated green house gases leaking in the US, and in Australia, the release of contaminated water into the environment. On the subject of water, each day each person in an industrialised nation personally consumes about 1,000 gallons (3,785 litres) embedded in the food we eat. Pumping, conveying and treating water is extremely energy intensive, and the energy industry is the largest single water user.

Whitney Houston

WHITNEY HOUSTON: It was when her song I Will Always Love You was added to the YouTube footage of our reunion with Christian that it went viral, so we are very grateful to her – and to Dolly Parton who wrote it.  Many of you have said how much you love the song too, and are saddened by her death.  The footage is unique, but the song beautifully heightens the emotional impact. Mind you, I was reprimanded in a conference for liking it by someone who thought the music interfered with the pure response to an extraordinary animal/human experience.  With Whitney, while every life is sacred, one wonders how someone so precious and talented can be allowed to slip through our fingers. I immediately went to listen to her on Christian’s ALCC website but the clip had been blocked, presumably for copyright reasons.  After much searching however I was very pleased to find one “reunion” video with her song on The View, even if I was called Ace Berg!

Cat on Dog

MAIL: I’m very much appreciating the images and information I am being sent and can share.  Thanks to Dee for the sweet photograph (above), and click here to see more Some Photos Just Don’t Need a Caption.  Thanks also to Heulwen for the beautiful photograph of the three cheetahs in South Africa.

Thankyou to Deva Delanoe who sent me some important links.  Click here to see a report on the number of tigers in private hands in the US – possibly more than twice the number left in the wild. Issues of great concern include inappropriate breeding and declawing. People like the Hollywood star Tippi Hedren are campaigning against private ownership, and I very much hope to visit her at The Shambala Preserve, her big cat sanctuary north of Los Angeles. Some experts have complained that the tigers are losing their “tigerness”.  Christian was a 7th generation “European” lion, and in his case George Adamson was fascinated to see that ultimately Christian’s natural instincts were not impaired. Another link highlights the work for animal welfare in Afghanistan by NOWZAD. It is tough for most people there, so these endeavours on behalf of animals are to be applauded and supported. Deva also sent a link to the Soi Dog Foundation who are trying to prevent the very cruel illegal dog export meat trade in Thailand.  Warning: the photographs on this site are particularly upsetting.

I haven’t personally researched or checked the credentials and records of many of the animal welfare organisations I have blogged about, so we should all take normal precautions before we donate or assist their work.  I am sure however that the overwhelming majority are legitimate, and many are run by quite extraordinary selfless people, deserving of our support and gratitude.

Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island

NORFOLK ISLAND:  I’m about to leave for Norfolk Island off the east coast of Australia for the celebration of Foundation Day on March 6th. My ancestor Philip Gidley King sailed from the new colony of Sydney in early February 1788 to establish a settlement on Norfolk Island, and I am researching some family history.  I’m also hoping to avoid the incessant rains that have caused flooding throughout much of NSW, but have filled most of our dams after many years.

VEOLIA ENVIRONMENT WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2011: I love this annual exhibition of Wildlife photography which travels widely. It is now at the Australian Museum, Sydney until 18 March 2012.  We are reminded how beautiful nature is, but fragile, endangered and at risk, like these pelicans rescued from the oil spill in Louisiana.

Photo by Daniel Beltrá Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Daniel Beltrá Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 Winner

THE WORLD:  What a difference a few weeks or even a day can make.  More people killed by their own governments in the Middle East,  the illegal invasion of Iraq over and US troops withdrawn, protests begun in Russia, and the unknown future of North Korea and the region with the death of Kim Jung-Il in North Korea. Those crocodile tears!  But the EU are still unable to solve their problems and ease global financial uncertainty.

DURBAN:  One hundred and ninety four countries including the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters DID sign up to a 2015/20 agreement of sorts in Durban at the United Nations Climate conference.  Emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production grew by 5.9% last year to a record high of more than 9 billion tonnes of carbon.  There are reasons for some optimism however – even if driven by factors such as unsafe urban air pollution levels.  China is positioned to benefit most in the renewable energy economies.  9.6% of Australian energy comes from renewables, but there are plans to export even more coal, enough to drive carbon emissions above world targets.

EU:  If it wasn’t so serious, it has been fascinating learning more about the EU – such as the dominance of Germany with France playing second fiddle.  How marginalised could the UK become and what are the implications?  Germany has obviously benefited most from the EU – it has been a good export market for them, and  if low on profitability, it has provided good employment as they recovered from their reunification.  The Germans don’t like the debt of their profligate neighbours and do not want to compensate them for their perceived laziness.  Other smaller EU countries have found it harder to benefit.  Suddenly there are echoes of their not so recent wars and histories, like the German fear of hyperinflation from the Weimar Republic days.

Photo by Jack Salzke Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Jack Salzke Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

PUTIN:  Good to see that posturing Putin put on notice and an Arab Spring come to Russia although it is a potentially very dangerous confrontation – Putin is a very formidible opponent.

MIDDLE EAST:  My friend emails from Egypt, in one long sentence: “The Muslim Brotherhood will be good for the general population and give them again a sense of dignity after having none under Mubarak, they are really only interested in business and money so their religious fervour will be curbed by that, the army will not leave but act in the shadow to give an impression of a civilian state, it might be a slight improvement, but the liberals and artists and intellectuals, the ones who started the revolution will in fact gain nothing and might lose again.”  In recent days however, protesters, including women, are being beaten and shot at and killed by their government.

In Tunisia there has been a successful election and the Opposition installed, but unpopular leaders are hanging on in Bahrain and Yemen. In Syria Assad is living in a parallel universe accepting no responsibility for the killing of his citizens, and in his interview with Barbara Walters he said words to the effect “No ruler would shoot his own people”. It has become a family tradition.  I suppose the big news is the US troops leaving Iraq but one can only feel sad – hundreds of thousands of deaths, a trillion dollars, sectarian violence and an unstable future.  A warrant for the arrest of the Vice President was not a good start to “democratic” Iraq.  Like many others around the world I marched against the illegal invasion of Iraq, but it gives no satisfaction to still believe we were right!

I read in the SMH 20 Bedouin communities between Jerusalem and Jericho are to be relocated (again) close to a municipal rubbish dump on the edge of Jerusalem.  The report said this had been described as part of a strategic plan for a ring of Jewish settlements that would cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and would make a contiguous Palestine state impossible.

I hope it is a reason for optimism that Hamas in their rapprochement with Fatah, while still not acknowledging the state of Israel, has said it is shifting it’s emphasis from”armed struggle to non-violent resistance”.  Hopefully this means no more rockets and mortars will be fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.  550 more Palestinians have been released as promised from Israeli jails.

Iran is angry that the  Hamas leadership in exile are relocating from Syria, and have consequently cut their funding – an example of the many changing scenarios and allegiances in the Middle East.

Obama, Mr Cool, has seen his approval rating among US Jewish voters fall from 78% to 54%.  Luckily for him the Republican Presidential candidates to date have been a circus.

Photo by Hui Yu Kim, Veolia Environment Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2011

Photo by Hui Yu Kim, Veolia Environment Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2011

UK RIOTS:  It was interesting to read a report into the riots – the background was a pervasive sense of injustice, and for some this was economic, with a lack of money, jobs or opportunities, but also a significant factor behind the riots was a “widespread anger and frustration at the way police engage with the communities”.

AUSTRALIAN ISSUES:  The PM survived a tough year with a hung parliament (described by some as episodes of Survivor).  Just as abysmal polls rise slightly, the unhelpful distraction of Gillard/Rudd/Shorten? leadership tensions emerge.  The Government handled the GFC extremely well, in my opinion, but will be tested again.  Our current national shame is the months old stalemate between both parties over the processing of asylum seekers off-shore. Both agree with it, but not which countries to do it in. Meanwhile people are dying in their attempts to reach Australia – possibly 180 drowned last weekend which may finally force some action. The Indonesian Government has halved the number of Australian live cattle exports as pay back for the temporary ban after the footage of conditions in Indonesian abatoirs were shown on Australian television. There has not been an equivalent public outcry over the 180 asylum seekers who have just drowned.

Our conservation issues should be uranium mining and sales to India, and coal, with mega mines planned in the Galilee Basin in Queensland with 375 million tonnes of coal a year capacity which by 2035 would be eating up 4% of the world’s carbon budget and 9% of the emissions set aside for coal.

“If this goes ahead, it will destroy our chances of keeping global warming to 2 degrees.” John Hepburn from Greenpeace commented.

There is finally a debate about the wholesale embracing of coal seam gas mining without any definitive environmental impact studies as yet. “Wind turbine” syndrome is being discussed – do wind farms actually affect health?  Perhaps if you live near by, but are not being paid well to host them!  Water management, particularly in the Murray –Darling River basin is being fiercely fought over with the impossible task of pleasing local communities, farmers and irrigators.  From an environmental point of view, 4,000 gigalitres (GL=a billion litres) of water needs to be returned to the river, and the current proposal is for 3573 gigalitres by 2019.

A court decision has for the time being blocked plans for a big $30 billion liquefied natural gas terminal in the Kimberley region. The clearing of the site may have been in breach of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act, and unresolved issues include sacred Aboriginal sites, a divided Aboriginal community, and environmental and heritage concerns.

Photo by Marc McCormack Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Marc McCormack Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

WHALING: The Japanese Antarctic whaling fleet has set out with a target of 900 whales in 3 months for “scientific data”.  There are bound to be confrontations with the Sea Shepherd who last year kept their total number to 17% of their target.  The hunt has been described as an expression of national pride – or that the Japanese are sick of being lectured to.  It is now however as provocative as it is anachronistic.  To protect the expedition the Japanese Government have given the project $28 million from earthquake/tsunami relief money!

MISC STATS:  China has $US3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves; Chinese trade with Australia is worth $105 billion; 271 (US dollar) billionaires in China (this has doubled since 2010), 400 in America, 57 in India, 35 in Australia; 600 million mobile phone users in China, 500 million in India; 40,000 Irish nationals left Ireland in the 12 months to April 2011; 150,000 Russians left home as well.

PREDICTION:  Hong Kong to emerge as the world’s financial centre.

HIV:  34 million people live with HIV.  There are 2.7 million new infections each year.  Fortunately drugs are prolonging lives but of the $22 billion funding required now, only $16 billion is available.

BRADLEY MANNING & ASSANGE:  It is interesting watching the Bradley case unfold, with the portrait being painted of his unstable behaviour something his superiors should not just have ignored.  Some people think that the US Government would like him to plead guilty, get a reduced sentence and be used as a witness against Wikileaks and Assange.  Julian has won the right to appeal against his extradition to Sweden.  I hope the treaty between the UK and Sweden prevents him from being extradited to the US. In the absence of any support from the Australian Government, quite a few prominent Australians have written an open letter to Foreign Minister Rudd asking him to protect Julian Assange from rendition to the US.

CONGRATULATIONS:  “The Protester” TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2011.

OCCUPY WALL STREET:  The small Sydney contingent are still camped in Martin Place.  There seems some sort of tacit arrangement with the police, but with on going harassment – like taking away some items of “public hazard”, and just recently, tents and sleeping bags.

JOHN DARLING:  John Darling, poet, artist and film maker was farewelled in a moving ceremony in Perth that brought together the cross cultural influences of Aboriginal, Christian and Balinese Hinduism customs and belief.  I spoke, and quoted an academic who said “John’s contribution to Australian understanding of Indonesia was unique” – although John had asked that he would prefer to have his “essence” discussed. He was indeed a beautiful person.  Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa oversaw the appropriate Balinese rituals with grace, and when he spoke, conveyed moving words from his father, the Prince of Ubud. There was a Memorial service in Melbourne, to be followed by a ceremony in Bali.

My thoughts are with those that have also lost family members or friends, and those living with illness.

Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa in Perth for John Darling's ceremony

Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa in Perth for John Darling's ceremony. Photo by Made Wijaya

VALE:  Christopher Hitchens.  I am reading Arguably, a marvellous collection of Hitchen’s essays and articles. My friend Mandy said I should read his memoir Hitch-22 first.

VOICELESS WRITING PRIZE: To advance public understanding of the relationship between humans and animals – see www.voiceless.org.au.

MAIL:  Thanks for the emails, Christmas wishes, and sharing your stories on the blog and on the A Lion Called Christian website. Some people have had trouble leaving a “comment” on the blog – please email me directly if you are having trouble with this.  A Lion Called Christian showed again on Saturday night and I get such nice emails or messages each time.  This year Christian’s story has become better known in India and I’ve loved receiving emails and stories from there.  Thanks to Therasa, my sister Lindy, and Kylie for their help with the blog.

CHANEE: See Chanee’s latest video Sounding off about the forests about the deforestation caused by palm oil plantations. As I write this now, the tallest tree I can see from my windows, is being cut down. I wonder what the offence is – too old? Too high? Blocking someone’s view? I feel guilty that I never walked to the base of the tree and admired it up close and now it is gone.

CHRISTMAS GIFTS:  One can probably still buy online practical and useful Christmas presents from various Aid organisations.  From pigs, cows and goats to fruit trees, clean water and immunisation and educational needs.  I can’t really personally vouch for them but see CARE www.caregifts.org.au – gifts.  Also see www.worldvision.com.au/gifts and www.oxfamunwrapped.com.au. WSPA also have gift suggestions.  At this time many unsuitable pets are given as gifts and later discarded. This year it is “Red Dog” kelpie puppies (after the movie), but these dogs are sheep dogs and belong in the country.

SEASONS GREETINGS:  Merry Christmas if you celebrate it,  and hopefully some happy and relaxed time with family, friends and pets!  Happy New Year – some have predicted next year will be big, but the scientists have assured us it won’t be the end of the world! Good luck for the undoubted challenges and delights that lie ahead in 2012.