Christian the Lion. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Happy Birthday Christian!

I love celebrating this day and thinking about Christian and his life. I am looking forward to hearing from some of you today as I know many of you feel the same!

I love this photograph of Christian and I think it was one of the first taken by our friend Derek Cattani possibly in January 1970.  Christian was about 5 months old.

In London recently I enjoyed reminiscing with friends like Derek who were very close to Christian. We all agreed he was the most wonderful animal with the friendliest and most engaging nature, and he deserved his story to turn out so well. He faced a very uncertain future when he was for sale in Harrods department store in London (in late 1969), but he miraculously returned to Kenya in 1970, to George Adamson of Born Free fame.

George Adamson described Christian as surprisingly easy to rehabilitate into his natural life – after 5 generations in Europe.  Christian survived his first very vulnerable years and grew into a huge lion.  He was last seen in 1973 going off in the direction of Meru National Park where there was more game and possible respite from the wild lions that had made life difficult for him since he had arrived at George’s camp at Kora in Kenya.

One of the many lessons we learned from our experience with Christian was that while some see us as “saving” Christian – and we did have the best (if naive) intentions, we were unwittingly participating in and encouraging the trade in exotic animals. Harrods Zoo and the rather ghastly pet accessories shop that replaced it no longer exist I was pleased to see on my recent visit.

Our visit and reunion with Christian in Kenya one year later in 1971 unexpectedly became an internet phenomenon in 2008, and a new global audience of over 100 million people became aware of Christian’s story.  (See here for TadManly2’s original reunion clip on YouTube which he re-posted.  He was the person who added Whitney Houston singing I Will Always Love You which helped the clip become so popular).

Many of you would have celebrated World Lion Day just 2 days ago. In this time of global political and social disruption, it is hard for animals to be heard and we must double our efforts on their behalf. Congratulations to Four Paws animal welfare charity for facilitating the recent removal to Turkey of 3 lions, 2 tigers 2 hyenas and 2 Asian black bears from a zoo in Aleppo, Syria. Local zookeepers have bravely tried their best to keep as many animals as possible alive during a terrible 3 years of war that has forced so many of the population to flee.

Christian in his favourite spot in Sophistocat. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

In London I saw Jennifer Mary Taylor who was a co-owner of Sophistocat where Christian lived and where we worked. Over the years many people visited her antique furniture shop to talk about Christian, even when she relocated. She has helped keep the flame alive.

It was also very good to see Christian’s friend Unity again after so many years.  She is an actress (in Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits for example) and had had a lioness in her apartment in Rome. She materialised very soon after we brought Christian home. They adored each other and she visited him nearly every day. She is quite small, and he could be boisterous and had sharp teeth and claws, so she often wore a coat for protection when she played with him. Sometimes I would hear her say…”You are too rough with me today I’m going to leave”. Christian would respond with contrite grunting noises.

I asked her why she had had such a good relationship with him. “I talked to him. We talked to each other”.

Christian and Unity in Dorking. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Not many lions would allow themselves to play ‘wheelbarrows” but Christian had a great sense of fun and companionship.

In the subsequent years Unity has managed to find other exotic animals to meet and get to know, but Christian remains a favourite.

After the pleasure of knowing Christian, I sound a hypocrite advocating for people to not have contact with exotic animals, or keep them as pets.  However, people can get just as much pleasure and love from their dogs and cats –and looking after a lion, and the safety of all involved, was an awesome and scary responsibility.

MAIL: I’m so pleased that people continue to send stories into Christian’s website www.christianthelion.com.au. Joe recently wrote that when he was young he visited a house in the English countryside with “a lion in their tennis court”. “As years went by I thought that I had made it up because it seemed so unlikely”. Then a few years ago he saw Christian’s documentary and realised that it was true. His father was a chimney sweep, and can you believe, he is now the chimney sweep for Virginia McKenna at the same house where he saw Christian all those years ago!  As most of you know, Virginia McKenna  and Bill Travers played Joy and George Adamson in Born Free, and they were our introduction to George Adamson.

CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine’s memoir A Life for Animals was recently launched by Peter Singer in Melbourne. This was appropriate because Christine started Animal Liberation in Australia after reading Singer’s book in 1976, and then Animals Australia with Peter Singer in 1980. He wrote the Foreword to her book. Christine subsequently spent many years at Help in Suffering an animal shelter in Jaipur and is revered in India for her work for the welfare (and rights) of animals. She writes very insightfully (and modestly) about her 100% dedication and commitment to animals, her feelings about them, and her time in India.

A Life for Animals can be ordered here .

With help and support Christine and Jeremy Townend founded animal shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong (KAS) in India. She runs them from Australia with the help of excellent and dedicated staff. See the Working For Animals website for more background information and the invaluable work of the shelters.  I am on the Committee and hope to be attending the AGM with Christine up in those beautiful mountains next October.

Michael Kirby, esteemed ex High Court Judge, launches Christine’s book A Life for Animals on the 25th August at Gleebooks, Glebe, Sydney. See details here.

DONALEA PATMAN: Congratulations to Donalea who has been awarded an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia). She was instrumental in prohibiting the importation of lion trophies and animal parts into Australia – which was followed by a number of other countries. She is currently working on a campaign No Domestic Trade against the selling of the surprising amount of ivory and animal body parts in Australia. You can support and find more information about this campaign here.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

TIGERS: Tigers had their International Tiger Day on the 29th July, and these beautiful animals, like most wildlife, need our support more than ever.  I can still feel the excitement at seeing this tiger in the wild last year in India.
Tigers in India: There have been at least 67 unexplained deaths of tigers so far this year. While there are several reasons for their deaths, primarily it is the illegal trade in tiger body parts to China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Cambodia. Tiger populations had been increasing, but there are still only approximately 2,226 in India, representing 60% of the world’s population of 3890.

Tony the Tiger. Photograph sourced from change.org.

Tony the Tiger: See here for the latest news on Tony who is now 17 and not in good health. Tony has many supporters and the ADLF in the USA do their best in court case after court case to have Tony removed from the Truckstop in Louisiana to a better environment. The owner seems to just keep stalling with appeal after appeal, and somehow got “specifically exempted” from the 2005 Louisiana State law banning the private ownership of big cats. For Tony to be relocated to a reputable sanctuary please sign this petition here.

Kato in Symbio Wildlife Park. Photograph by Ace Bourke.

Kato the Tiger:  Like many of you, I have found the lack of progress for Tony the Tiger very depressing. I was reluctant to go to my local zoo to meet the tiger that I heard was there. I finally met Kato last week. He looked beautiful of course, but was listless. He is 15 years old and like Tony is half Bengal and Sumatran. He could live to 20. He had quite a large green space…but nothing to do. I pointed this out to a staff member who replied that as tigers are “solitary” this was OK. In the afternoons Kato goes back to no doubt a much smaller space behind the scenes, and is rotated with a brother and sister. She has been placed on contraception and these Sumatran young adults apparently get on well, although I would think in the wild they would have separated by now.

ZOOS: No matter how much more space animals and birds are given in zoos, or how attractively designed and landscaped, to me most wildlife in zoos seem resigned, depressed or anxious to escape. Zoos in the last few decades have had to deal with changing community attitudes to animal rights and welfare, and have had to emphasise and develop their serious and successful research, educational and conservation efforts. Kato’s zoo looked well maintained with many young staff. After going straight to Kato the tiger I, with others, gawked in wonderment at birds, cheetahs, kangaroos, snakes etc, and even farmyard animals seem exotic these days. I have to admit that people, especially children, were just fascinated. They are inheriting a world at a tipping point for wildlife and of species extinction. Will they be better educated and anymore effective than we have been on behalf of animals?

Despite the enjoyment animals provide, I don’t think they can be used for our entertainment at their expense.  Our relationships should be mutually enjoyable and beneficial.  We have our companion animals, we can watch many excellent wildlife documentaries, and these days many people can travel at least once to see the wildlife they are interested in.

I recently received a thoughtful email about issues to consider when donating to animal causes. Of course some support the work of zoos and some do not. Most animal shelters do a good and necessary job of looking after and rehousing animals in an urban setting. Some people only want to donate to a specific animal or project while others do not like donating to “administration” or boy’s toys.

I think conservancies are a very good idea where buying up and often fencing tracts of lands protects the wildlife.  Re-establishing traditional path ways and safe corridors, for elephants in India for example, is also proving very effective.

Peter Singer, a generous donor to animal causes, has a website listing the 2017 best charities working against global poverty.  He identifies outstanding charities “that will make sense to both your head and your heart”.

Love Story 1972 by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932 – 2002). Courtesy National Gallery of Australia.

ABORIGINES: Aboriginal artefacts and pigments excavated at a rock shelter in the Northern Territory are 65,000 years old. This has recently been verified by radiocarbon dating and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). Australian Aborigines are the world’s longest continuous living people and culture. Isn’t this amazing? They have survived invasion, colonisation, and mass dispossession.  They continue to endure marginalisation and discrimination when they should be respected and celebrated. Aboriginal art, for example, was described by Robert Hughes, the late art critic for Time magazine as “the last great art movement of the twentieth century”.

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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

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

CHRISTIAN:  Christian was in the news last month when Harrods announced they were closing down Pet Kingdom which had opened in the London department store in 1917. At the end of this London Evening Standard article, there is a link to lovely footage of Christian and the other lions at Kora in 1971. While Christian received quite a lot of press attention, apparently the most “famous” purchase from Harrods was by the (then) Governor Reagan of California, who in 1967 ordered an elephant, the Republican Party symbol.  I am pleased it has closed even though I am eternally grateful for that day in 1969 when we wandered into the Zoo – as I’m sure it was then called – and met Christian.  Last time I visited Harrods a few years ago I was upset to see it was full of the most expensive and unnecessary pet accessories, and offering pet pedicures and haircuts.

The Endangered Species Act of 1976 in the UK prevented some of the trade in exotic animals.  As I have said before, we did come to realise how we were perpetuating the trade in exotic animals by buying  Christian, and we have been criticised for this.  I would not want Christian’s story to ever encourage other private ownership of exotic animals. I am very concerned about the number and inappropriate breeding of so many tigers in private hands in the USA for example.  Some say we saved Christian, but truthfully, we could not resist him. While we vowed to secure him the best future we could, we did not imagine he would miraculously be returned to a natural life in Africa.

George Adamson

George Adamson

The indefatigable Aidan Basnett has added more photographs to the Facebook page which is a feast of George and Joy Adamson and lion-related photographs.

LIONS:  In Africa there are 70% fewer lions than in Christian’s time.  In West Africa, there may be as few as 400 lions left, with only 250 mature age lions, according to the organisation Panthera. Like so many other animals, these leaner-looking lions are facing shrinking habitats from encroaching human use.

STANDING UP: I was glad to see prominent people standing up for animal causes:  Caroline Kennedy objected to the annual horrific capture and slaughter of 250 bottlenose dolphins in Taiji, Japan, and Hillary Clinton spoke up against the trade in ivory – primarily to China, which is forcing elephants towards extinction.  Prince Charles,  William, and Harry have just spoken up against the illegal wildlife trade in a campaign which actually might have an effect.  WILDAID certainly has highly influential (and wealthy) supporters like the princes and David Beckham.  From their website http://www.wildaid.org/ I gather they concentrate primarily on education to change attitudes towards the illegal animal trade, ivory, and the use of traditional medicines.

The London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade has discussed the lack of action by the Chinese on the trade in ivory, tiger bones and rhino horns.  However, China has saved the panda, and stabilised populations of Tibetan antelopes and snub-nosed monkeys.  Also, after a media campaign and a new government policy, trade in shark fins has fallen dramatically.

Ivory tusks are stored in boxes at Hong Kong Customs after they were seized from a container from Nigeria. Photograph by REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Ivory tusks are stored in boxes at Hong Kong Customs after they were seized from a container from Nigeria.
Photograph by REUTERS/Bobby Yip

IVORY: A 30 tonne stockpile of seized elephant ivory is to be destroyed in Hong Kong, a major transit point into China. Read the media release from the International Fund for Animal Welfare here. The appetite for ivory (particularly from the expanding Chinese middle class), resulted in an estimated 22,000 elephants illegally killed in Africa in 2012.  Both the US and China (for the first time) have also burned stockpiles of ivory. 

BEARS:  Recently I saw the most horrific footage of bile being extracted from the gall bladders of roped bears.  This seems to happen predominantly in Asia, where it is estimated up to 20,000 bears are caged, with an estimated 3600 in Vietnam. Visit the World Society for the Protection of Animals website for more information.  There is also a flourishing trade in animal body parts for traditional medicines.  Changing attitudes will be difficult, and require sustained and strategic education and public awareness campaigns.

Whale

Whale

WHALES: the annual hunt and slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean by Japan began last month.  It is truly shocking to see footage of the blood and slaughtered whales in this unecessary exercise in stubborn nationalism.  The Sea Shepherd fleet has been shadowing the Japanese, and despite one skirmish, seems to have quite peacefully prevented the slaughter of any more whales.  The Australian Minister  for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb was very blunt, saying said that the government won’t be complaining to Japan as we don’t want to jeopardise a proposed free trade agreement!

Dolphin

Dolphin

The annual slaughter and capture of the dolphins at Taiji, Japan, unfortunately proceeded despite world condemnation.

SHARKS: 6 people have been taken by sharks off the West Australian coast in the last 2 years. The recently introduced W.A. Government’s shark culling program is using baited drum lines.  There were 16 Australia-wide protests by people against the culling.  Swimmers are philosophical about the danger, and conservationists say the baits will just attract more sharks and the culling will be ineffective.

Sofala, NSW

Sofala, NSW

HOLIDAY:  January used to be the long traditional annual summer holiday. I certainly relaxed, and watched lots of sport.  Without my laptop and often out of mobile range, I loved a few short trips travelling around parts of NSW visiting family and friends: the Goulburn district; through attractive Braidwood to Batemans Bay; up the spectacular south coast back to Sydney; and around Bathurst, including the picturesque old mining towns of Sofala and Carcoar. Much of the state is in drought, but it is a very beautiful country. I saw towns that were thriving, but many – like Bourke, are losing people to the cities with the subsequent loss of services and transport which only exacerbate their problems.  A convoy of 18 semi trailers with 500 tonnes of hay has just driven to Bourke – a gesture of support from farmers in the south for farmers in the drought stricken north-west of the state.  Queensland is 70% in drought.

Sofala, NSW

Sofala, NSW

I think there is a growing movement to at least discuss the idea of repopulating some of these dying country towns and local businesses with asylum seekers and refugees.  Both political parties have demonised them.  Perhaps we should regard them as “opportunities”, beneficial for the community, and we would also be fulfilling our international obligations.

Wind farm, NSW

Wind farm, NSW

I think wind turbines are very beautiful in their way, especially up close.  They have elegant lines and are monumentally tall.  However, they are an imposition, indeed a visual pollution on our marvellous landscape.  I hope wind farms generate enough power to justify themselves, as apparently they are in South Australia, and countries like Denmark and Germany.

CLIMATE: All of us around the world are continuing to experience unnatural weather – from the violent storms and continuing floods in Europe, to freezing conditions again in the USA.  Australia has had the hottest year and temperatures since recorded observations began in 1859.  In Sydney we  had the driest January.  I believe the 95% of scientists that say data demonstrates human induced global warming from carbon emissions is taking place, and contributing to the more frequent and more extreme weather. Unfortunately Australia’s government is defiantly going in a retrograde direction by proposing to cut the carbon tax/price which looked as if it would be effective in cutting emissions.  Since the carbon tax was introduced, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector are down 7.6%.

The government’s proposed replacement Direct Action is unexamined, untested and unexplained.  Unlike the carbon tax, there is no incentive for polluters to change their behaviour and reduce their emissions.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, has just embarrassed the government by asking it not to abandon Australia’s role as a “pioneer” in the debate on climate change.

See here for a video on climate change, with beautiful images of the earth from space.

Great Barrier Reef. Image sourced from National Geographic

Great Barrier Reef. Image sourced from National Geographic

ENVIRONMENT:  As many feared, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority has authorised the dumping of 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil from the coal port expansion at Abbot Point into the World Heritage Area Reef waters. Given some of the appointments to the Authority, this unfortunately was not unexpected.  This is environmental vandalism in an already endangered area and GetUp! is asking for funding to mount a legal challenge to this. You can contribute funds here or sign the petition here.

A historic Forestry Agreement in Tasmania in 2012 ended 20 years of fighting between the forestry industry, unions and conservationists which had divided the community.  The Federal Government is now winding back the protection against logging offered by World Heritage Status, by delisting 74,000 hectares, which includes rain forests and old growth forests.  This will jeopardise the new Agreement which seems to be working. This decision is related to local politics and the upcoming state election, and is unhelpful to the state Labor Government who are in difficulties already over the parlous economy.

GetUp! has a petition to the Minister of the Environment opposing this Tasmanian Forest delisting.

Port Hacking, Bundeena 2014

Port Hacking, Bundeena 2014

MIDDLE EAST:  The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 divided the collapsing Ottoman Empire between the British and the French interests in the Middle East.  As Anthony Loyd wrote in The Australian, these few “hastily drawn lines” were an “imperial clumsiness that ignored the nuances of tribes and restive minorities” which was “shrouded by subsequent dictators”.  With many of them now overthrown, the colonial constructs are unravelling.  The proposed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant which would include parts of Iraq and Syria, is an example of this.

Julian Assange’s father, John Shipton, chief executive of the bitcoin funded Australian WikiLeaks Party, intends to return soon to SYRIA with medicines.  He was part of a rather bizarre delegation a few months ago who had a cup of tea with Assad in Damascus.  But as one of them said “is it better to talk with Assad or talk of assassinating him?”, as our ex-Foreign Minister Carr had suggested.  I think Assad is indefensible, and just continuing his father’s contempt for Syrian lives.

One can only be pessimistic about the outcome of current talks aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict, or easing the conditions for millions of entrapped or displaced people.  It is very difficult to understand all the competing  groups that constitute the “Syrian Opposition”.  It is unlikely they would ever be united, and some groups are very extreme.

Photographic evidence of 11,000 bodies tortured and executed by the Syrian regime recently surfaced.   There has just been a “humanitarian  evacuation” for some starving people from Homs, but apparently some young men among them have consequently been detained.  One commented “I decided I’d rather be shot in the head than continue to starve to death”.

ISRAEL: Actress Scarlett Johansson became enmeshed in the debate over the economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel and the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.  She stood down as ambassador for Oxfam, unable to reconcile Oxfam’s opposition to all trade from Israeli settlements, with her role as spokeswoman for a company called SodaStream.

A recent Four Corners program on the ABC investigated allegations about young Palestinian children being arrested by the Israeli security forces, for intelligence gathering.  These children have mostly been accused of throwing stones and have been arrested in night time raids, followed by intimidating interrogations, and even allegations of torture. An average 700 Palestinian children are arrested, some further detained, each year.  UNICEF has found that the ill treatment of children who came into contact with the military detention  system  was “widespread, systematic and institutionalised”.

Just as alarming was to see a map of Israeli settlements scattered throughout the West Bank.  An extreme Israeli settler, Daniella Weiss, claimed that since the 1970s land was deliberately occupied to block the creation of a Palestinian state.  Seeing the hundreds of strategically placed settlements, I can’t envisage where a Palestinian state could be located.  Until Palestinians have better lives and futures, Israelis will not have the safety and security they too deserve.

Bundeena, NSW 2014

Bundeena, NSW 2014

SPORT:  I watched all five tests in the cricket Ashes series against England, unexpectedly won well by Australia, and we are now playing the South Africans.  January is always a big tennis month, with several lead up tournaments to the Australian Open.  The dangerous heat in Melbourne was the initial dominating story – 52.3 degrees on the outside courts.  Top seeds were defeated, talented juniors emerged (Kyrgios, Kokkinakis, Bourchard, Pironkova, Muguruza), while Dimitrov, Nishikori, and particularly winner Warwrinka stepped up.  Li Na was third time lucky – and sees her racket (x 8) as a friend. “If you look after her, she will look after you”. I think Jim Courier is a good commentator, as is Leyton Hewitt who has a disarmingly sweet laugh/giggle. It was a feast of previous stars – Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Chris Evert, Yvonne Goolagong Cawley etc.  Several are now coaches – some looking better than others: Edberg, Lendl, Chang, Becker, and Ivanisevic.  Rafa made it through to the final but was injured early, making it painful to watch in all respects.  He graciously said “Yes it was tough today. But many people in the world have a very tough day every day”.

All our sporting events have saturation alcohol advertising, and alcohol is usually involved in the celebrations – and we wonder why we have an alcohol-fuelled violence epidemic?

INTERVIEWS:  I have been listening to classical music much more again (encouraged by William from Florida), but I have also heard many fascinating radio interviews, some repeats.  Broadcaster Phillip Adams is one of our few public intellectuals and has had a fascinating and very important career.  He seems to have just worked on through his recent ill health. His interviews on Radio National are always very informative, and he and all of us were dazzled by the intelligence, humour and fascinating life story of Aboriginal Opera singer DEBORAH CHEETHAM.  Deborah sang at the opening of my colonial family exhibition Flesh & Blood at the Museum of Sydney in 1998.  To me, it was an electrifying, beautiful, haunting cry from the heart for the Aboriginal people dispossessed by families such as my own.

Adams also interviewed GENE ROBINSON.  His ordination as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 nearly split the Anglican Church because he is an openly gay man, married to his partner.  He is very intelligent, understanding, honest and courageous.  He reminded us that change does happen.  Up until 1967 interracial marriage was illegal in the US. That same-sex marriages are taking place, and that the majority of the population in many countries are not against it, would have been unimaginable not many years ago.

Colorado has become the first state in the US to begin the legal and regulated growth, processing and sale of marijuana for recreational use. Support for legalisation has grown from 16% in 1987 to 55% today.  So community attitudes can change over time….

I also heard Australian philosopher PETER SINGER interviewed. The three most important subjects to him are: poverty; animal liberation; and climate change. He was talking about his recent book The Life You Can Save, which is a growing movement.  According to the World Bank, over 1 billion people live in extreme poverty, with 1900 children dying a day.  In this annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they argue there is less poverty in the world today and that by 2035 there will be almost no poor countries.  There is a “new class of middle-income nations”.  Bill and Melinda also write that they believe foreign aid has been much more effective  than is sometimes claimed.

Peter Singer wrote the book  Animal Liberation in 1975, and you can read his very interesting essay on The Animal Liberation Movement here.

Christine Townend at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter 2010 Photograph by Ace

Christine Townend at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter 2010          Photograph by Ace

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Christine Townend convened the first meeting of Animal Liberation Australia in 1976. She had been profoundly affected by Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation. In 1980 they established Animals Australia. In 2010 I visited the animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India, overseen since their inception by Christine and Jeremy Townend.  I was very impressed with the care of animals by both shelters, located in  the spectacular foothills of the Eastern Himalayas.  I could see that animals just adored Christine, and that she adored them. Their Working for Animals newsletter is now online and you can read the January edition here. Vaccinations, birth control measures and many animal treatments have controlled the spread of rabies, and saved the lives of thousands of animals.

PETS: I heard a very interesting program about grieving for our companion pets.  An animal shelter and hospital in Melbourne even has a Pastor specifically for grieving.  According to some of those interviewed, the hardest thing is that many people around you, family, friends and work mates, just do not understand  how devastating the loss of a pet can be.  Of course, animals experience their own grief and loss.

Jeffrey Masson’s seminal book When Elephants Weep about the emotional life of animals was praised and referenced in the interview about grieving.  On his latest blog Jeffrey discusses the horrific recent “murder” of the young giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo.  Children (and adults) were especially assembled to watch the dissection.  I’m very much looking forward to Jeffrey Masson’s next book  BEASTS What animals can teach us about the origins of good and evil, due out in March.

I have only read reviews of Peter Bradshaw’s book Cat Sense.  It is a bold promise to “reveal the feline enigma”!  Bradshaw is a biologist who previously wrote In Defence of Dogs.  We are very aware cats are a law unto themselves,  are far less domesticated than dogs, and are much less dependent.  Most cat lovers like this.  Cats were worshipped by the Egyptians, and historically they actually DID something – they were used to catch rats and mice in houses.  Now they have taken up residence and are waited on!  Bradshaw does not think that domestic cats are habitual predators of birds and native wildlife.  While feral cats are no doubt very destructive, domestic cats are so well fed with balanced diets that there is no real need to hunt, and many spend a lot of time indoors.

Pelican by Sylvia Ross

Pelican by Sylvia Ross

MAIL: thanks to Sara, Deb, MoonieBlues, Michelle, Elaine, Helene, Heulwen, Jonny, Sylvia, and others for sending me great images, messages and information.  I am still to respond to some of you and I apologise.  I keep being told Christian’s story is big on Facebook again.

MISC STATS: The world’s 85 richest people are worth US$1.7 trillion (Oxfam); Mark Zuckerburg is worth $US19 billion but gave away nearly $US1 billion; Tiger Woods earned $78 million last year; Sochi Games cost $51 billion.

Kookaburra by Sylvia Ross

Kookaburra by Sylvia Ross

AUSTRALIA:  Australia is quite polarised politically at the moment and the level of our discourse is unfortunately not very sophisticated.  I am extremely disappointed by the new Abbott government so far.  I could list many examples:  clumsy diplomacy, especially worsening relations with our prickly neighbour Indonesia; climate change denial; threats against the ABC; broken promises; inappropriate appointments; excessive secrecy, and none of the promised transparency or accountability.  We are yet to see any economic blueprint other than some slogans like “open for business” or “infrastructure”, and their industry-assistance policy appears ad hoc and inconsistent.  The Government was caught embarrassingly off guard and literally speechless at the announcement that Toyota would cease manufacturing in Australia.

I find it hard to understand how it could be perceived that Abbott is doing a good job. Even one of his chief cheer leaders at The Australian, Dennis Shanahan has finally admitted that “the post-election politics were ragged, rusty and understandably clunky for the Coalition”, and that even Coalition MPs are worrying that they are appearing “hard-hearted”.

Australia could be such a modern, clever, even cool country, and play a major role in the world.  Many of the present cabinet  served in the previous conservative government, and I don’t want a return to the depressingly reactionary HOWARD years:  the sabotage of aboriginal reconciliation opportunities and the attempted discrediting of the “black armband” historians;  jingoism;  holding Australia back from becoming a Republic;  and taking Australia unnecessarily into 2 disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes, John Howard delivered a surplus, but he has been criticised for not taking greater advantage of the now ending mining boom, and for buying votes with “middle class welfare”.

I’ll let Sally McManus (and others) keep adding to this growing list of BROKEN PROMISES by the government, who in opposition hounded Julia Gillard from office over one supposed “lie”.  I was particularly horrified by their early attempt to break their election pledge for  fairer and more equitable education funding.

Predictably, the government has rushed to set up an expensive Royal Commission into allegations of corruption and intimidation in the  TRADE UNION movement.  It is the perfect issue to wedge the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, a former trade union official.  Previous commissions have led to exposing corrupt links between unions, builders, developers and businesses. I admire what the trade unions have achieved historically for workers, and I think workers often need protection and representation in negotiations with employers, who are in positions of power.  However, in 1992 40% of the workforce was unionised, but by 2012 it had dropped to 18.8%. The unions undoubtedly have an inordinate influence on the Labor Party, and although this should be curtailed, it is very unlikely to happen.  I hope the ALP will be an effective Opposition, have the strength to undertake necessary reforms, and do some soul-searching.

I’m now off to Hobart, Tasmania, to visit MONA, the now famous privately-funded Museum of Old and New Art.

Heading for MONA, Derwent River, Hobart TAS

Heading for MONA, Derwent River, Hobart TAS

Xmas CARD - v9a+

Thanks to Derek Cattani again for Christian’s Christmas card – I look forward to them each year.  Seasons Greetings to all.  We seem to have survived the Mayan end of the world prediction and may instead be “transitioning” into a new era.  According to Bolivia’s Government, it is the end of “hatred” and “lies” and the beginning of “love” and “truth” – with community and collectivity prevailing over capitalism and individuality.

Next hurdle is the US “fiscal cliff”!

I hope most of you have time off to relax with friends and family, and our pets of course.  I also hope the general public are more thoughtful about pets as appropriate presents, and ensure they are not later discarded and abandoned when the novelty wears off.

I have a friend who is very frustrated by his adorable labrador puppy which is chewing everything, and I’d love to offer to look after him.  However, already I can’t travel as much as I would like to as I am reluctant to leave my two cats in any other hands, so I don’t think it is the right time to add a dog to the mix.

DOHA: Given the alarming headlines about the warming of the planet, it was a disappointing compromise at Doha, rather than the urgent action required.  Several reports forecast possible temperature rises of 4-6 degrees by the end of the century. China is responsible for 80% of new emissions, and like the US, did not sign up to the extended Kyoto Protocol.  Some Pacific island states were not impressed – if the sea rises one more metre, their islands will be uninhabitable. Of scientific published peer review articles on global warming, 24 articles argue against, while 13,926  agree with the analysis of scientific data that global warming is real and humans are a factor contributing to it.

The leaked next Intergovernmental Panel report on Climate Change states, according to the SMH,  “Evidence in support of climate change has grown stronger and it is now “virtually certain” that human greenhouse gas emissions trap energy that warms the planet”.

In our Opposition party we have a few boofhead climate change sceptics who wear their ignorance with pride, and the party has a commitment to rescind the carbon tax/price. I’m sure this process would  be very complex, and the reversal  bad for business confidence and  investment certainty, as well as our international reputation.  Unfortunately, despite Julia Gillard’s resilience, polls keep indicating that the Opposition will win the next election.  Most intelligent people have experienced an almost seamless introduction of the carbon tax, accepted some modest price rises like 10% on an electricity bill, and now understand the need for it.

The Government has just abandoned the impossible promise to get the budget back into surplus.  Many economists and business people seem to think that this is the correct decision. The Government no doubt hopes for the distraction of Christmas and the summer holidays to drown out the predictable shrill reaction from the Opposition over this  “back flip”.

Tony the Tiger

Tony the Tiger

TONY THE TIGER: An update on Tony the Tiger is available here. It is rather depressing. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is waiting for the Louisiana Court of Appeal to hear their case, and waiting for a trial date to decide if Mr. Sandlin’s lawsuit will move forward. Can 2013 finally be Tony’s year? Perhaps we should put our money where our mouth is and donate to the ALDF Matching Gift Challenge.

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

I’m looking forward to seeing the movie Life of Pi, although like many people I have spoken to lately, I didn’t actually finish the book.  I hope the film doesn’t create a craze for people wanting tigers.  In the US there are far too many tigers already in private hands – more than in the wild, as we have discussed previously.

I’ve been loving Louis Theroux’s shows, and he is as ubiquitous as Stephen Fry on Australian television.  Recently, in America’s Most Dangerous Pets, Louis visited exotic animals in private “zoos”.  He was understandably quite nervous with many of the animals. The number of animals confined for life for human entertainment was staggering, and inappropriate cross breeding has negated any conservation objectives.  In African Hunting Holiday Louis accompanied Americans trophy hunting farmed exotic animals in Africa.  He found hunting quite distasteful and couldn’t do it himself.  He was mystified how people that profess to admire animals can shoot them?  One of the owners of the African farms said every lion would kill anybody given the chance, a statement I can contradict from my own experience!  The lions did look aggressive I must admit, but they were probably anticipating food.  Their behaviour was probably a response to how they had been treated.

Louis is the son of travel writer Paul Theroux.

Sadly, Koko the dog who starred in Red Dog has died aged 7.

MEDIA:  I know some of you think I rely too much on the mainstream press and you often draw my attention to many other sites on the internet.  I love reading the Sydney Morning Herald, and also listen and watch news and current affairs programs.  I jot down any new facts or insights on the subjects that interest me – and then often forget if I have quoted verbatim or tried to paraphrase them!  Most of us accept we can’t lead the debates, but we can all stand up for and support the causes we believe in, and together we can have a collective voice and influence.

I admire sites like Crikey, with their research, reporting and analysis of the news, but they have a huge staff!  Despite some of the information divulged by WikiLeaks, I’m sceptical about quite a few of the conspiracy theories on the internet, and don’t seem to have the time to visit – or revisit, many fascinating and informative sites.

Julian Assange still languishes in London in the Ecuadorian Embassy with no access to a  garden or courtyard for fresh air or sunlight for over six months.  I love his balcony speeches – what a ham.  Assange has said he wants to stand for the Senate in the next Australian elections!  WikiLeaks has often confirmed our worst fears about our governments, and piece by piece information or new theories do emerge from various sources.

ISRAEL:  For example, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson recently said that Israel bombed Hamas in Gaza to clear out their missiles because it wants to bomb Iran in early 2013.  This would not have occurred to me, and I’d have no idea if it is true.  The Hamas leader Khaled Meshal finally visited Gaza and still wants to “wipe Israel off the map”.  Equally chilling, Daniella Weiss, a leader of the settler movement, stated the now obvious; settlements and out posts were planned strategically to prevent a Palestinian state.  Announced by Nethanyahu as punishment the day after the overwhelming UN vote (138 to 8) against Israel, the E1 settlement has been described as the final piece in the jigsaw – the West Bank will be cut in half.

If the “two-state” solution is now impossible, a “one-state” would contain a (Palestinian) population without a vote, and a higher birth rate. Israel will have to decide what they want to be: a Jewish state or a democratic one?

View of Sikkim from the roof of DAS, Darjeeling. Photograph C. Townend

View of Sikkim from the roof of DAS, Darjeeling. Photograph C. Townend

CHRISTINE TOWNEND:  I was delighted to hear from Christine, founder of Animal Liberation in Australia in 1976, after her recent trip to India.

” Dear Ace, I was thinking of your visit with us to the Indian animal shelters when we were recently at both the Kalimpong and Darjeeling shelters which Jeremy and I founded in 1995 and 2007.  You’d be happy to know that both are running well with plenty of rescues, treatment of privately owned animals especially brought to the shelters, and also a continual ABC (animal birth control) programme.  As you know from your visit, the purpose of the ABC programme, according to WHO Guidelines, is to create a friendly, rabies-free street dog population.  The vaccinate-neuter programme has now created groups of old dogs hanging around with nothing to do, and fighting over food.  I may send you a report I’m writing  about this new problem or post it in due course on www.workingforanimals.org.au

Kalimpong Animal Shelter Photograph C. Townend

Kalimpong Animal Shelter. Photograph C. Townend

As you know Ace, I was managing trustee of Help in Suffering Animal Shelter in Jaipur from 1990 to 2007.  Jeremy and I had not returned there for over two years.  From the moment we arrived, that traditional Indian hospitality was extended to us.  All the staff , the CEO and managing trustee were waiting at the front gate, greeting us by placing garlands of roses round our necks. Jimmie, the dog who had been dumped outside the shelter when a tiny puppy, and whom I had reared so many years ago, wiggled and cried with joy. I, like her, felt quite emotional to be returning, especially when we entered the little cottage in the grounds of the shelter, where we had lived for so many years.  It had been cleaned and still looked just the same, with all the objects and books we had collected over the years still arranged neatly (in future the cottage will be used for guest accommodation).

Beau who was rescued from the street and will be rehomed. Photograph C. Townend.

Beau who was rescued from the street and will be rehomed. Photograph C. Townend.

Timmie Kumar, the current managing trustee, was very appreciative of the money we raised through Working for Animals Inc, the Australian charity which raises funds for the animal shelters in India. It was great that you were able to speak at this successful fund-raiser. As you know, Jeannette’s photographs of India just walked out the door, and I’m pleased that my paintings also sold.  We visited the new HIS Camel shelter on the outskirts of Jaipur. It must be the first of its kind in India. Dr Pradeep Singhal, who conducts the HIS Camel Project, also treated heaps of camels at the Pushkar Fair.”

TTwo rescued cats now permanently living at DAS, Darjeeling. Photograph C. Townend

Two rescued cats now permanently living at DAS, Darjeeling. Photograph C. Townend

MAIL:  Thanks for the kind words and comments from some of you last blog, and your Christmas greetings.  Sometimes I interpret them as a remark to me personally, rather than a comment to post on the blog.

INTERVIEW: You may like to watch my skype interview with Tiempo Real here.  Once I had adjusted to the jerkiness and the unflattering harshness of skype, I thought WilsonVega produced and edited an excellent story.

AASG: The Australian Animal Studies Group’s  News Bulletin for December can be accessed here.

WHALING: Correction: the Japanese are going to hunt whales again this season but in a scaled down exercise.  Their departure for the Southern Ocean has been inexplicably delayed, and  Paul Watson is again vowing to disrupt their unnecessary slaughter of whales with the Sea Shepherd and possibly a newly acquired vessel.

ENERGY:  More than 100 coal fired power stations in the US have been closed following environment and community group litigation campaigns to enforce mercury and air toxin standards.  A further 170 planned coal stations have not been built.

With the conservative government back in power in Japan, it is expected reservations and opposition to nuclear reactors will be pushed aside.

After coal fired power stations, the production, transportation and marketing of our food creates the most emissions. We need to buy locally and grow much more of our own!

Another "every cat should have it's own dog" photograph

Another “every cat should have it’s own dog” photograph

GEORGE MONBIOT: Again George has another interesting article and the premise is pointless Christmas presents where the “fatuity of the products is matched by the profundity of the impacts”.  Our “pathological”consumerism, has been “rendered so normal by advertising and by the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us”.  He quotes Annie Leonard who discovered when researching for her film The Story of Stuff  “that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale”.

This is at a time when so many in the US are doing it very hard and the inequality is growing.  In the US in 2010 “a remarkable 93% of the growth in incomes accrued to the top 1% of the population”.

PETER HARTCHER: It was heartening to read SMH journalist Peter Hartcher’s article Things aren’t as bad as they might seem.  Global goals for cutting infant and maternal mortality rates are being exceeded. The global “deep poverty” rate has halved, assisted by more donor aid than anticipated, remittances from family members working abroad, and some developing economies recovering from the GFC more quickly than others.

Worldwide deaths by armed conflicts has been declining steeply for 20 years. Hartcher concludes, on “poverty, war and human misery… progress is possible, progress is happening and progress is real. Of course there are always new threats. Climate change is the great, new, unmet challenge facing humanity”.

GUNS: Let’s hope Americans finally face the facts and act – 300 million guns in the community, 100,000 injuries per year, 30,000 of them fatal, and six mass shootings this year.  For now, there is support for Obama’s attempts at gun law reform and eliminating weapons of war from private ownership.  The powerful National Rifle Association’s comments have so far been so insensitive that some former supporters are wavering, but this debate will unfortunately be very ugly.  Handguns are apparently sacrosanct however, “part of American culture”  – pity about the 12,664 Americans  killed by handguns last year, compared to 323 by rifles and semi-automatics.  Naturally gun sales have soared.

Meanwhile, as discussed, in my own State of NSW,  the Government sometimes needs the support of the Shooters Party to pass legislation in the the Upper House, and this lobby group is exerting undue influence and has been able to stack committees.  Our gun laws are in danger of being weakened, and hunting is to be allowed in some National Parks even though a secret report from the Government’s own Environment and Heritage Department warned about the high risks to the public!  Over the summer holidays bush walkers and campers will have to start exercising extreme caution, but despite this, enjoy!

Merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful New Year to everyone.

cat and dog2

India

December 4, 2010

Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling

I have had a long love affair with India, and had many adventures there.  However, I had not been back to India since I organized a cultural exchange and exhibition of Aboriginal bark paintings for the Australian and Indian Governments at the Crafts Museum, New Delhi in 1999.  Michelle Obama visited the Museum recently and loved it, and I was also very pleased to see it remained one of the great cultural institutions in India.

I had been asked to India by Christine Townend (who founded Animal Liberation in Australia in 1976) to visit two animal shelters she and her husband Jeremy started in the foothills of the Himalayas at Kalimpong and Darjeeling, a “hill station” I had always wanted to visit.

Kalimpong with mobile phone tower- there are supposedly 710 million mobile phone users in India

KALIMPONG: Kalimpong Animal Shelter (KAS) was built on an acre of land on the outskirts of the town in 1995. It is an incredibly beautiful setting with lovely trees and views.  The various buildings sit discreetly throughout the site  – the clinic where people bring their animals, shelters for animals being treated, and a variety of  accommodation for the vet and volunteers.  After the heat of Calcutta/Kolkata, the temperature was very pleasant.

My quarters and washing!

I was adopted by 3-legged dog Lolly

Kalimpong Animal Shelter Clinic with staff and vet (right)

Patient, post operation

It can sometimes be exhausting just posting a letter in India, so how Christine and Jeremy Townend have purchased land, built all the facilities, secured funding, and set up and staffed two shelters, leaves me in absolute awe, and I want to help them in any way I can.  Most importantly, with their dog programs in Kalimpong where KAS operates, the incidence of human rabies has been almost, if not completely, eliminated.  However, in the remote villages rabies remains a serious problem. The ABC (animal birth control program), has resulted in fewer but much healthier dogs.

The 'camp' set up at a village out of Kalimpong

Local patients, and their owners

One day we visited one of the “camps” that KAS routinely sets up in outlying villages where people bring their animals for examinations, treatments, sterilizations and vaccinations.  They are advertised in advance, and the vet and staff work all day.  In the towns on an ongoing basis KAS catch roaming mangy dogs, treat, spay and vaccinate them, and drop them back where they found them.  We went on several lovely walks, and Christine was always on the look out for mangy or neglected and as yet untreated dogs.  Many people bring their animals into the clinic, and there is now a much better respect and care for animals.

In India, people outside of the big cities seem to maintain a strong sense of community in their villages which many of us have lost, and they also seem to be less alienated from nature and live in close proximity to their animals, many of which they utilize – goats, cows and farmyard animals and birds.  Of course it is easy to romanticize their lives – the splash of brightly coloured saris of the women in the field, but the reality is they work extremely hard for little return, many young people leave for the cities, and lives in the villages seem untouched by the extraordinary economic progress of the last decades.

The Teesta River on the road from Kalimpong to Darjeeling

Christine Townend and me (photograph by Jeremy Townend)

After a few days in Kalimpong we drove for several hours through spectacular mountain scenery and precipitous tea plantations to Darjeeling.  Both towns are perched on ridges and steep inclines, and roads, laneways and alleys are narrow and congested, and many of the people are Nepalese and Tibetan.  I read a fascinating book that explained much of the history of this still very contested Northern Frontier region – the biography by Patrick French of the British soldier Francis Younghusband, who amongst many extraordinary explorations and exploits enthusiastically led a not very successful British invasion of Tibet in 1904.  The book was a great history lesson on India and Tibet, and the imperial ambitions of Britain, China and Russia.

Darjeeling

Darjeeling Animal Shelter

DARJEELING: The Darjeeling Animal Shelter (DAS) which opened in 2007 is on the outskirts of town, smaller and in a more urban environment, but again, an attractive site with views of the mountains and valleys.  It was Diwali (Festival of Lights), and this particular day was Kukur Tihar – Honour a Dog Day  – and all the dogs (and cats, so they didn’t feel left out) -were garlanded with marigolds and pink tikas on their foreheads.  Isn’t that a beautiful idea and celebration?  It was just so gorgeous and I fell in love with several puppies and kittens, most of whom were trying to sit on Christine’s lap at the same time.  Again, all the staff were so friendly and the animals so lovingly and beautifully looked after.

HOW CAN WE HELP?: The resident vet is leaving after several years and going to the USA, and Christine and Jeremy Townend will soon need a vet urgently.  Does anyone know a vet who would like to volunteer?  I can assure them it would be the proverbial experience of a lifetime!  The Animal Shelters have the most loyal international supporters and donors.  Animaux Secours (Arthaz France) have provided core funding for Help In Suffering (HIS) and KAS since their inception, and One Voice (France) funded the building and running costs of DAS.  But any donations are most welcome, indeed necessary!  I’m going to make a donation to feed some of the dogs not adopted out that live at the shelters, like three-legged Lolly.  To view Christine’s Working for Animals Inc see: www.workingforanimals.org.au . 

Christine was Managing Trustee (and later Chair of Trustees) of the HIS Animal Shelter in Jaipur, and she and Jeremy Townend lived and worked there for 17 years.  They are now involved in the founding of the HIS Camel Rescue Centre on the outskirts of Jaipur, and I hope to visit next year. 

Two Puppies Thinking by Christine Townend

ASSAM: From Bagdogra I flew to Guwahati in Assam to visit the Kaziranga National Park.  The well known Wild Grass Resort sent a car to meet me, but I don’t recommend the mad 5 hour drive on a congested National Highway in darkness.  The owner of the hotel is interested in many aspects of plant and wildlife conservation, the preservation of local customs and traditions (local villagers dance each night for the visitors), and he is even a poet!  His son is writing a PhD at Oxford University on elephant and human conflict.  A warning – they don’t take credit cards, and you are a long way from any ATMs!

Wild Grass Resort

KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK: Covering 1002 square kilometres, the park consists of beautiful grasslands, wetlands and woodlands.  For several days I was driven to the different sections of the park and saw the Indian one horned rhinoceros of which there are several thousand and the park has successfully conserved.  I also saw Asian elephants, wild buffalo, swamp deer and rhesus monkeys.  There are nearly 500 different birds and the park is a favourite with twitchers.  It was extremely pleasant there, but it is hard to compete with the more exotic animals of Africa.  However, as part of an Indian experience, it is definitely worthwhile.  I have recently been sent a gruesome video of rhinos with their horns hacked off, and poaching in the Park is a great problem.  Two poachers were shot dead just after I left.

Rhinoceros Unicornis

TIGERS: There are also approximately 30 tigers in the Park, and they are rarely seen.  A tiger footprint in the mud was as close as I got to one.  It was gratifying to read lately that Leonardo DiCaprio has pledged $1 million to save tigers.  There are 39 tiger sanctuaries in India, and 8 more reserves wil be set up over the next 6 months.  This comes at a price however. Leopards are usually displaced by tigers, and the Soliga tribal people, for example, who have always lived in the forests sustainably and harmoniously and are not frightened of tigers, are currently resisting offers of compensation to be relocated elsewhere.

Unfortunately, these elephants are tethered and used for riding

CHRISTIAN: Christian’s story is not well known in India, and I only mentioned it once.  My young guide was very knowledgeable about animals, and when I said I had been lucky enough to meet George Adamson in Kenya and spend time with him and his lions, he had never heard of George, and was completely uninterested. When I left I gave him my favourite book – Christian the Lion’s scrapbook, and shyly pointed me out, explaining it was 40 years ago.  He flipped through it in a desultory way in a few seconds and then, without commenting, rolled it like a newspaper, and that was it!  So I still don’t know how Indians would react to Christian’s story – although as many worship Ganesh the Elephant (amongst many other gods), Christian’s story could capture their imagination.

READING: While I was there I reluctantly began reading Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.  My father had always loved him and I wondered what influence, if any, it had had on me and my sister as children.  It was riveting – what a storyteller!  I was very moved by Mowgli and his adoption then rejection by the wolves, then villagers, and absolutely terrified reading about Rikki-tikki-tavi the mongoose and his battle with the cobras Nag and Nagaina.  I am now very curious about Kipling.  I know he spent his early childhood in India, but where did his extraordinary empathy for animals come from?

CLIMATE CHANGE: At first I saw no reference to climate change, now customary in our newspapers.  However, over the nearly three weeks I was there, I read references to the need to curb pollution, and for energy and emission efficiency.  There were reports about “unscientific” mining and related water contamination, and the bleaching of coral reefs.  The recent India International Trade Fair in New Delhi had as it’s theme “energy efficient technologies and green products”.

In Mumbai there was concern and promised government action over the ecological imbalance caused by the destruction of mangroves.  There are many animal welfare organisations, and in addition to great concerns about tiger numbers, there is the serious problem of elephant/human conflict, and the number of deaths due to shrinking habitats and the encroachment or blocking of traditional elephant corridors.  An elephant was killed and another seriously injured on a railway track where 7 elephants died a few months ago.  On a lighter note, Pamela Anderson arrived to appear in Bigg Boss, a controversial reality show.  The crowd at the airport “snowballed into a mob” which understandably terrified her.  I didn’t realise we were fellow animal activists – she is a vegetarian, is an advocate for PETA and clean water (she brought water filters), and had written to the Prime Minister about examples of cruelty to animals in India.

How India juggles so many such seemingly impossible obstacles so marvellously astounds me – more next blog!

The sun setting on Mount Kanchenjunga