August 12, 2016
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN
Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 in an unprepossessing and long closed down zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon, UK. Who could have imagined after five generations of captivity in Europe, he would be returned to Africa, and be successfully rehabilitated by George Adamson of Born Free fame?
For those unfamiliar with Christian’s story, see his website alioncalledchristian.com.au.
I am most often asked what happened to Christian. No-one knows. Christian was last seen by George Adamson in early 1973 when he was nearly four years old and was growing into one of the largest lions George had ever seen. He had survived the most dangerous years, although life as an adult lion would also always be very challenging. George thought he was looking for a territory of his own, away from the aggressive local lions of Kora. We like to think Christian created a pride of his own and lived at least the average 10 -12 years of lions in the wild.
Christian remains very popular and I continue to get many emails from nearly everywhere – often in waves from another round on Facebook, or as other countries discover him – like India more recently.
It was the posting on YouTube in 2008 of our reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 which brought Christian’s story back to a new and wider audience (100 million+ views), and our clip was recently listed as No. 5 on the top 20 to 1 Viral Sensations (Channel 9).
Sony bought the rights to our story in 2008. Given Christian’s enduring popularity, and the many relevant issues his life exemplifies, I am disappointed that many years have now gone by and sadly we are no closer to going into production. My feelings are exacerbated by the fact that there is such a crisis in wildlife, indeed we are at a tipping point for many species, not only lions, elephants and rhinos. Christian’s story could possibly make a contribution to generating more urgent action on behalf of animals in the hope of saving and protecting lives.
I’m relieved I’m not presently writing or commentating about the precarious state of the world which has unravelled even more dangerously than when I last blogged. We all deal with uncertainty and anxiety in different ways. I find it very relaxing living near the water, beside a National Park on the edge of Sydney. I like to walk, garden, read, spend time with friends and family, listen to Radio National, spoil the cat, and even do some interesting work! Despite the criticisms – and the costs to Brazil and the local population, I’m loving watching the Olympic Games and am, so far, finding it life-affirming.
GAWPT: Leonardo DiCaprio is such a great advocate for the environment and through his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has recently donated US$15.6 million in grants – towards wildlife and habitat conservation, to aide indigenous rights, and to combat climate change and solve environmental issues. Visit his Facebook page here.
Included among the “grantees” in Africa are the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (GAWPT)/ Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary, and the Elephant Crisis Fund (in partnership with Save the Elephant) – both very worthy recipients.
WFA: Working for Animals has a new website www.workingforanimals.org.au primarily about the WFA animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India. I am on the Committee of WFA and will contribute to News and Blog items from time to time. The founder, Christine Townend, is very well known internationally for her pioneering work in animal welfare and rights, and is well informed about the most pressing animal issues and debates world-wide.
We both hope to attend the upcoming Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in Mumbai 21-23 October 2016. We spoke at the last FIAPO conference in Jaipur in 2014 and look forward to hearing wonderful and dedicated people talk about the successes and advances made in animal welfare in India, despite the many challenges.
WFA will continue to post information about various campaigns – and I remain especially concerned about canned hunting in Africa, and the continuing captivity of Tony the Tiger at the truck stop in Louisiana.
TIGERS: I remain very excited about seeing tigers at close quarters in the Ranthambore National Park in India earlier in the year. On my return I watched several fascinating David Attenborough tiger documentaries, but as they were made several years ago, I hope the poaching and sale of tiger body parts and skins, and the flawed assessment of tiger numbers in the wild etc, are now more closely scrutinised and policed. Many issues conflate including the pressures of balancing sustainable tourism, competition for resources, the danger of wildlife to local villagers, and the expansion of wildlife corridors etc.
Officially, there are 2266 tigers approximately in India at present and 70% of the world’s tigers are in India. The most recent WWF survey states that 3890 tigers remain in the wild. I think seeing tigers up close reminded me of just how privileged I have been to know – and love – a big cat, and to be reminded of their magnificence, their power, and how they need us to fight – harder – for their survival.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!
February 5, 2016
Now I am back in Sydney I can’t quite believe I saw this tigress in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan a week or so ago! She has been nick-named Arrow head and is 2 years old. Apparently she recently fought with her mother and is the age when they go off and live on their own. Our attention was drawn to the several jeeps with tourists that had parked quite near her as she rested in rushes beside a lake. All of us were thrilled – to be fortunate enough to sight a tiger (we had been unsuccessful on our first safari in the morning), and to just stare at the beauty of her markings and her magnificence.
I am feeling very blessed by the animal world after this recent visit to India where I was fortunate enough to see several Bengal tigers – in the wild – at very close range, and two leopards. India’s wildlife is as exciting as Africa’s – it is just sometimes more secretive, mysterious or requiring more patience. This can lead to disappointments …or bliss. A few years ago I only saw a tiger paw mark in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, but the compensation was seeing many elephants and rhinos on beautiful plains.
There was great excitement as the tigress got up and moved closer towards us and settled in the rushes again, perfectly camouflaged. All their markings are distinctive – and we can see why she has been nick-named “Arrow head”. It was mid-afternoon and still quite hot.
I spoke at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations conference in 2014 in Jaipur, and at the Minding Animals Conference at Jawaharlal Nehru University last January – so I have an idea of how much work is being done on behalf of animals in India – from the front line work of animal shelters, to all the wildlife conservancy work and related issues such as habitat destruction, wildlife tourism, protecting wildlife corridors, animal-human co-existence etc. In India and elsewhere, the academic field of Animal Studies is generating essential, diverse and often fascinating research work.
I am on the Committee of Working for Animals which administers animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Founded by Christine and Jeremy Townend, I am full of admiration for what the shelters achieve – for animals, and for the local populations.
I was fortunate to have lunch with Vivek Menon, Founder and Executive Director of the Wildlife Trust of India, who was about to fly to London as he was nominated for The Economist’s Inspiring Innovator of the Year. He is the first wildlife conservator to be nominated – specifically for his work in securing, restoring and expanding corridors for elephants to prevent their accidental deaths and human-animal conflict. These corridors are traditional migration routes. Vivek also told me that as a result of the Minding Animals Conference last year that the WTI co-hosted, JNU is now offering an Animal Studies course.
After the first tiger sighting recently in Ranthambore National Park, we then drove to a lake where there were many animals and birds. This second tiger appeared unexpectedly. With the imminent danger of a tiger, animals and birds quietly disappeared, except for a few wild boars. This male tiger is also about 2 years old although he was bigger and heavier than the tigress we had seen earlier. He passed quite close to us and was striking looking. I felt quite vulnerable in our open jeep, although the tiger could not have been less interested in us. He was hunting. We watched him for half an hour, as he quietly moved closer and closer to an oblivious solitary wild boar knee-deep in the lake. As dusk was falling we had to leave the park and I’m glad I didn’t witness a grisly end to a magical afternoon.
I travelled with friend and wildlife photographer Avi Gupta who took these photographs on my new Sony A6000 and familiarised me with the camera. As these encounters with tigers are relatively rare – and often fleeting, I didn’t want to miss “the moment” of actually seeing a wild tiger – or mess up the photographs. I did take some photographs with my trusty Lumix and I’ll share these next blog.
Last year I visited the Asiatic lions in Gir, Gugarat and was lucky to see several handsome young ones. We also saw a stunningly beautiful leopard that suddenly crossed right in front of us. The lions have now spread out of their sanctuaries, and according to a May 2015 census, an estimated 1/3 are now living outside, establishing new territories. This obviously creates problems for villagers and their cattle. I saw one tribal village at Gir that had been relocated to a safer position within the sanctuary – with a solar panel for a light above a well. Fortunately, the numbers of lions continue to increase, and currently stand at 523 in the region.
We next visited Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh in central India where we were lucky enough to have another tiger spotting…this time more fleeting. The number of tigers in India is estimated to be 2266 – and I have seen 3 of them! Jeeps materialised from nowhere and the tigress aged about 4 years old strode quickly across the track. Later, in another location, this male leopard (above) also crossed the dirt track. Next day we saw a very similar leopard, or it may have been him again.
As tigers and leopards are solitary and elusive, the safari guides rely on hearing the warnings of danger from other animals to each other. Spotted deer screech in a birdlike way, Sambar deer stomp their hooves, and langur monkeys cry out clamorously.
We saw many other animals including blue bulls, crocodiles, a sloth bear, and many birds, especially peacocks.
As we stopped to photograph some vultures, I asked Avi why he loved birds especially? He said “because they are everywhere”. The Tree Pi bird actually acts as a tooth pick for tigers – a dangerous job! Over 300 species of birds have been identified in Ranthambore National Park alone.
We also visited Panna National Park and stayed at the beautiful Ken River Lodge – overlooking the mighty river. A proposed dam would flood this tiger reserve where 32 tigers have been introduced. As it was raining I didn’t go on safari at 5.30am! On the way back to Delhi we visited the famous and magnificent Hindu temples at Khajuraho some dating from AD 900. The often erotic carvings have miraculously mostly survived intact. Near Agra I glimpsed the shimmering Taj Mahal which I have visited several times before.
TONY THE TIGER: Tony the tiger was never far from my mind in India and I have a renewed commitment to Tony the tiger in 2016. The Animal League Defence Fund say “our advocacy for Tony remains positive and strong” but time is running out. Please spread the word and have friends and family sign the petition to save Tony. There are many more tigers in private hands in the USA than there are in the wild in India, and this in no way ensures – or benefits, the long term survival of these truly magnificent animals.
The tiger replaced the lion as the National Animal of India in 1973 as part of a national tiger protection programme.
VALE: David Bowie (1947-2016). His emergence in the early 1970s had a huge influence on many of us and we are shocked by his death. I saw him as Ziggy Stardust (above) in 1972. We arrived in London from Australia in 1969 and this was at the tail-end of the “Carnaby Street” and “Kings Road” eras. Bowie’s genius, originality and imagination helped change and set the tone for the next decade and beyond. See this tribute in the NY Times here, and I liked his Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie here.
I enjoyed The Australian Tennis Open (although shocked by the match fixing allegations – even in tennis!), mid-flight I finally saw Blue Jasmine with the riveting Kate Blanchett who I had seen in A Streetcar named Desire, and I read Island Home by Tim Winton where he beautifully describes his relationship and growing awareness of our unique environment in Australia, and how it has influenced his ideas, writing and life. We too grew up surrounded by bush and I was horrified to recently hear “children playing outside” referred to as “unregulated nature time”! Tim Winton concludes “Aboriginal wisdom is the most under-utilized intellectual and emotional resource this country has”.
October 4 – World Animal Day, FIAPO (Jaipur Conference), Christian the lion, Minding Animals Conference 3, United Nations, Bengal Tigers etc
October 2, 2014
OCT 4th World Animal Day: According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, half the world’s wild animals have been lost in the last 40 years from habitat destruction,hunting and deforestation. On this World Animal Day let’s work together and combine our efforts to reverse these terrible statistics – their survival is at stake.
SYDNEY: People are meeting beside Sydney Town Hall at 11am on Saturday 4th October. Organisers seem to be a coalition of Lobby For Lions, Animal Works and felinefoundation.org – see their sites for information. The March is for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions primarily…but let’s salute all animals!
MELBOURNE: fortheloveofwildlife is staging a fund raiser, primarily for a documentary exposing the cruelty of farming lions for the canned hunting industry in South Africa. Apart from the entertainment, the evening will feature Ian Michler, a well-known wildlife journalist from South Africa.
Please consider signing this petition to ban lion trophy imports into Australia – this is a very effective way of discouraging hunting.
FIAPO: The Federation for Indian Animal Protection Organisations staged a very informative and effective conference in Jaipur. A federation can combine all our voices and efforts and be very influential. People were eloquent advocates on behalf of a wide variety of animals and issues. In attendance were esteemed elders, generous patrons, dynamic individuals and groups, and many concerned and enthusiastic young people.
There are strong laws to protect animals in India – it is the implementation that is problematic.
My Opening Address, illustrated with photographs, seemed to be quite well received – they love Christian’s story! As the auditorium was full of animal lovers, this was not surprising. The audience clapped when Christian jumped up on us – and some shed a few tears – it was beautiful!
This is the link to the original and my favourite Youtube clip – as it includes Whitney Houston’s emotive back track I’ll Always Love You.
At the conference there were many dedicated and hard working people (including some interesting foreigners that came to India on holiday and stayed). Many run animal shelters where dogs, donkeys, camels, snakes, birds etc are rescued and cared for. Sessions ranged widely from dealing with the packs of dogs and rabies in communities, bears that have been rescued from a life of “performing” with gypsies, to the huge tracts of land required for elephants that have been “rescued” from miserable lives performing or working.
Listening to many of the speakers made me think deeply about animal rights, and how we use animals selfishly for our own purposes. We farm them cruelly for our food, work them hard, and use them for our “entertainment”.
We can visit animals in the wild and observe them appropriately…we can walk in our national parks full of birds…swim under water in our oceans….visit reputable wildlife sanctuaries, “open air” zoos, and conservancies where vast tracts of land are protected.
Incidentally, behavioural ecologist Justin O’Riain who is currently visiting Australia, has said electrified fencing can reduce the vexed issue of animal/human contact – from the baboons in the suburbs of Cape Town, to deterring lions and elephants from local villages.
We can stay home and watch the most beautifully filmed and educational nature documentaries. We can donate to causes we believe in. Most satisfyingly, on a daily basis we can look after the dogs and cats in our lives – preferably rescued from shelters.”Companion pets” so aptly describes the roles they play in our lives…
Fellow Working for Animals committee member Jeannette and I visited the Camel Rescue Shelter established on the outskirts of Jaipur. Camels and a donkey were recuperating, and a cow was on a drip watched by the anxious owner. It was a reminder of just how tough village life remains for most Indians. While India seems to get easier to visit, and the middle class expands, one can’t forget that for the majority of Indians life remains extremely hard. Many live on the street, or in slums, and life remains precarious. The weather is extreme –hot and cold, monsoonal rains caused flooding in Kashmir (blamed on climate change, deforestation and unsuitable over development), and temperatures I would find unbearable (45!). Overall I love the vitality of Indians and many have a great sense of humour. The new PM Modi seems energetic but it is too early to judge him.
MAC3: I’ve now been asked to show the 2009 documentary A Lion Called Christian at another important conference – the Minding Animals Conference 3 in New Delhi 13th January – 18th January 2015. Minding Animals furthers the development of animal studies internationally and helps to establish legal and moral protections.
After three days of the conference I looked forward to a walk around the attractive City Palace, and dinner at the luxurious Rambagh Palace.
BENGAL TIGERS: I was deeply shocked to find out there were only 1500 Bengal Tigers left in the wild in India. Indians were equally shocked that only 20,000 wild lions remain in Africa. I was asked by people at the conference how to protect tigers – and a starting point was this petition on my last blog (sent to me by Francois) which most Indians were not aware of. 96,300 acres of forest are to be cut down in the state of Maharashtra for bamboo and teak – but it includes vital tiger habitat. Please sign the petition and circulate.
UNITED NATIONS: By abolishing our carbon tax Australia should have been embarrassed at the United Nations summit on Climate Change. 300,000 marched in New York and Obama is certainly talking about climate change with much more urgency. On the other hand our government is in denial and we are now on the wrong side of history.
We have no designated Minister for Science and funding for science and innovation is at a 30 year low.
Our PM sidestepped Climate Change to give a banal speech at the United Nations about joining the Coalition against the Islamic State. Our indecent haste to rush to war has “added to” making Australians more of a target to extreme Muslims. Our politicians (and some Murdoch journalists) are still in denial about the repercussions from the 2003 Iraq invasion and are no doubt in danger of making the same mistakes all over again – such as having no exit policy. War has conveniently taken the attention off the government’s inept handling of the budget and I still can’t think of one major initiative that gives me any confidence in the government. Often I’m shocked at their behaviour: like the recent decision to send our asylum seekers to Cambodia for resettlement. Cambodia is one of the worlds poorest nations with an appalling human rights record.
I liked the break in India from our newspapers…the conservatives in the Murdoch press here are still blaming “ the Left”, the ALP budget deficit, or imaginary “bias” at the ABC.
EBOLA: Isn’t this an emergency the world is inexplicitly slow to respond to?
HONG KONG: The world is admiring the bravery of your citizens as you demonstrate for your democratic rights and we wish you well.
READING: I adored reading Gore Vidal’s Palimpsest memoir and Alice Walker’s unsettling and often funny In Love & Trouble. I find them fascinating individuals but I also enjoyed the more cerebral and interwoven stories in Belomor by Nicolas Rothwell. I’m listening to music by our composer Peter Sculthorpe, who died recently. His collaboration with William Barton on the didgeridoo is hauntingly beautiful.
Looking forward to celebrating WORLD ANIMAL DAY with you all around the world.
Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), Tigers, Lions, CACH, Dolphins, Gaza, World, Palau
September 6, 2014
FEDERATION OF INDIAN ANIMAL PROTECTION ORGANISATIONS: I am about to leave for India to speak at the INDIA for ANIMALS conference in Jaipur on September 12th. The conference is organised by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO). I will be talking about Christian the Lion of course, but I will be wearing my Working for Animals hat. I am on the committee of WFA which runs two animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, and are co-sponsors of the conference.
WFA is also supporting the elephant training camps to be held in Kerala (October 11-13) and Assam (October 15-17) with Australian vet Dr.Ian MacLean, encouraging a more humane treatment of elephants. There seems to be a growing movement against tourists riding them etc…
I always love visiting India and I will report back! Life in India can be challenging in many respects for humans and animals, but both seem to be intimately woven together in the rich tapestry of India.
TIGERS: Habitats for wild animals are being destroyed by the competition for resources and growing populations all over the world. There may be as few as 1500 Bengal tigers left in the wild in India. Unfortunately the government of the Maharashtra State has just given permission to clear 96,300 acres of critical tiger habitat – threatening their existence. You can sign the petition here.
LIONS: I was asked to appear on the Sunrise program on Channel 7 which was acknowledging the 25th Anniversary of George Adamson’s death. It turned into a bit of a Christian love fest and everyone at the channel was very into protecting animals and I had the chance to talk about the evils of Canned Hunting. You can watch the interview here.
I presume many of my fellow lion addicts have seen the marvellous images on the fatherofthelions.org website. I was especially interested in some of the photographs donated by Virginia McKenna. Photographs include images from the filming of Born Free, Joy and George Adamson, and photographs of the well established camp at Kora, Kenya.
Andrew sent this short clip of a most enthusiastic leap by a lion into someone’s arms!
Francois sent this link to photographs of “Awkwardly Sitting Cats”. As cats are usually so elegant I do not entirely approve, but I have found them amusing and this cat does look very comfortable observing the world go by.
CACH: I do encourage you to read this comprehensive and reasonable article (sent to me by the indefatigable MoonieBlues) An Analysis of the lion breeding industry in South Africa by Anton Crone here. The article has helped me understand the complexities of the situation and the vested interests we (and the lions) are up against.
As part of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting Australians may consider emailing our Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt to encourage him to initiate a ban on the importation of hunting trophies. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
You could all consider approaching the relevant politicians in your own countries, as banning the importation of hunting trophies and animal body parts from Africa is one of the most effective measures to inhibit the farming, hunting and killing of wild animals.
I will also be mentioning in my email to the Minister the 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoils which were to be dumped – against all scientific and environmental advice – into the Great Barrier Reef. There is now a growing movement against this (assisted by an informative Four Corners program on the ABC), and there is now talk of “on land” dumping of these spoils that contain high levels of acid sulphate.
I will also refer to the Renewable Energy Target, which despite an election promise, the government is itching to abolish. A well-known climate-change denier and advocate for the fossil fuel industry was asked to do a review! There is considerable public support for renewable energy but the government is sabotaging investment – and jobs – in the renewable energy industry. With the scandalously retrograde axing of the carbon tax, carbon emissions from the country’s main electricity grid have risen by the largest amount in nearly eight years.
DOLPHINS: The incorrigible Japanese are beginning their annual slaughter and capture of dolphins, porpoises and small whales (see here) at the now notorious “cove” in Taiji, Japan. Up to 20,000 cetaceans are killed each year in Japanese waters, and the Japanese are submitting a “revised program” to hunt minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean in 2015.
GAZA: While we concentrate on the appalling statistics of injuries and death in the thoroughly trashed Gaza (2143 dead Gazans and 70 Israelis), do see this article (which comes with a warning about “Graphic Pictures”) about the destruction at the Gaza Zoo. In hostilities it is often overlooked how animals are also collateral damage. I don’t know how either side could claim “victory”. There is undoubtedly a world backlash against the Israelis for their disproportionate heavy-handedness leading to the deaths of civilians and children. Criticism cannot just be dismissed as “anti-Semitism”. It is estimated it will cost $8.4 billion to rebuild Gaza. The only power plant was destroyed, 17,000 homes were razed and 106,000 residents are displaced, and an estimated 500,000 children are unable to go to school.
Now Israel intends to “confiscate” a further 400 hectares of the West Bank!
While I am not a supporter of Hamas, their chilling rhetoric is matched by what the ultra-right Jewish settlers on illegal West Bank settlements say about the Palestinians. They, equally, want to eliminate the Palestinians – and not just drive them from their own land.
WORLD: I did want to end this blog on a more positive note, but what with the alarmingly inadequate global response to Ebola, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and horrific beheadings etc in the Middle East, it is difficult. Australia has rushed to support the USA against the Islamic State even before being asked, seemingly oblivious to the lessons of our last disastrous (and unnecessary) 2003 incursion into Iraq as part of the “coalition of the willing”. We are giving “humanitarian aid” to the Kurds at this stage which somehow includes weapons. The situation is so complex and potentially catastrophic in Iraq and Syria it is not surprising that Obama does not have a clear strategy. Australia inadvertently appears to have taken sides with the Shiites against the majority of Muslims who are Sunnis. Our mostly moderate Muslim Australians are tired of being scapegoats. Our PM refers to “Team Australia” and has shown little insight into why some young Australians do feel disenchanted and marginalised here and have become radicalised, even taking the truly drastic step of fighting for the Islamic State.
Our PM obviously thinks his foreign affairs activities will be a diversion from the most unfair and worst received budget many Australians can remember. One has to question his judgement however at taking sides unnecessarily which includes Japan against China and Ukraine against Russia. He has just visited India to sell them our uranium!
PALAU: There was an interesting story on Foreign Correspondent on this beautiful Pacific island. It is both a good and bad story. The bad is that it is being over-fished – Bluefin tuna down to 4% of previous numbers, and Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna are also threatened. The good story is that the government wants to ban commercial fishing (with foreign companies taking 94% of the profits out of the country), and wants to develop an “eco –tourism” industry. They have created a shark sanctuary and many tourists are coming to swim with sharks! While I won’t be one of them, I applaud this initiative as the way of the future. No more hunting or man-handling of wildlife, or unsustainable practices – just the joy of observing nature on equal terms, and supporting positive contributions to protect our unique, irreplaceable and beautiful fellow creatures.
WORLD ANIMAL DAY OCTOBER 4th: This day is a “special opportunity for anyone who loves animals..to acknowledge the diverse roles that animals play in our lives…” I am aware of activities in Sydney and Melbourne and will blog with more details soon. I do know that Alison Lee Rubie of Lobby for Lions is hosting a Sydney March for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions on the 4th October, meeting at 11am beside Sydney Town Hall. A March will be followed by a picnic in The Domain.
MAIL: Thanks to Jane, Deb, MoonieBlues, Aidan and Tania, Andrew, Francois and all who have commented or emailed about recent blogs!