New Year 2011

January 22, 2011

Southern swell by Australian Kah Kit Yoong, Runner Up "Wild Places" category / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2010: This seems an appropriate photograph to lead with this year, with the power of water very much on all our minds with disastrous flooding in three states in Australia, and in several other countries.  Currently showing at the Australian Museum, Sydney I did not find this exhibition as breath-takingly good as last year – but it is still quite inspirational.  I love the wide participation and interest generated from many nationalities and from all age groups, and the spotlight on the often ravishing beauty of our increasingly endangered nature and wildlife.  You can take your camera and practise your photography on selected museum specimens.

FLOODS: Much of Australia has had drought conditions for many years, and there have been debates about water use, the condition of river systems, irrigation and desalination plants.  But many people have been fighting for their lives or losing everything in recent floods in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. There have also been floods in other countries including South Africa, Sri Lanka, The Philippines and landslides in Brazil where many lives have been lost.  However, extraordinary qualities have been demonstrated – courage and heroism, stoic acceptance, outstanding leadership and great community spirit.  Over 100,000 volunteers turned up at the weekend to clean up Brisbane!

Little owls on top by Ilia Shalamae, Highly Commended "Behaviour of Birds" category / Wildlife Photographer of The Year 2010

PETS: Animals have of course been as much at risk as the humans and their stories here have been equally poignant and heart breaking.  At first, evacuation centres refused to take animals but that was swiftly overturned.  Trapped horses “screamed”.  Some cows knew to head to higher ground before people sensed the imminent danger.  Dogs have turned up days later. The veterinarian clinic at the University of Queensland became a “Noah’s Ark”.  In Brazil there was that very upsetting photograph of a dog sitting for several days on the grave of the owner.

On another note, in Spain they have just celebrated the annual Luminarias religious festival held on the eve of St Anthony’s Day which commemorates the patron saint of animals, but the photograph showed a man riding his horse through flames which seemed entirely inappropriate!  Anthony is my Christian name, and I’d forgotten St Anthony was the patron saint of animals.

Swamp heaven by Mac Stone, Highly Commended "Animals in their Environment" category / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010

LEADERSHIP: The Premier of Queensland has earned wide admiration for her leadership during the crisis, managing to strike the right note and appearing “real”, while our PM sounded awkward.  Our government has become so enslaved to focus groups, polling and media cycles, like many governments in the world. They seem cowered and cautious, with most responses and actions seeming so scripted and careful at a time in our history requiring strong and intelligent leadership.  Barack Obama also seems to have struck the right note talking about the shooting in America in Tucson when he said we must “remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together”.

The uprising in Tunisia, which has many other neighbouring despots feeling justifiably insecure, was partly provoked by information disclosed by WikiLeaks. This is why in principle I support WikiLeaks, which I hope will lead to more transparency, not less.

In a recent article “Time to turn traditional enemies into allies” (SMH 15-16th January 2011), Stephen Kinzer (author of Reset:Middle East), argues that there has to be a new paradigm for the Middle East as America’s allies are failing them very badly.  Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have proven to be too duplicitous.  Kinzer argues that the West has much more commonality with countries like Turkey, the world’s most democratic Muslim country. The US-Iran relationship he describes as the “most dysfunctional in today’s world”.  Many people in Iran are well educated and would like democratic reform, and are against the radical Sunni groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda. They could  actually help to stabilise Iraq and Afghanistan. Kinzer writes that the wisest policy would be to “try drawing Iran and Israel out of their isolation, and ultimately make them feel safe enough so they can make the security concessions the world needs them to make”.  I remember Obama early in his presidency spoke initially in a conciliatory way about Iran, and was derided for it.  I recently saw Annie Leibovitz’s exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and her photograph of Bush, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld etc was the most chilling photograph I have seen for along time, and the world is still paying the price for what they inflicted on us.

MISC. STATS: 30,000 deaths from guns in the US each year – and gun sales have recently escalated; 800 million Indians live on under $2 per day, and the legislated minimum wage is about $3 per day; according to the FAO, there were 100 million less undernourished people in the world last year, but still leaving 925 million, although this represents 1 in 7 as opposed to 1 in 4 40 years ago; the average life span has risen from 59 to 70 years, and people are healthier, wealthier and better educated. In Australia apparently we have less violent crime, and are smoking less and taking fewer drugs.

LAST BLOG: I have remembered a few other things I wanted to say about India: although I was in the tea estates of Darjeeling and Assam, I didn’t have one cup of tea I enjoyed and loved getting back to my Dilmah!  In my hotel in Mumbai the staff surprised me by singing  Happy Birthday and producing a birthday cake which I found very touching, if embarrassing; and the exhibition of my Indian tribal art collection (Cross Art Projects, Sydney) is now in April.

Frozen moment by Fergus Gill, Winner of the 15-17 years category / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2010

CHANEE / KALAWAIT: Click here for Chanee’s latest news. He is seeking partners for a kloss gibbon conservation project.

SAVE THE BEES: Click here for AVAAZ’s petition to ban toxic pesticides that seem to be responsible for billions of bees dying which is endangering our food chain.

Moon Bear - Mr Sunshine

FREE THE BEARS: Mary Hutton, founder of Free the Bears Fund Inc. sent this photograph to a friend of mine who made a donation.  Mr Sunshine and his sister, freed from a cage, now live in an enclosure where they can roam and forage.  Click here to view the Free the Bears website.

TARONGA FIELD CONSERVATION GRANTS PROGRAM: Click here for information about Partnerships for Conservation.  They are partnering in projects that protect endangered species, save and regenerate natural habitats, and work with local communities. See information on the grants available in 2011.

WATCHING: I’ve been enjoying the cricket even if we were humiliated by our colonial masters the English, and tennis, which I especially like.  I am about to go to Melbourne for the Australian Open.

PLAYS: I’ve been lucky enough to recently see Cate Blanchett in Uncle Vanya, although I did not enjoy the performance or play as much as A Streetcar Named Desire last year when she was unforgettable as Blanche. I’ve just seen Geoffrey Rush in The Diary of a Madman and his performance was also a “tour de force”. I saw him having a fag at the stage door on the way in…

TONY FITZJOHN: I have adored reading Tony Fitzjohn’s Born Wild. He had begun working for George Adamson between our 1971 and 1972 visits. Christian was the first lion he met and they became great friends and he says they learnt and grew up together. It was one of his life’s “most valuable relationships”.  Whenever volatile Joy Adamson came to camp, he and Christian went and stayed down by the river, which I find particularly sweet. It was a miracle that Tony materialised, and with his personality and many practical skills he helped George maintain his lion rehabilitation program, and the camp at Kora, for many years up until George’s murder.  He describes the deteriorating situation and great dangers in the 1980s at Kora – indeed Kenya.  In addition to photographs I hadn’t seen before, I particularly liked more information about Christian and I cried, or sobbed, quite a few times. Tony felt that as he was the same age as us, he was a sort of substitute for us in Christians’s mind.  I didn’t realise Christian had had such a hard time from the local wild lions. He luckily grew very big and somehow negotiated a “truce”  with some of them, and was actually seen sitting with Scruffy, a particularly tough lion. Ultimately however, he had to find somewhere else to live. Tony writes very well about some of the unique qualities George had; “There was a quality of peace and stillness about him that clearly put the lions at ease. Everything he did, he did competently, deliberately and calmly”. With his knowledge gained over many years, George could accurately anticipate most animal behaviour. The book also details information about the leopard program Tony initiated (a leopard fell in love with him), and everything he has achieved subsequently at Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania.  He continues George’s work as Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, and he describes the recent rehabilitation and plans for Kora. Christian was last seen heading for Meru National Park in 1973, an indication of his successful rehabilitation. I can only agree with Tony when he said: “We were proud of him but, God, I missed him”.