Bengal tiger

Bengal tiger. Courtesy National Geographic.

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.

TextaQueen Courtesy of sullivan+strumpf, Sydney

TextaQueen Courtesy of sullivan+strumpf, Sydney

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.

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk. Courtesy National Geographic.

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk. Courtesy National Geographic.

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.

George Adamson with Boy(left) and Christian wading in the Tana River at Kora.

George Adamson with Boy(left) and Christian
wading in the Tana River at Kora.

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!

sitting-cat1

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 greg.hunt.mp@environment.gov.au.

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.

Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photograph by Scott Portelli.

Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photograph by Scott Portelli.

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.

Gazan Zoo

Gazan Zoo

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

Palau

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!

Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling (photograph Ace Bourke, 2010).

The world is mourning the shooting down of the Malaysian Airline MH17 with the loss of so many lives. Our thoughts are with those innocent passengers, and their families and friends – so many people are touched by this event.  In Australia we have lost 37 people.  Unfortunately, conflict in the Middle East is also claiming many innocent civilians and it is hard not to feel extremely depressed at the moment about the human condition.

Migaloo the whale

Migaloo the whale

WHALES: Meanwhile, life for most of us goes on, and the whales, including albino Migaloo, continue their migration north along our eastern coast. One whale beached itself and after the efforts of many people over several days, finally swam off. The “debate” on whaling at the Australian National Maritime Museum was most interesting with a first-hand account by Jon Lewis of protests and lobbying which closed the last whaling station at Albany, West Australia in 1978. We also heard from brave participants on the Sea Shepherd fleet up against the Japanese whalers. I don’t think many Japanese actually eat whale meat and I know much is frozen and stored in warehouses. Apart from whaling, another threat to whales is the increasing acidification of the oceans, and the amount of plastic refuse that forms huge islands in the oceans. On exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum (until 1 February 2015) are the marvellous life-size photographs of whales by Bryant Austin.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Beautiful Whale. Photograph by Bryant Austin. Courtesy ANMM.

Ultra nationalist Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has been in Australia.  Our PM Abbott referred to the Japanese who invaded Sydney Harbour in submarines in the war in 1942.  He said “we admire the skill and sense of honour that they brought to their task, although we disagreed with what they did”. Needless to say these remarks were not well received by Australian soldiers (or their descendants) who fought in the war or by countries like China that were invaded by Japan. A Chinese Daily newspaper described our Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop “a complete fool” after some of her recent remarks, and predicted that her government won’t last long. Given that the Abbott government has 37 communications and social media specialists (at a cost of $4.3 million and compared to 7 people in the previous government), can’t someone vet these loose cannons? Abbott also recently offended our indigenous population by describing Australia as “unsettled or, um, scarcely settled” prior to colonisation. But trade apparently trumps all other considerations, and PM Abe was not even questioned over his intention to continue to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean.

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

Lion at Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria Australia

I could not resist this photograph of visitors and a lion at the Werribee Open Zoo, Victoria. They are actually shielded (from each other) by a glass wall. I am ambiguous about zoos even though they have had to make themselves much more relevant in the areas or research and conservation. I try not to be too cute or kitsch in my choice of photographs…sometimes a very fine line I know..

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Despite Amnesty International, the UN and other international human rights agencies documenting in Sri Lanka instances of torture, disappearances, muzzling of journalists, civilian deaths and threats to human rights advocates, our government has blithely returned a boatload of 41 people to Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka is “peaceful” according to Abbott. The UN has expressed “profound concern” at the actions of the Australian Government. Another 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers that set out in a boat from India are presently in an undisclosed location somewhere at sea in one of our Customs boats. Thirty children are among these people that have been held for four weeks in windowless cabins, while a High Court challenge to this incident is yet to be resolved. Our Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison hides behind 95 spin doctors to ensure we are told nothing! Meanwhile some children are manifesting mental problems in our detention centres and some mothers are self harming.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

Detention Centre. Photograph by Rosemary Laing. Courtesy Tolarno Galleries.

I think well known photographer Rosemary Laing captures so powerfully the isolation and forbidding nature of some of our detention centres.  I am ashamed to say most Australians are in favour of our tough and inhumane policy – which has bi-partisan support.  What is wrong with us? Is this the same in your countries? I think of the thousands fleeing into Europe from North Africa (1500 recently in one day), and the 52,000 unaccompanied child migrants detained in recent months for attempting to cross into the USA from Central America. 51 million people are displaced globally.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

Asa the Leopard. Photograph by Jack Kinross/Mountaintiger Photography.

LEOPARD: Asa the leopard is the subject of an important “rewilding” exercise in Nepal. Her story is such a typical example of human/wildlife conflict over shrinking natural habitats and the competition for resources. Thanks to Kate who emailed me (below) about Asa and she will be able to give us a firsthand account after her visit to Nepal in November: The leopard is one of the most persecuted and misunderstood of the big cats. In Nepal, a young leopard cub called Asa (which means hope) is the focus of the Leopard Rewilding Program, a collaboration between Wild Tiger Conservation Research and Development, the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project.  Born wild, Asa was orphaned at a very young age and came into the care of Jack Kinross from Wild Tiger in February this year. Asa soon became the motivation to set up a rewilding program for leopards who have been removed from their natural habitat often due to human/wildlife conflict situations. Asa underwent  months of training in a secure area in the Raniban Forest near Pokhara, including daily jungle sessions, and with minimal contact with humans.  It was decided that Asa would be rehabilitated in an area with a good prey base, and away from human habitation, within the Annapurna Conservation Area. After meetings with local communities, Stage 2 of the rewilding process is being launched this month. The rewilding location ensures that Asa, and future leopards in the LRP, will have minimal human contact and the chance to return to their natural habitat. The aim of the LRP is to address the ongoing and complex issues of increasing human/wildlife conflict in Nepal. Follow Asa’s story and the LRP at wildleopard.net and wildtiger.org.

CHEETAHS: Andrew has sent me these two articles on cheetahs (in Africa and Iran) who, like most other wild animals are also competing for habitats and struggling to survive. There may be 12,000 cheetahs left in Africa where they also face the problems arising from the spread of human populations.  There are programs to re-introduce, rehabilitate and “train” cheetahs to be wild. There may be only 40 to 70 Asiatic cheetahs left and they are the world’s second rarest cats. They are smaller and slighter and favour mountainous regions.  There is a concerted effort to protect them in Iran, with 125 game rangers to guard them.  Read here  and here.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs. 1762. Courtesy The National Gallery.

AUSTRALIA: We have had chaos in the Australian Senate with the motley collection of new senators (some are there on preferences with less than 1% of votes) creating havoc for an inept government. People are beginning to realise what a good negotiator ex PM Julia Gilliard was, with all the legislation she steered (undefeated) through a hung parliament. The maverick billionaire MP Clive Palmer is turning out to be everyone’s worst nightmare and it is still not really clear what any of his policies are beyond attracting attention for himself and creating chaos. Even The Australian seemed to have run out of patience with the Government’s incompetence with an Editorial (July 12-13) which was finally critical of the Abbott government’s performance and lack of judgement, as was Peter Van Onselen the previous week (July 5-6) in his article July 5-6 “Abbott trapped in downward spiral all of his making”. The mostly rabid letters to the editor of The Australian call for a double dissolution but with the polls SO low for the government this is most unlikely. 61% of the electorate find the budget “unfair” while Abbott’s approval is between minus 25 and minus 35.

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo

Snoozing koala joey trio, Sydney, Milli and Tucker. Photograph courtesy Taronga Zoo.

In The Rise and Fall of Australia, Nick Bryant describes how he was surprised on arrival in Australia several years ago about the inaccuracies of the stereotypes about Australians. According to writer/reviewer Louis Nowra, Bryant found a “confident country that was able to absorb many of the better aspects of British and American culture”. However Bryant is “aghast” at the low level of political debate (which, in the case of Abbott in opposition, did not transcend a few slogans), and poll driven policies and responses. He repeats Donald Horne’s quote that Australia is a lucky country run by second rate people. Bryant (and Nowra) wonder why when we have many talented and clever people and are reasonably sophisticated, we present ourselves in such a corny way to the world – kangaroos, Paul Hogan, meat pies etc.  For example, Barack Obama was given a football by Julia Gilliard and a surfboard by Tony Abbott.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Joseph Stiglitz has been in Australia and fortunately quite ubiquitous. See this article he wrote in the SMH titled Inequality: Good reasons to shun the US model about how inequality is now widely recognised as being bad for both the economy and society more widely. One in four families in America live “in poverty”. He thinks Australia would be mad to follow the USA education and health care models. Deregulating university would be a “crime”, while co payments for medical services would be “absurd”. He doesn’t think any of the “for-profit” universities in the USA are particularly good and that they just exploit poor people and are only good at lobbying. See the charmless Judith Sloan in The Australian for her predictable response to Stiglitz’s ideas titled Emulating the U.S? Don’t our politicians (and the Institute of Public Affairs) read or research anything? Stiglitz urges us to tax BAD things – like carbon emissions and pollution, and INVEST in people. He also countered the myth that we have a “debt crisis” and this is backed up by 25 of Australia’s leading economists who have rejected the government’s inaccurate claim that we have a “budget emergency”. They agree that it is only a medium-term “problem” rather than a “crisis”. Read this article by Gareth Hutchens titled Economists rubbish talk of debt crisis.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake.

California Red-Sided Garter Snake

CARBON TAX REPEAL: While the world moves forward on action on climate change, we move backwards!  I am ashamed to say the government has repealed the carbon tax, leaving us with no policy. It is the power and influence of the fossil–fuel industry that is preventing us moving to renewable energy in what has been described as a third industrial revolution. A recent ABC Four Corners program on energy called Power to the People was depressing in that it showed how dumb Australia’s leadership is compared to so many countries – the US, South Korea, China, Germany etc. But I actually found it heartening in that renewable energy will win! Australia may be left behind and miss the economic opportunities but renewables are unstoppable. While investment in renewable energy is now at a “standstill” in Australia, China poured $US19.3 billion into renewables in the June quarter.  See the article in the SMH by Ross Gittins Australia risking future as fuel fossil. The US electric car Tesla with no emissions presently costs $100,000 but with mass production will soon come down to $30,000. Apple is to be 100% off the grid and powered by its own solar farm. There now exists a large scale solar farm that could provide 90% of Canberra’s power needs. Storage of wind and solar energy etc for peak times (or night) is now practical and with increasing capacity.

Giraffees

Giraffes

The ever helpful Rupert Murdoch has just said Australia should not be building windmills and “all that rubbish”. Interestingly, Margaret Thatcher trained as a chemist and was one of the first to warn about global warming. Lord Deben, who was in her cabinet and now heads the independent UK Committee on Climate Change called Abbott’s repeal of the carbon tax “appalling” and that the Australian government was “more concerned with advancing its own short term political interests”.  He said that, in contrast, “66 countries that account for 88% of global emissions have passed laws to address global warming”. After the repeal of the carbon tax, the Executive Director of the Institute of Public Affairs sent a congratulatory email to supporters saying “we did it”.

Swan with cygnets

Swan with cygnets

MIDDLE EAST:  The extremist fighters of the Islamic State now control a third of both Iraq and Syria, and Israel has invaded Gaza. I’m not going to list the growing and disproportionate number of civilian deaths. According to an article by Ari Shavit who wrote My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, Israelis have been living in a safe and prosperous “iron -dome delusion” over the last few years, and are now vulnerable to “irregular forces of irregular entities” on their borders that will “disrupt Israel’s order”.  He is very sad that in the relative quiet of 2009 – 2013 “New thinking was never introduced and fresh ideas were not implemented”. This “undeclared cease fire” offered the opportunity for the major players to create a “unique dynamic for a two state solution”. In an article in the SMH Randa Abdel-Fattah examined the “unwavering” support for Israel by Australia (like America, Europe etc).  She thinks the “peace process” is a “farce” and that with the aggressive expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, a two state solution is “dead”. While acknowledging rockets have been fired from Gaza, she says “One has to credit a military juggernaut and a covertly nuclear state for its success in framing itself as victim even as it bombs a largely defenceless population”…living in what has been described as “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

Monarch of the Glen by Edward Landseer. 1851. Courtesy National Museums Scotland.

According to the Pew Research Centre, over the last 12 months, fear about Muslim extremism have been rising in nations with large Muslim populations. The exception is Indonesia where only 4 in 10 voiced concern about extremism. What is good, is that the majority are losing patience with Muslim extremism, and realise it is counter- productive for their futures.

Boy and marmot

Boy and marmot

We have just had an excellent SBS 4 part television series Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl which traces the history of the Lebanese community in Australia over the last 30 years. Given the difficulties of migrating to another country, racism, the language barrier and a lack of educational and vocational opportunities, inevitably a small percentage has been into drugs, crime and car rebirthing etc. Unfortunately the whole Lebanese community has been tarnished by this small minority and demonised by every “Muslim” incident around the world. It was alarming to be reminded of the racist Cronulla riots in 2005, which happened just across the water from where I live. Hundreds of white Anglo kids went on a drunken rampage baying for blood – whipped up by the appalling shock jock Alan Jones. Ugly revenge attacks followed. The Shire, as our area is called, does not appreciate difference or diversity. Perhaps one can understand how our great swimming champion Ian Thorpe, who has lived in the Shire, felt so inhibited – or frightened, of coming out as gay, when initially asked as a 16 year old.

IRAQ: In a recent article for The Saturday Paper titled The Iraq War’s coalition of the shilling esteemed academic Robert Manne revisits our participation in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and the fraudulent reasons for it. He concludes: “The leaders of the Australian war party – John Howard, Rupert Murdoch, Alexander Downer – and their most influential cheerleaders – Chris Mitchell, Andrew Bolt, Greg Sheridan – bear some responsibility for the deaths of half a million Iraqis…deaths still to come…the unimaginable suffering endured…And yet so far as I am aware – their supreme self-confidence apparently unaffected by the catastrophe they had helped unleash in Iraq – not one of these warriors of the right has expressed even one word of contrition or remorse”. ISIL has now declared an “Islamic State” and are the world’s richest militant group with assets of least $2 billion.

Raju the elephant

Raju the elephant

ELEPHANTS: Raju the elephant has been freed from possibly 50 years of begging for coins. Alerted by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in India, the North London charity Wildlife SOS travelled to India to free him, which was resisted by Raju’s current owner. Save the Elephant estimates that 33,000 African elephants have been killed annually between 2010-2012. This is driven by the price of ivory having tripled in the last four years. China is the world’s biggest market and the Japanese also have an appetite for it.  Sales of ivory in Bangkok have also nearly trebled in the past year.

INDIA: I have been asked to speak at the conference of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in September in Jaipur. I’m looking forward to meeting many of the delegates who are doing great work on behalf of animals in India. I have visited India many times and appreciate the magnitude of their challenges. I’m now on the committee of Working for Animals, who runs two animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. I blogged about my visit there in 2010. As you can see,the shelters are in the most beautiful locations and the animals are cared for so sympathetically. I accompanied the staff and vets to an outlying area where people brought in there cats and dogs for examinations and treatments etc.  Strategies such as these have eliminated rabies from the surrounding areas. WFA also contribute to the Human Elephant Learning Projects which offer instruction on more appropriate care of elephants, and the Help in Suffering Animal Shelter.

CONGRATULATIONS: Joko Widodo appears to have won  the presidential election in Indonesia. I fear Prabowa Subianto will be a very bad loser. The more I read about him the worse he sounds. Megawati and her daughter seemed a millstone around Joko’s neck during the election and are rather clueless members of an elite I hope Indonesia has now broken free of… Our new “teenage sensation” Nick Kyrgios beat Rafa at Wimbledon in the quarter finals (mixed feelings), but Djokovic beat Federer in a marvellous 5 set match. Congratulations to Germany for winning the World Cup.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

Head of a Stag by Diego Velázquez. Courtesy of Museo Nacional Del Prado.

MISC STATS: one person dies every 6 seconds from smoking; according to the UN 2014 World Drug Report Australia has the highest rate of ecstasy use, is 2nd for opioids, 3rd for methamphetamine’s, 4th for cocaine and 7th for cannabis; Tracey Emin’s famous unmade bed My Bed sold for $4.6 million at auction; 60% of Americans own pets and their pet industry is worth $55 billion annually; the Pope estimates 2% of the Roman Catholic clergy are pedophiles, but others say it is closer to 4%; Rebekah Brooks was paid 11 million pounds by Rupert Murdoch –see the ABC Four Corners report on the News of the World phone hacking scandal  Rupert, Rebekah and Andy – it is chilling.

MAIL: Thanks to Kate, Francois, Deb, Elaine, Andrew, Bob, William, Madeleine, MoonieBlues etc for contributions and drawing my attention to articles and images.

VALE:  I met Judy Cuppaidge sailing to New York on the SS France many years ago and we remained great friends. She was a well known landscape architect, horticulturalist, artist, writer cat lover and much else, and will be sadly missed.

WATCHING: On the ABC there is the second series of Art + Soul by curator Hetti Perkins. This series does gives the opportunity to look in some depth at Aboriginal art – the first episode was two artists I especially admire – Daniel Boyd and Jonathan Jones.

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

Akhal-Teke from Turkmenistan was announced the most beautiful horse in the world

There was also a poignant story on the ABC about the Big Ears Sanctuary where Jacqui Steele and her partner look after many unwanted animals or pets on 25 acres in Tasmania. For many of us it would be a dream come true with 400 rabbits, cats, donkeys, pigs etc. Unfortunately Jacqui is gravely ill but so far is undeterred although the future is so uncertain.  I think they could use our financial support to continue their excellent work – running costs are $90,000 per year. On 60 Minutes there was a story of the 800 mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, Congo. The gorillas have survived nearby civil wars, giant displacements of people, poaching etc and their population has stabilised, even increasing, due to the vigilance of the rangers. However, 150 rangers have been killed in the last 20 years. We should all pay tribute to the many devoted rangers in Africa and around the world who literally put their lives on the line for animals. There is a foundation to support them and their families – The Thin Green Line Foundation. Of course the new threat to the gorillas is oil and the UK company SOCO. It is alleged that they have corruptly been given exploration rights over 85% of the park, which would herald the end – for the Park, and for the gorillas.

GORE VIDAL: I attended a screening of Gore Vidal – The United States of Amnesia with the director Nicholas Wrathall available for questions. It has opened in cinemas in the USA and will be screened shortly on our ABC.  You can view the trailer here. I found it a marvellous documentary and Gore was so intelligent and perceptive.  He was well positioned as the ultimate insider/outsider, with an aristocratic family close to political power, and surrounded by celebrities and famous people.  He was so ahead of his time. He was among the first to warn about many of the issues we are still grappling with: economic inequality (which he spoke of in the 1960s); the almost inescapable power of big corporations; the power of the neo cons; electronic surveillance; American imperialism and how this has inevitably made America a target; and he was scathing about virtually all modern presidents… He was a brilliant writer, was urbane, witty and bitchy – and devastatingly sarcastic about people like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and William F Buckley. Everything rings so true and is so relevant TODAY!

Christian The Lion painting

Christian The Lion painting by Karen Neal

New Zealand artist Karen Neal has captured a very good likeness of Christian many of us can recognise. She very generously donated the proceeds of the sale of the painting to the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. There are limited edition prints of this image and you can contact the artist direct on her website.

It is the first day of summer and the weather here has been wonderful, and after some rain, the drive through the Royal National Park to Bundeena is beautiful, with many flowering native trees.  The jacarandas, oleanders and bougainvillea have also been particularly beautiful throughout the suburbs. In the Blue Mountains last weekend I saw waratahs and rhododendrons in the prettiest colours. I have resurrected my vegetable garden and have eaten some salad greens already. While I was mulching some of the plants on my hands and knees, one of the cats jumped on my back like a jockey. Always so helpful.

Bougainvillea, Bundeena

Bougainvillea, Bundeena

AUSTRALIA: Our political debate recently has mostly been name calling rather than examining important legislation the government somehow keeps generating.  The Opposition just says “no” to everything and produces few alternative policies.  To counter accusations that he is a “misogynist”, the Opposition leader has suddenly surrounded himself in public by his wife, his statuesque daughters and he even trotted out his mother and sisters.  He has been letting his female Deputy lead parliamentary attacks. Neither leader is popular but Julia Gillard is clawing Labor’s way back in the polls and this is enough to keep deposed, but ever circling PM Kevin Rudd at bay.

However, the PM is being dogged by a 20 year old darkening shadow from her past when as a lawyer she did some work for a boyfriend who it seems turned out to be pretty dodgy.  This story has been prosecuted primarily by Murdoch’s The Australian over many months, and an increasingly shrill Opposition keeping it alive.  So far there are insinuations and alleged discrepancies, but not precise accusations or proof of any wrongdoing.

Another shadow is the ridiculous promise to return the budget to surplus, which is looking very unlikely, especially with the drop in commodity prices, a 45% decline in Chinese investment in Australia, and no income from the contentious mining tax.

STATES: The new conservative governments in Queensland and New South Wales have between them opened the way for development unfettered by some previous environmental safeguards, or access to legal advice by communities from bodies such as EDO . Uranium exploration and nuclear energy are back on the agenda.  National Parks are suddenly vulnerable to shooters, horses and cattle grazing etc.  Public service jobs have been cut and while the respected Gonski Report recommended that $6 billion needs to be spent nationally to remove the inequalities in the education system, the NSW Government  responded by slashing  the education budget.  Some Arts courses have been eliminated or made prohibitively expensive and even a major literary prize has been scrapped.

Meanwhile the previous Labor government is being exposed and humiliated at ICAC for actions involving a powerful family and their mates, inside information from a disgraced ex Mineral Resources Minister, and the potential for them to make many millions of dollars through alleged corruption in relation to coal exploration leases and tenders.

On Sunday I attended a protest in Bundeena against shooting in National Parks.  Bundeena is surrounded by the Royal National Park (and the sea) and thankfully we are exempt from shooters.  The NSW Government needs the votes of the Shooters Party to get legislation through the Upper House and are blatantly prepared to accomodate their cruel, anachronistic ideas and practices.  Apart from the danger to bush walkers and others, the indiscriminate shooting of feral animals makes no contribution to environmental conservation or preservation.  We are being encouraged to write to the Premier Barry O’Farrell c/- Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney 2000.

Jacaranda, Bundeena

Jacaranda, Bundeena

CLERGY: Recently a policeman wrote a letter to the NSW Premier about the lack of action by police and the Catholic Church on child sexual abuse by clergy.  This has now led to a broad national Royal Commission which will encompass all institutions and organisations involved with children. The Catholic Church has felt “smeared” by reports in the media of their inaction and obfuscation, but six times more accusations are against the Roman Catholic Church, with very few incidents reported to the police.  The interests of the Catholic Church always seems to be put ahead of the victims.  After a meeting with Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, the parents of two abused young girls described him as a “sociopath with a lack of empathy”.

Meanwhile the Anglican Church has a former oil industry executive Justin Welby as the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Although women have been ordained clergy for 20 years, a recent decision still prevents them from becoming bishops. This is a very disheartening, especially as more women than men are joining the ministry.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: Conditions for asylum seekers living in tents in Nauru, possibly for years, have been described as “appalling” and “completely unacceptable” by Amnesty International.  More than 7500 Australia bound asylum seekers have arrived by boat since August, not discouraged by the hypocritical and inhumane government policies, or the very dangerous journey (7 asylum seeker boats have sunk in 3 years with the loss of 400 lives).  Appallingly, the “race to the bottom” by both parties just gets deeper and deeper.  Australia’s mainland was even excised from our migration zone!

Into seas without a shore, 2012. Photograph by Mark Kimber. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Mark Kimber builds miniature sets with added special effects, and then photographs them. I think he is very creative and imaginative and this image of the ship is so evocative – and ambiguous, I could not resist buying it. I loved many of the photographs in his recent exhibition The Pale Mirror.

ENVIRONMENT: Our Environment Minister Tony Burke has been very busy and quite successful with some highly contentious issues.  He has juggled the competing interests in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (irrigators, communities, environmentalists etc), and placated opposition by spending a “flood” of money over the last few years on already beneficial  infrastructure and “buy-backs”.  Environmentalists still think that not enough water will be returned to maintain the health of the rivers.  The long running forestry dispute in Tasmania may be finally close to a resolution, or a workable compromise.  The supertrawler has been banned from fishing in Australian waters for two years and the Japanese have cancelled this year’s whale hunt.

2.3 million square kilometres of Marine Parks around Australia have been declared.  Unfortunately there has been a 50% increase in coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef – due to agricultural run-off, hurricanes, but primarily star of thorns. There is a GetUp! campaign asking for support to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and to ask Tony Burke to commission an independent scientific review of mining operations affecting the reef.  The dredging to build new port facilities on the coast of Queensland is proving very destructive.

Catlin Seaview Survey

Catlin Seaview Survey

Log onto Catlin Seaview Survey to explore the Great Barrier Reef while we have it!  The Australian Marine Conservation Society International Union for Conservation of Nature lists endangered fish – and what  fish we should eat and not eat.

LIVE EXPORTS:  With the recent cruel and unnecessary slaughter of 20,000 Australian sheep in Pakistan, the live animal exports issue is again being debated.  Apparently New Zealand has phased out live exports trading which has been profitably replaced by domestic processes.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  I think we are at the point of accepting  – no longer debating, that the climate is changing and  global warming is a factor, and humans contribute to this.  People will debate timelines, severity, solutions etc, but many more countries are beginning to understand the urgency and are taking action. It took Hurricane Sandy however, to finally have the words “climate change” mentioned during the US presidential campaign. According to a very alarming Report to climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, the release of greenhouse gases from the melting of the Arctic permafrost “could ultimately account for up to 39% of total emissions”.

In Australia, official meteorological records kept over 100 years from across Australia, have shown that there has been a 1 degree rise in land and sea temperatures.  Spring now comes two weeks earlier and we are having more rain “than ever”.  The World Bank has forecast what could be a disastrous rise of 4 degrees before the end of the century – also confirmed by a UN Environment Program report, while Price Waterhouse-Coopers forecast 6 degrees. Much greater effort needs to be made urgently by all countries. With the carbon “tax” implemented, Australia may even be ahead of our projected targets and timelines.

Rather disgracefully, many of our own scientists felt it necessary to go to Canberra recently to protest at how their research on, for example, climate change, sustainable stocks etc is questioned or ignored, and underfunded.

ENERGY:  Sixty- six coal seam gas wells may be scattered throughout dense Sydney suburbs, just as new research shows considerable amounts of methane are being released into the atmosphere from CSG.  The public is finally understanding what has caused the huge rise in electricity prices over the last few years (“poles and wires”), with the carbon price/tax, accounting for only 10% of the rise.  Coal consumption is down 30% in the US, and solar seems to be more and more widely utilised. Ten percent of Australia’s energy is now “clean energy”.

At Jenny Kee’s recent exhibition "Expressions of Waratah" with the painting 45 Million Years of Beauty

At Jenny Kee’s recent exhibition “Expressions of Waratah” with the painting 45 Million Years of Beauty

MEDIA:  I, fortunately, can work from home mostly. I listen avidly to the news on radio early in the morning (Fran Kelly Radio National), and read the Sydney Morning Herald when it is delivered. Like a robot I turn off the radio and sit at my computer at 9 am – it must be my Protestant work ethic. Lately I have been loving listening to the radio much more throughout the day.  Friends, especially artists in their studios, have been telling me this for years.  There are so many interesting people out there that know about such diverse and fascinating subjects, and they have often just written a book about it.

The ubiquitous ex PM Kevin Rudd has been giving interviews from all over the world, at any hour of the day or night.  He interviewed Radio National host Phillip Adams and they were both very intelligent and interesting.  What a pity Rudd apparently was such a control freak and difficult and demanding to work with.

The always interesting and sometimes controversial Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton is giving the annual Boyer series of lectures – so far about the supposedly surprising emergence of an Aboriginal middle class, and the opportunities for some in the mining industry. Marcia is a supporter of Noel Pearson and the Intervention in Aboriginal communities, and she seems to be getting more conservative.  Perhaps she has just seen too many failed policies in the past – including the idealistic but seemingly now disparaged policy of Aboriginal “self-determination”. People that object to the destruction and degradation of the environment caused by mining were described by Marcia as “a ragtag team of wilderness campaigners and… disaffected Aboriginal protesters”.

The six part series Redfern Now on the ABC has been an excellent and tough portrayal of the lives and problems confronted by many Aboriginals in the city – including  tensions between those that are in the new middle class, and some of the extended family and friends living in places like Redfern who are not doing so well. Redfern is a gritty inner city Sydney suburb, close to the Central train terminal and handy for Aboriginal country visitors. Many Aboriginal families have lived their for generations and have a very strong attachment to the place and the community.  As it is close to the city it is now undergoing gentrification, and many Aboriginals and others will be displaced.

Journalist Mark Colvin’s Andrew Olle lecture was very interesting about the media.  We know newspapers may have 5-10 years left.  There will be very little time (or budget) for investigative journalism. News will be computer generated by an algorithm.  There will be an even greater explosion in blogging and information dissemination through social media – much of it which is generated by spin doctors and publicists.  The Director of the ABC quoted a reporter out covering Hurricane Sandy in Lower Manhattan, who said he was more up to date by watching the live time action of the many twitter feeds throughout the city as the storm advanced.

GAZA: The Israeli/Palestinian war seemed to be announced on Twitter and other social media portals.  The assassination of Ahmed Jabari, head of the Hamas military wing was posted immediately on YouTube by the Israeli Government.  There was no world outcry at the assassination of a government official – just an almost 100% support for Israel for retaliating against the also unacceptable rockets fired from Gaza on Israeli citizens.

The Australian-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group is one of the largest in Parliament with 78 members.  The informal group for Palestine is 20. Victorian Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou said “What I struggle to understand, there seems to be this fear of offending Israel…To be honest with you, I don’t get it. This is an international issue and if you take an intellectual approach to it, it’s about an ongoing occupation that goes to the question of  justice, one people being subjugated by another….I can’t see how my colleagues can’t see this. I don’t understand how you can refuse to see what is happening to the Palestinian people is wrong”.  Expressing opinions about either side does not necessarily mean you are anti the other side or reject their right to exist.  Surely there can be no security for Israel until the Palestinians feel much less aggrieved, and somehow, a peaceful two- state coexistence established.

The PM is a staunch supporter of Israel and was rolled overwhelmingly by the party caucus into voting “abstain” instead of “against” the very successful vote for observer status for Palestine in the UN.  I think there is an international attitudinal sea change happening, with the “peace process” being recognised for what it is – more a “stalling process”.  A lack of any resolution provides more time for settlements to encroach into the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making a  viable Palestine less and less possible.

Gillard was warned (by her friends) that to vote  with the US and Israel against the rest of the world would be “on the wrong side of history”.  She argued that voting in favour of Palestine would “hurt the peace process” because the US has threatened to withdraw funding for the Palestinian Authority.  No doubt the Palestinians will be punished by Israel over the UN vote, and the US should be increasing financial support for the Palestinians and helping them to build their economy, not threatening them.

Apparently our Foreign Minister Senator Carr believes that “as a friend of Israel, at times you’ve got to save it from itself”.  This reminded me of another remark made years ago: “the Palestinians never miss a chance to miss an opportunity”.

Egypt’s President Mursi earned international praise for his role in the Gaza cease fire, although I’d say it was more Obama’s influence behind the scenes. It is however another indicator of the various and complex changed scenarios, agendas and realignments in the region, post Arab Spring, that require new strategies and approaches.  Next day Mursi granted himself wide autocratic powers “to speed up the transition to democracy”!  This move was primarily aimed at circumventing the judiciary, who are made up of many Mubarek appointments, and who annulled Mursi’s first attempt to form a constitutional assembly.  It has been back to Tahrir Square.

Lives continue to be lost as the war drags on in Syria but the world seems to have given up caring or counting the deaths… 40,000 in 20 months, and millions of refugees now facing winter.

Christian and George Adamson

Christian and George Adamson

MAIL: I received an email from Minding Animals International which detailed upcoming Preconference and Partner Events in New York, Cape Town, Gold Coast, Sydney, Vienna and Berlin. Thanks for the photographs of Christian (and other animal photographs) found on the internet by some of you like Usasportswarrior and Deb, and interesting stories, articles, and emails etc from Elaine, Lisa, Scott, William, Diego, Heulwen, Laverne and others, and apologies for late replies.

VALE: Albie Thoms, film-maker, writer, social historian, and a lovely person who will be very much missed.

US: The world seemed to be holding its collective breath for the US Presidential election, and now for the looming “fiscal cliff” of December 31st.  Still experiencing hard times, a majority of Americans voted very intelligently, and even backed same sex marriage in three states, and a liberalising of some drug laws in others. Romney had a better than expected campaign but the Republican Party has a shrinking base and was shown to be “too old, and too white, too male”.  Unfortunately at a time like this, that calls for reform and attempts to reach a wider support base, parties apparently usually get even more conservative, as evidenced by the emergence and appeal of the Tea Party. Four billion dollars were spent. The Republicans were outmanoeuvred by Obama’s very sophisticated campaigning technology, and  well organised  network of volunteers. Hurricane Sandy did interrupt Romney’s momentum. Yes, there is a degree of schadenfreude for big losers like Karl Rove, Fox News, tweeter Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, who I’m sure Obama would love to pay back for his support of Romney against him. On the other hand, Nat Silver picked the winners in all 50 states.

Every cat should have it's own dog!

Every cat should have it’s own dog!

CHINA: While we may never know – or now ever care about what Mitt Romney actually believes, we know much less about the new Chinese leadership. Xi Jinping is apparently comparatively worldly wise and travelled. Old Jiang Zemin still seems very influential, and this gang of 7 are not known to be reformers. We have at least learnt more about some of the immense wealth some of them have amassed – like US$2.7 billion for the family of Wen Jiaboa.

MISC STATS:  One hundred shootings in Sydney this year -several over the last few days; chances of winning at poker machines 13%; 1 in 8 Australians are living in poverty; 70% Australian males are overweight and 56% of women (while the obesity epidemic  in the US is now lowering life spans); in the top 500 ASX companies 12 have female CEOs, 9.2% have women in senior executive roles, and two thirds have no women on their boards; our Future Fund has invested $37 million in tobacco; as much as a third of some African nations have been purchased by wealthy nations for food production; recent research indicates “nice and less competitive” baboons have longer lives, while chimpanzees and orang-utans slip into a mid-life malaise before bouncing back in old age!

ONLINE EDUCATION: I love the idea of  the many educational opportunities that will increasingly be available online like the Massive Online Open Courses.  I am hoping many courses will be inexpensive and accessible to people previously excluded. Universities are becoming so expensive to operate in their present form as to be unsustainable. It would be sad, however, to lose aspects of university life like the positive social opportunities, face to face contact with lecturers and tutors, and the stimulation of campus life.

I was interested in this article by George Monbiot in the SMH  Children must experience nature in order to learn it’s worth saving. Apart from the existential environmental crises we face, as children’s lives are increasingly removed and disconnected from the natural world, “the young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it”.

Monbiot quotes from Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, that in one generation “the proportion of children playing in wild places in Britain has fallen from more than half, to fewer than one in ten”.  Reasons for this include: a 90% decrease since the 1970s in the areas in the UK where children may play without supervision; parent’s fears; and the quality of indoor entertainment.

People have said to me that part of the attraction of our story with Christian is that it represents a less regulated time when there was more freedom to pursue outdoor activities and have adventures and take risks. We certainly do not encourage others to buy wild animals however, and we now see how by buying Christian we were perpetuating the trade in exotic animals. While our experience with Christian has obviously been a highlight of my life, and he was just so full of personality and amazing to know,  it was also always potentially dangerous, and carried great responsibilities to him and the people around us.

Govett's Leap Blue Mountains

Govett’s Leap Blue Mountains