High res Ace and Christian

Ace with Christian, 1972. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

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.

Leo DiCaprio GAWPT photo

Rhinos from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Facebook page. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

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.

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Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

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!

Übers Wasser laufender Basilisk by Stephen Dalton. Winner of the Fritz Steiniger Prize.

 Basilisk by Stephen Dalton. Winner of the Fritz Steiniger Prize.

Stephen Dalton has won the Fritz Steiniger Prize for his contribution to high speed photography for this photograph of a basilisk or Jesus Christ lizard running across water. I believe this  had never been photographed before.

The Nikon Small World Photomicrography competition was won by Australian Ralph Claus Grimm and see here for his photograph of a honey bee’s eye covered in dandelion pollen and magnified 120x.

These prizes are yet more examples of the many competitions for photography enthusiasts these days.

Elsa the lioness with Joy Adamson

Elsa the lioness with Joy Adamson

LIONS: Do watch this video of Will the Lion released from a Brazilian circus after 13 years by Rancho do Gnomos and his first reaction to more freedom, and the soil and grass. Have a hankie ready.

We want Tony the Tiger (and all caged animals) to experience this as well, so we must try even harder for the release of Tony from a cage at a truck stop in Louisiana, USA, to a sanctuary. Please sign the petition here if you have not already.

The tireless Donalea Patman, founder of For the Love of Wildlife, and Federal MP Jason Wood have both been honoured by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for their commitment to lion conservation. Their great achievement has been the introduction of legislation prohibiting the importation of lion trophies and body parts into Australia. France has just followed suit!  Donalea said “I do it because I believe Africa’s wildlife is under siege”.

Other news is that the president of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), who has viewed the documentary Blood Lions, acknowledges how the campaign against the breeding of lions for “canned” hunting is making the PHASA position “untenable”. He points out that with some airlines and shipping companies refusing to transport hunting trophies, PHASA has to realise that this issue is putting at risk “not only the reputation of professional hunting in South Africa but its very survival”. He also noted “broader society is no longer neutral on this question, and the tide of public opinion is turning”. At their just held AGM, PHASA voted that they could no longer support lion breeding and lion hunting.

Congratulations to Donalea and Jason, CACH, the makers of Blood Lions and everyone that is campaigning against canned hunting.  We should all be very encouraged to keep up our opposition.

Elsa's Kopje overlooking Meru, George's old camp and Elsa's old territory

Elsa’s territory in Meru National Park the site of  Elsa’s Kopje and George Adamson’s old camp

Aidan Basnett has organised another tour to Africa next year, the Adamson Experience Tour 2016. Apart from experiencing the beauty of Africa at Maasai Mara, Meru and Shaba National Parks, other highlights of the tour include visits to what are now almost regarded as Adamson and Elsa “sacred sites” including Elsamere (where we met Joy Adamson) and Elsa’s Kopje. Email Geoff@yellowzebrasafaris for the itinerary and more tour details. See here for Aidan’s George Adamson Legacy Australia Facebook page.

Killer Whale

Killer Whale

It is encouraging that SeaWorld in the USA will stop the killer whale shows at its San Diego park by 2017, and they promise the new killer whale attraction will have “a strong conservation message”! The reality is that more and more people are finding cruelty to animals unacceptable, and SeaWorld’s share prices and attendances have both been falling.

It is very encouraging that the US National Institute of Health quietly ended the Federal Government’s use of chimpanzees for biomedical research.

Pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India

Pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India

ART: Sylvia Ross photographs and loves pigeons and I have used my own photograph here of pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India. Sylvia has curated an exhibition called The Bird Show at SPOT81 (81 Abercrombie Street Chippendale, Sydney) until this Sunday, 29 November.  More details about the show here.

WORLD: I listed many of my geo-political anxieties last blog…and I did have a sense of foreboding, especially the more I learnt about the apocalyptic nature of ISIL, and how good they are proving to be at creating fear and dividing populations.  However, like most people, I was deeply shocked by the Paris bombs and horrific loss of life.  The event raises so many questions:  Why did the bombings in Beirut with 42 deaths, and over 100 dead in a “peace” march in Ankara, Turkey, receive so little attention in comparison? Why are we ignoring the fact that many more Muslims are being killed by ISIL, let alone the millions displaced? Why has France (and Belgium) failed so completely over decades to “integrate” their Muslim populations?  How should moderate Islamists respond to the fundamentalists, and how will Islam reconcile with modernity?  Are the West responding (in this case with the retaliatory bombing  of Raqqa in northern Syria) just how ISIL has strategised, and is this boosting recruitment?  What are the causes of radicalisation?  What are the real agendas of countries like Saudi Arabia who have a record of supporting terrorist organisations?

The complexities and competing agendas in the region have been illustrated by the shooting down of the Russian jet by Turkey who are probably more concerned about the Kurds than ISIL, and the Russians who have been attacking Turkmen villages and are more interested in supporting Assad.

In Australia the Grand Mufti has been criticised for saying in a statement that the violence was “provoked by discontent at racism, Islamophobia, security laws,and foreign policy decisions” and I think this is a legitimate comment. We are experiencing the inevitable reaction here from racists and xenophobes that can only further alienate our own Muslim fellow Australians. The responses of Trump and Ben Carson in the USA was appalling.

Are Bush, Blair and our own ex-PM Howard ever going to be held accountable for the chaos in the Middle East that resulted from the invasion of Iraq  in 2003 that has given rise to ISIL?  Other more historic causes include the artificial creation of “countries” by colonial powers oblivious to tribal and sectarian differences, and Western support for appalling dictators when it suited them, especially in the pursuit of oil.

See Australia’s Waleed Aly’s informative and indeed refreshing article The fight that goes around in circles in the SMH on the Middle East conflict here.  IS is the “Middle East’s illegitimate child: a byproduct of the power vacuums of a broken region”.

White peacocks in Bayview by Tim Berriman

White peacocks in Tim’s garden in Bayview, Sydney

Our own PM has been attending various meetings with world leaders and he seemed to have struck an immediate rapport with President Obama. PM Turnbull  proposed a Lebanese model of a power-sharing arrangement in Syria.  However, an opposition Syrian spokesperson has said that unfortunately each group would have their own militias and proposed instead a combination of the “reasonable” elements of the Assad regime (who apparently exist), and the “reasonable” elements from the opposition. After the vacuum created by the removal of Saddam in Iraq, no-one is quite sure what to do with Assad.

(Apparently Obama is aghast that Australia has leased the port of Darwin in northern Australia, where the USA now have a base, to China, for 99 years!)

It is wonderful that Aung San Suu Kyi won the election and hopefully will assume power in Myanmar. I’d love to speak about her unreservedly given her long struggle and sacrifices, but I have to say however, for political expediency, under pressure from the Buddhist ultra-nationalists, she has studiously ignored the genocide of the Rohingyas.

White peacocks in Bayview by Tim Berriman

Tim’s White peacock in Bayview, Sydney

Australia, however, has recently been severely criticised by the UN Human Rights Council by paragons of virtue like North Korea and Iran for our inhumane policies on asylum seekers, and the men, women and children who remain imprisoned on off-shore processing centres. I am ashamed to say these policies are supported by both major parties, although just when the Australian population finally seemed to be becoming uncomfortable about this, the events in Paris have hardened attitudes again.

While Malcolm Turnbull is still polling exceptionally well, it is primarily because he isn’t Tony Abbott, and in comparison he appears so measured, moderate and intelligent.

Turnbull likes saying that everything, like necessary tax reform for example, is “on the table” as in “up for debate”. The problem is that this government has been in office for over two years and so little has been achieved. An old Labor war-horse Graham Richardson recently wrote that Turnbull’s career has mostly been as an advocate, but that now  was the time for some over-due action as “both the Coalition and Labor have no plan to offer but a plan to develop a plan”.

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: This event begins next week, and I hope the optimism for this climate change conference will be justified. It will be the first test for our new PM who as an intelligent person knows action to curb carbon emissions is essential, but he now leads a party which has been sceptical of climate change and indeed, unimaginable as it seems, has even appeared  to be anti-science. The government policy has been to do as little as they can get away with, PAY the polluters with our taxes, and provide $5 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel production.

Atlantic Puffin. The populations of this bird, like the European turtle dove (below) are plummeting in the UK.

Atlantic Puffin. The populations of this bird, like the European turtle dove (below) are plummeting in the UK.

Do see a recent article by Ross Gittins Growth doesn’t need to cost the earth from the SMH about the limits of economic growth and sustainability of our natural resources – “economic growth cannot continue indefinitely because the natural world – the global ecosystem – is of fixed size”.

While Obama has cancelled the proposed Tar Sands Pipeline from Canada, Australia has just given permission for a friend of Indian PM Moti, Mr. Gautum Adani, to mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. The development of EITHER the Tar Sands or Galilee Basin would on their own, ensure that the global target of restricting global warming to 2 degrees warming is impossible.

I am hoping for a global moratorium on any new coal mines, or the expansion of existing ones. The planet requires it.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is taking the Australian Government to court over the deleterious effect the development of the Adani-owned Carmichael Mine will have on the Great Barrier Reef. – and for failing to protect our lives! See here.

The ACF has also organised the People’s Climate Marches around Australia on November 27 -29th to coincide with the Paris Conference and many other people marching around the world.  In Sydney we are meeting at 1 pm in The Domain on Sunday 29th November. See here for the day and times in other Australian cities.

Mr. Adani’s companies do not have a good environmental record in India, and one of his mines in Zambia polluted a river which was a source of drinking water, fishing and irrigation for many people. The company did not even report it. Greenpeace has recently been kicked out of India which is not a good omen.

However, Australians cannot be righteous either as the recent collapse of a dam in Brazil owned by BHP Billiton (and Brazil’s Vale) has killed over 30 people, displaced 500, destroyed villages and polluted land and water for hundreds of kilometres.

More than half the recent studies published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society indicate that human caused climate change has substantially influenced either an event’s frequency or intensity, or both.

We have already experienced the first bush fires of our summer season in West Australia and more recently South Australia.  Lives have been lost and the fires have been described as “unstoppable” and “catastrophic”.

European turtle dove. Photograph by Zahoor Salmi

European turtle dove. Photograph by Zahoor Salmi

MISC STATS: about 120 Australians are in the Middle East fighting with groups but mainly ISIL; only 27% of Australians think Prince Charles who has recently visited Australia should be our next head of state; and people are hoping that the actors De Niro and Di Caprio have donated the obscene $10 million that they were each paid to appear in a short film promoting our James Packer’s casinos. De Caprio has been a very generous and active supporter of environmental issues.

VALE: Jonah Lomu, who despite kidney disease, exploded on the Rugby Union scene in 1995, has died at 40.  I loved this fax sent by a 14 year old at the time: “Dear All Blacks, Remember, Rugby is a team game. All 14 of yers, pass the ball to Jonah.” Like many Pacific Islanders, despite his extraordinary ability, Jonah was a modest and humble man.

MAIL: thanks to many of you who keep me informed and amuse me. Thanks to Christine Townend for drawing my attention to Will the Lion, and an article entitled Your cat probably wants to kill you which many cat owners may relate to – or understand – I do! Thanks to Tim for the peacocks in his garden at Bayview, and “Hi” to Hugh who has watched Christian’s documentary or our reunion with him over 200 times, according to his mother!

Congratulations to Bindi Irwin (our Jungle Girl) who has won the US version of Dancing with the Stars.

Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo

BIRDS: So many birds have ended up – almost inadvertently – on this blog, but this probably reflects the interest so many people have in them. Like so much wildlife and the Atlantic Puffin and European turtle dove, the Carnaby’s Black-cockatoo is struggling to survive urban sprawl in West Australia.  Birdlife Australia’s Cocky Count co-ordinator has said that on current trends their population would halve again in the next five years. They are the most endangered of the species which includes the Glossy, Yellow-tailed, Red-tailed and White-tailed Black cockatoo. I quite often see a flock of Glossy Black cockatoos in the same area as I drive out of the Royal National Park from Bundeena.

Champion singer Raden Hud Nad, a white-rumped shama

Champion singer Raden Hud Nad, a white-rumped shama

Bird keeping has a long tradition in Indonesia and competitions for song birds (kicau-mania) are hugely popular. Birds are assessed on their volume, power, melody and their ability to mimic other birds. This hobby took off when many men were made redundant during the Asian economic crisis of 1997-8. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, their popularity and their shrinking habitats are contributing to declining songbird populations.

Northern Quoll. Image sourced from Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Northern Quoll. Image sourced from Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

The disastrous and ongoing march of the introduced poisonous cane toads across northern Australia has nearly driven the Northern Quoll into extinction – like much else. The Island Ark Project established a colony on two islands and next year they will be introduced back to the mainland. They will hopefully have been conditioned by “taste aversion” to no longer eat toads. Read more here.

Tasmanian Devil. Image sourced from Devil Ark

Tasmanian Devil. Image sourced from Devil Ark

Tasmanian Devils have had their populations decimated by an epidemic of devil facial tumour disease.  Over 4 years a healthy colony has been established on the mainland as an “insurance population”, and they are to be re-introduced back to Tasmania. See Devilark.org.au for more details.

The issue of species extinctions is both complex and contested and this recent article Animal pragmatism by Maddison Connaughton in The Saturday Paper is a good introduction. “The battle against species extinctions is ethically fraught, with questions about the purpose of zoos and how we go about choosing winners in the animal kingdom. As habitat diminishes, what is the purpose of conservation?”

PETA however, are unequivocal about zoos: “Zoos teach people that it is acceptable to interfere with animals and keep them locked up in captivity”, and I certainly agree. Do see this article from Animals Australia titled “5 things we need to stop telling ourselves about zoos“.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, SEASONS GREETINGS, and a HAPPY NEW YEAR from me to everyone as well. Thanks to Derek Cattani, Christian’s friend and photographer, for his annual Christian Christmas card – it is so sweet!  My special love and thoughts to the Cattani family for 2014.

GEORGE ADAMSON: Understandably, people remain fascinated by George Adamson.  Although where I live is a small “village” on the outskirts of Sydney, I only recently met fellow locals, well known artist Bob Marchant and his wife Inger.  Bob lived in London throughout the 1960s and remembers Christian fondly. I love his painting of George Adamson painted after George’s death in 1989.  He has always been a “great admirer of George Adamson and the work he did protecting wild animals”.  I’ve lent him the excellent biography The Great Safari: The Lives of George and Joy Adamson by Adrian House.

You can ‘like’ the George Adamson Wildlife Trust Australia on Facebook set up by Aidan Basnett.

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

GEORGE ADAMSON DIED IN 1989 PROTECTING THE ANIMALS HE BELIEVED SHOULD BE FREE, 1990, oil on canvas, by Bob Marchant

Recently Aidan emailed me about his recent trip to Kenya, and visit to Kora.  Aidan lived for a time in Kenya when he was young, and his trip was a nostalgic pilgrimage to key sites in the Joy and George Adamson story.  Consequently I found his video very informative and interesting, although I felt sad seeing some of the graves. It brought back fond and emotional memories of George’s camp at Kora, which looked in good condition.  

Hi Ace,
Just wanted to give you a report on the Adamson Legacy Tour I arranged this year which took in Kampi ya Simba in Kora National Park.  Being the home of the late George Adamson, I found the whole experience very poignant and moving. What hit me was I was at last in the spot where it all happened all those years ago – the history. I could not stop thinking of how we were treading in the footsteps of George and his lions, particularly Christian and Boy. Seeing the actual place (Christian’s Rock) where Christian had come down to greet you and John. The years I had longed to visit the area had arrived!  We sat atop Kora Rock just taking it all in, and could see George’s grave in the distance. Somewhere out there, all those years ago, Christian had created his domain and we could feel his – and George’s – spirit ! Just an amazing experience I had to share with you and I hope you enjoy the photo and video.
Aidan

“Christian’s Rock” Aidan Basnett 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

Christian’s Rock photographed by Aidan Basnett, 2013. This is the rock where Christian ran down to us in the 1971 reunion.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Recently I’ve been especially loving wildlife documentaries.  They are so soothing – as long as they are not entirely about extinction!  I loved David Attenborough’s recently shown documentary on African lions, and the lions and tigers in his Secrets of Wild India documentaries.  Tigers weigh on average 220 kilograms and can be just over 3 meters long.  A male can rule for 3 years, and live up to 8 on average.  Tigers have up to 12 cubs and raise them for 2 years.  They are not social and do not live in prides like lions.  The males come and go, and usually kill any cubs that are not theirs.  Surprisingly, tigers and jaguars are the only cats that like being in water.

The Asiatic lions in the desert region of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India look thinner than African lions – but they may just be hungrier in this hostile environment.  Once they ranged from India to the Mediterranean, but their numbers declined to 13 last century.  By banning  hunting, and other conservation efforts, numbers are now over 400 and climbing.

In David’s documentary on African lions he spoke of the importance of the first two years in the lives of cubs – when they “learnt to be lions”,  living in a pride, and acquiring skills for future survival.  I suddenly felt guilty about Christian living with us in London during those crucial formative years!   However, despite five generations out of Africa, and his London upbringing, Christian seemed remarkably well balanced and adaptable.  George thought he had lost none of his natural instincts – he was just inexperienced.  George said he was one of the easiest lions to rehabilitate, and Christian who was both canny and courageous, survived those first most dangerous years.

In the African lion documentary, four lionesses lived together, and three had cubs which they looked after collectively.  They hunted together effectively, although it is still very dangerous for them, especially against buffaloes.  The male came and went, but very aggressively took over a kill a lioness had made, and only reluctantly later shared with his cubs.

I also enjoyed the first episode of a documentary Lions on the Move about South African Kevin Richardson preparing to relocate his 28 lions, 14 hyenas and 2 black leopards to another animal park.  The animals seem to love him – the lions loll all over him which looks like lion heaven, but is risky.  George Adamson would not have been so physical with lions, and he was trying to minimise their human contact to enable their rehabilitation.  We knew Christian so well we could mostly anticipate his behaviour.  We did not encourage too much physical interaction with him as he was so quickly stronger than us, and we did not want him to realise this.   Kevin knows the individual idiosyncrasies of his lions, and he has to trust his own judgement – and them.  Most of the lions looked extremely attractive and shampooed, and several are now 15 years old, which can only be achieved in captivity.  Kevin also understands and communicates well with the hyenas, and I was amused by his  “baby talk” to the animals – everyone else’s animal/baby talk (except one’s own), sounds so ridiculous!

'Life of Pi' The Movie

‘Life of Pi’ The Movie

In general, I don’t like the idea of animals “performing” for our entertainment, and the sensitive question of how animals are handled in films has recently been discussed in The Hollywood Reporter.  Apparently King, one of the tigers used in Life of Pi nearly drowned in a water tank filming a scene.

I haven’t yet seen Blackfish, the documentary that traces the history of orcas (also called killer whales) in captivity. I’m not sure why it is regarded as “controversial” documentary, as the cruelty of their confinement  in such small areas, for human entertainment, should now be generally acknowledged as completely unacceptable.

A tiger “handler’ was injured by a tiger  recently at Australia Zoo.  A BBC crew had been filming them, which had probably been a disruption to a normal routine.

I will not be showing the photograph of American Melissa Bachman with the lion she proudly shot.  I hope she never returns to Africa.

Meanwhile, Tony the Tiger just waits in his cage. You can read an update here from the Animal Legal Defense Fund which had a victory for Tony in court in October, but proceedings just seem to drag on interminably. You can also sign a petition for Tony.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

Kibali at Taronga Zoo. Photographed by Lisa Ridley.

TARONGA ZOO:  Kibali, an adolescent gorilla has arrived from France, and joins two selected females to hopefully form the nucleus of a new family of gorillas at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  The old silverback has been pensioned off to Mogo Zoo down the south coast. Three elephants have been transferred to the more open Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo – including the one involved in an incident which injured a staff member last year.  A baby elephant has been born in Melbourne Zoo, but one born last year died in an accident, playing with a tyre as a toy.

INDONESIA: A recent report on the ABC showed disgraceful conditions in general at Surabaya Zoo in Java. Sumatran tigers are starving and dying at a time when their survival is under threat, with an estimated only 300-400 left in the wild.  A feisty Mayor seems to keep everyone at bay despite the scandalous conditions and a situation that has paralysed the zoo. This zoo compared very unfavourably with Taman Safari Park, Bogor, a few hours south of Jakarta, which seems very well run.  The owner has attempted to help the Surabaya Zoo but has now been rebuffed. See – and possibly support – Cee4life who has been campaigning to save the lives of these tigers.

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

Heritage by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2013

ART:  Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition ‘Falling Back to Earth’, is showing at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane, until 11 May 2014.  See here for information on GOMA and the exhibition which consists of three  huge installations.  Heritage (above), described as a “fable of multiculturalism”,  with incongruous pairings of animals around pristine white sand and water, was inspired by the artist visiting Queensland’s tropical islands. Head On (below) also has 99 animals made from polystyrene, but in this instance, they are all wolves.

AUSTRALIA:  I am finding our new government as bad as many of us feared, and unnecessarily antagonistic, arrogant, secretive and without vision.  Our espionage spat with Indonesia worsened through Tony Abbott’s inability to find the right words or actions.  Not content, the government then picked a fight unnecessarily with our most important trading partner China – protesting to the Chinese about their actions over disputed territorial claims in the East China Sea.

More revelations from Edward Snowden have shown the extent of Australia’s espionage in the region, including spying on China.  Apparently only 1% of a million classified documents have been released so far, and we are “to assume the worst”.  It seems we may all have been spied on as well, with the collection of our megadata – mine would be a disappointment.

Not surprisingly, according to the polls, the government’s so called “honeymoon” is already over.  A very bad look was the government’s clumsy attempt to break a major election pledge (a back flip on a back flip on a back flip) on education reform.

The implementation of a proposed education reform, which had been worked on over 4 years, was an election pledge by both parties.  It was to balance the inequitable funding to schools, which under ex PM John Howard saw already very rich private schools given even more money, while public schools and their students remain disadvantaged, with less access to education.

I find it unimaginable that these days any government would deliberately disadvantage a section of the population, and we will have to wait and see the real intentions of this government.  As discussed on an earlier blog, the opportunities for education in the US are also inequitable, cementing a less-educated under class. In 1974 Labor PM Gough Whitlam abolished university fees, and this emancipated many very clever people who were the first in their families to go to university, and have subsequently had an enormous influence on Australia.

Hard as it is to believe, our government seems to be anti-science, and is thoughtlessly dismantling expert bodies that should be consulted and utilised– especially in relation to climate change.  The government should not be dismantling the Clean Energy Finance Corp which has been successfully finding and working in partnership with major national and international banks, for example, to research and develop renewable energy sources.

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

Head On by Cai Guo-Qiang, 2006

ROSS GITTINS: Ross Gittins has the respect of many people. He is an economist but writes more widely. In this heartfelt article, written as a letter to his (future) grandchildren, he expresses his disbelief that Australians have just elected a government “that wasn’t genuine in its commitment to combating the effects of climate change, and that even abolished the main instrument economists invented for that purpose”.

Ross was recently asked to speak at the government’s annual conference on resources and energy and decided to “tell the miners a few home truths”, also published here.

ROSS GARNAUT: In this article about his new book Dog Days: Australia After The Boom Ross Garnaut discusses what economic and policy reforms will be required in this post resource boom era. Neither party seems to have the courage or long term vision for necessary reforms, but “more of the same” is just not sustainable any longer, and will apparently lead to higher unemployment and recession.

ENVIRONMENT:  As predicted, the Federal Government has already shown a cavalier attitude to the environment.  It has created a “one-stop shop” process with State Governments for faster environmental approvals. Permission has just been granted to expand a coal port (to become the largest in the world), near the already threatened Great Barrier Reef.  3 million cubic metres of seabed – dredging sludge – is to be dumped into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but hopefully, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority may yet refuse to grant a permit.

Tasmanians have been bitterly divided for decades over the logging or conservation of their forests, although an historic Forestry Agreement from 2012  seems to be working and have support.  This agreement is apparently also under review/threat from the Federal Government – presumably to now allow logging in heritage listed forests.

There has been a leak of 1 million litres of highly acidic uranium slurry from the uranium Ranger Mine beside Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.  Unfortunately, this is not the first  accident at the mine.

After several fatal shark attacks in Australia in the last year, there is renewed debate about culling sharks, and making our beaches “safer”.  I choose not to swim in the sea as I view it as their territory, not mine.

The Japanese whaling fleet has set out for their annual whale hunt in the Southern Ocean, and each year anti-whale activists protest in dangerous confrontations.  Sea Shepherd consists of three vessels this year, and will again try to prevent this unnecessary slaughter of whales.  Australia took a case against Japan’s “scientific” whaling practices to the International Court of Justice, but a decision is still to be made.

MEDIA:  In this article Richard Ackland writes in the SMH how journalism has changed, and how some journalists just advocate for the government of their choice “… ranks of salaried writers believing it is their duty to cosy-up to and protect the government, particularly their preferred government, from any embarrassment”.  I do read Murdoch’s The Australian on Saturdays and on my way through to often good articles, I glance at what Chris Kenny and Greg Sheridan are saying – and often laugh out loud at their partisanship. (Update:  it was Dennis Shanahan in The Australian Dec 21/22 who got the loudest laugh from me with “Abbott: model of a cool, calm and collected PM”.  He says there is “an unfair focus on its mistakes”.  In this Murdoch parallel universe PM Abbott and his wooden and silenced Cabinet is performing wonderfully, unlike the Opposition, who is still being blamed for everything.  Peter Harcher however, was more accurate in the SMH when he said over Indonesia, Abbott’s  “toughness is exposed to be phoney, his judgement shown to be wrong, and the damage is not stemmed early but protracted”.

I don’t often read Murdoch’s The Telegraph which campaigned so unfairly and effectively against the Labor Party in the last election.  It is a real tabloid, with the usual right wing ranters, but is also fun and a little tacky with many photographs, unlike the rather dull if worthy tabloid- in-size only Sydney Morning Herald.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

An entry in the National Geographic Photography Contest 2103. Photograph by Ian Schofield.

Advertised in the paper was the National Geographic Photo Contest, just as entries closed. I know many of you are very interested in photography – and wildlife, and may want to enter in 2014.  There are many entries to view at http://www.ngphotocontest.com.  There are the categories of “people, places and nature”, and “real” images which “accurately reflect a moment in time”.  The photo above is of a Little Owl (right) defending its feeding position from a Great Spotted Woodpecker (left) with both birds showing  their full colours with dramatic full wing extensions.

Sony World Photography Awards 2014 is currently accepting entries until 6 January 2014.

ABC: Supported by an avalanche of critical articles on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in the Murdoch press, quite a few members of the government are talking about privatising the ABC – the government funded but independent public media body.  Every new conservative government tries to dismantle the ABC (and the trade unions), and allegations of left-wing bias are usually found to be unsubstantiated.  I hope it hasn’t got so bad here that we have to again defend the ABC, and that intelligent and informative discussion should be curtailed or shut down.  I am addicted to Radio National!

Downtown Bourke

Downtown Bourke

BOURKE: I loved visiting Bourke.  It is an attractive town, with some handsome historical buildings, wide streets and trees and parks.  It was hard to find a hotel room – there were some tourists, but regional conferences for National Parks, Health etc were being held.  I stayed in “North Bourke”, a few kilometres out of town, and over the river.  Historically, the town has been  a major regional trading centre and transport hub, initially based on the beautiful, if faintly murky Darling River.

Darling River at Port of Bourke

Darling River at Port of Bourke

A local joke in Bourke – or rural NSW, is that “NSW” stands for the coastal cities of Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong. There are no longer any rail or air links to Bourke.  The area is in drought, and summer temperatures hit 40 degrees. The population of around 2000, is forty percent  indigenous, who speak up to 24 different languages.  A complaint is that although there is access to various services, there is duplication, and it is not targeted.  People I met loved living there and were optimistic about the future.  Community leaders are working hard to deal with some of the problems. Most country towns are experiencing high levels of youth unemployment and drug and alcohol abuse, unfortunately leading to high crime statistics. See this recent feature article on Bourke The Lost Town.  

I travelled to Bourke with a friend Jon Lewis a well known Australian photographer.  We both want to go back.  He took some great photographs of people in the community.  I think his photograph of me makes me look a bit haughty. See other photographs of Bourke by Jon Lewis at www.jonnylewis.org – go to Blog and Older Blogs (especially postings for November 15-19).

Ace Bourke in Bourke

Ace Bourke in Bourke by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Frieda and Anne Marie by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Mick, Stephen, Phil and Alisdair by Jon Lewis

Jonny and I visited an ancient rock art site in the Gundabooka National Park, and Fort Bourke, with several traditional owners and Aboriginal community leaders. Talking frankly with them was a moving and emotional experience.  Governor Bourke is, understandably to them, a symbol of colonial dispossession. No governor handled indigenous-settler issues successfully or with honour, and Aboriginal disadvantage from their dispossession continues to this day.

We visited the Back O’Bourke  Exhibition Centre and the region has a fascinating history with often larger than life characters.  At the Centre it was simply stated that the town was named after Bourke as he was Governor at the time. I imagine people are unaware and uninterested in who Governor Bourke actually was, and I realised that although I live in Sydney, I don’t know much about Lord Sydney either.  However, it turned out many were fans of Christian, and I was interviewed by the local newspaper, The Western Herald.

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When the surveyor and explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell was in this area on an expedition in 1835,  “tensions” with the the local Aboriginal people led to Mitchell building a simple (and small) wooden stockade for protection.  A replica exists today.  As Richard Bourke was Governor, Mitchell named it Fort Bourke – always a good way to curry favour for the future.   Bourke appreciated the beauty of  the  Australian landscape which was so different to Europe, and travelled on horseback extensively around the colony, although he never visited Bourke.

Leaving the rock art site

Leaving the rock art site

WORLD:  Over 2 million Syrian refugees are now facing freezing winter conditions, while many of those remaining in Syria are besieged or starving – Syria has become the most dangerous humanitarian crisis for decades;  Lebanon, like other neighbours, is drawn further into the conflict with all the refugees, and people transiting through the country to join both sides of the conflict (including hundreds of Australians);  Netanyahu is apoplectic at the thought of any Iran-US detente;  Australia “abstains” in the UN for an order to stop “all Israeli settlement activities in all of the occupied territories” without informing  the Australian public of the change of policy;  dozens have been killed across Iraq, with December the bloodiest month for 5 years;  very violent and dangerous conditions in the Central African Republic and South Sudan;  the Philippines still in dire need of help, with 4 million people displaced;  anti-government unrest in Bangkok and the Ukraine;  wonderful Aung San Suu Kyi visits Australia;  ex PMs Rudd and Berlusconi are hopefully gone for good;  A.C.T. same-sex marriage legislation is overturned in an Australian court, but the decision clears the way for Federal Parliament to legislate;  India (re)criminalises homosexuality;  China lands on the moon;  Pope Francis is Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, while Edward Snowden came second.

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

Willie Wagtail and baby by Sylvia Ross

MAIL: People love birds as I found out with the response to the last blog.  Thanks to the indefatigible Sylvia Ross for her photographs of this birds nest 2 meters from her front door.  Over weeks we have followed the drama in the life of the Willie Wagtail – the nest, the attack by a Currawong, a surviving chick (above) appears, and later, 2 more appear! I loved her recent exhibition Feral which was photographs she has taken of pigeons in many countries. They are a beautiful and varied family, and these photographs are used as metaphors for “cultural prioritisation and question the concept of feral”.

I really appreciate the variety of emails, comments, stories and images I receive from many of you, so thank you very much.  Several of you unfortunately lost adored companion pets this year and I hope you are managing.  I know I am sometimes a little late – or careless, in my responses.  Indeed, if I have other things to attend to, my blog can read more like a summary of past events…..

I would like to thank my sister Lindy,  and Hayley from HMMG, for their invaluable assistance.

WATCHING & READING:  At the moment I’m adoring Andre Agassi’s fascinating autobiography OPEN.   He seems to have hated tennis from the start and it was his father’s dream, not his, to be Number 1 in the world.  Dad was yet another demanding and scary tennis parent.  He expresses the pyschological torment he suffered very well, and envies his main rival Pete Sampras for being “dull” – and more focused.  He repeats bitchy remarks directed towards him from McEnroe, Connors, Becker, Lendl etc., which actually reveals more about them.  He discovers that famous people, and I presume this includes his ex-wife Brooke Shields, are as mundane as everyone else.

I’m enjoying the Australia-English cricket Ashes Test series.  In a form reversal, Australia have now actually won the Ashes, although there are two more matches in the series to play.

VOICELESS: Voiceless is a non-profit organisation which is part of the animal protection movement in Australia, and is especially concerned with raising awareness of animals suffering in factory farming and the kangaroo industry. Recently I attended the 10th annual Voiceless Awards and I am constantly surprised and pleased by the very important work many people are doing on behalf of animals. Voiceless is to be congratulated for their impressive track record of advocacy, and generosity through Grants, Prizes and other support.  The next day I met several of the dedicated staff, and was delighted to see three of them had their  dogs at work.  

The Animal Studies Group’s latest online edition of the Animal Studies Journal, has interesting articles reflecting current research in human-animal studies – from living with crocodiles – or owning dogs in Thailand, to animal grief.

MARTIN SHARP:  Martin Sharp (1942-2013), another of Australia’s most influential artists, has died.  His great friend Richard Neville, wrote a very comprehensive obituary in the SMH.  A very clever and creative group of Australians had arrived in London a few years before me, and they were major contributors to the so called 1960s “Counter Culture”: from Oz Magazine to Germaine Greer.  Martin Sharp made cartoons, collages, posters, psychedelic pop paintings, and album covers for Hendrix, Cream etc. When he returned to Sydney, Martin lived in his grandparent’s mansion in Sydney, with rooms devoted to his obsessions  which included Tiny Tim, Mickey Mouse, Luna Park and amusement park memorabilia.  Martin had a huge influence on many of us. He encouraged me to open my first gallery.  In 2009, Louise Ferrier and I co-ordinated a survey exhibition at the Museum of Sydney: Martin Sharp Sydney Artist.

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

Self Portrait by Martin Sharp

NELSON MANDELA:  It is the end of an era with the death of Nelson Mandela. I can’t add to the deserved accolades for his extraordinary achievements, especially managing the transition from apartheid to democracy and reconciliation.  It has made us all think about leadership – and the absence in most of our lives of visionary – or even practical, leadership.  Mandela was a mystical combination of intelligence, resilience, charm, firmness etc, and it has been fascinating reading and learning more about him – the power he exerted from a prison cell!

It has also been a reminder of the many problems still facing South Africa, and many people obviously feel President Zuma has failed to improve their lives.

I was very interested in this quote from Mandela on leadership: “A leader is like a shepherd.  He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind”.

In his oration at Mandela’s memorial service, Obama said that leaders needed to be filled with “the spirit of Ubuntu”, a Nguni Bantu word meaning “the oneness of humanity”.  Let’s all strive for this in 2014…..