Sumatran Tiger Cubs at Taronga Zoo.  Photo by Rick Stevens

Sumatran Tiger Cubs at Taronga Zoo. Photo by Rick Stevens

TONY THE TIGER:  Thanks for the immediate responses to the petition for Tony the Tiger.  See the recent update on Tony from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (http://www.aldf.org/tony).  Unfortunately Tony remains in his cage while complicated legal battles over him delay attempts to relocate him to an appropriate sanctuary.  Is this case receiving media attention in the US?

I would like the blog to be primarily a notice board for animal welfare and rights issues and I rely on your contributions.  I think we have put the spotlight on some of the more quiet achievers doing great work for animals or the environment, and the blog is now a Directory of many organisations and people.

Like many of you I support many of the campaigns of the ALDF (http://www.aldf.org/), GetUp! (http://www.getup.org.au/), AVAAZ (http://www.avaaz.org/en/), and http://www.change.org/.  Internet activism is huge and will grow in influence and become more targeted.  I remind myself clicking “sign” on a petition and pressing “send” is pretty easy.  I think trying to be informed is a good start, and donations are always a practical contribution.  I’m sure we all wonder how our efforts could be more effective, and I admire people who volunteer and give their time to organisations like BushCare, and visiting imprisoned asylum seekers.

Birds of America, John James Audubon

Birds of America, John James Audubon

AUDUBON:  Two copies (out of only 200) of the first edition of Birds of America by John James Audubon (1785-1851) sold last month at Sotheby’s for $11.5 million, and $7.5 million at Christie’s.  With beautiful life size colour plates, this classic work contains over 700 North American species.

SUMMER HOLIDAYS:  It has been a relaxing time spent mostly with family and friends.  There has been time to read, and to reflect on 2011, and what 2012 may bring.  While many of you are in freezing temperatures, our weather has been erratic and courtesy of La Niña, quite a lot of rainfall and flooding again in the north east, for some the third flood in three years.  I remember how dry, hot and endless summer holidays used to be, and people now seem to go back to work much earlier.  My vegetable garden is a disgrace and was even overgrown before I saw a black snake.

The Year of the Dragon apparently promises to be unpredictable and exciting.  With the EU and the Middle East, anything could happen.  On a positive note, I think the momentum is swinging back to a majority of people (again) accepting that climate change is real and something has to be done about it.  China, the world’s largest carbon dioxide emitter (8.88 billion tonnes) is to set a price on carbon but a low $1.55 a tonne, to increase gradually.  It must now be hard to argue that the weather is not changing.  In the Maldives, 14 out of the 200 habitable islands are now uninhabitable.  2012 does carry some pretty dire predictions for the Euro Zone by the World Bank, IMF, and George Soros amongst many others, especially with such seemingly inept leadership.  Many are questioning the calls for austerity measures (made by Germany especially), when it seems people should be encouraged to spend and generate growth and jobs.

Roseate Spoon Bill - Birds of America, John James Audubon

Roseate Spoon Bill - Birds of America, John James Audubon

ARAB WINTER:  In Egypt, what accommodation will the military come to with the winners of their election, the Muslim Brotherhood?  What is known about this very influential and well-funded organisation?  Now in parliament the party will not be able to remain as secretive as it has had to be in the past.  See Stepping out of the shadows by Ruth Pollard (SMH News Review Jan 28-29), an article that illustrates just how little is known about them or what the future may hold.  After the recent soccer riots and deaths, questions are being asked about the failure, deliberate or otherwise, of national security.

SYRIA:  A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald helped me understand the situation in Syria much more clearly, and all the regional repercussions.  I realised it is in some ways a proxy war.  In Every Middle East player has a stake in Syria’s sectarian showdown (SMH Feb 6), Jackson Diehl writes that this is “the most complex, volatile and momentous power struggles in the history of the Middle East”.  The invasion of Iraq upset the delicate regional balance between the  Sunnis and Shiites, and Syria “has precipitated a crucial test of strength between Sunnis and Shiites and between Turkey and Iran.  It has also triggered existential crises for Palestinians, Kurds and the Shiite government of Iraq”.  Syrians are being killed daily while the UN and the Arab League appear impotent, and the Russians and Chinese are recalcitrant and entirely self-interested.  While Syrians are crying out for our help and being murdered, we watch helplessly.

Vafa animal shelter Iran (Behrouz Mehri_AFP_Getty Images)

Vafa animal shelter Iran (Behrouz Mehri_AFP_Getty Images)

Thanks to David for sending this beautiful selection of photographs of Iran from The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/01/a-view-inside-iran/100219/.  It is important to see the human face and everyday lives of Iranians many of whom are held hostage by their government.

The sanctions and rhetoric against Iran – with talk of an Israeli attack against Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facilities as early as April must only stiffen Iran’s resolve to defend themselves with nuclear weapons.  Saudi Arabia was reported to be “shopping in Pakistan for a nuke”.

Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Hamish McDonald wrote very interestingly about returning to Israel after 13 years Life in Israel an ultra-orthodox paradox (SMH 21 Jan News Review) http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/life-in-israel-an-ultraorthodox-paradox-20120120-1qa2k.html.  He questioned if a two-state solution was still possible “Or is all this negotiation and capacity-building simply a prelude to living together, somehow – two nations in one land – on better terms than the status quo, miserable humiliation for the occupied, corrosive for the occupier?”  The best of luck to Fatah and Hamas with their recent reconciliation.

PARALLEL UNIVERSE:  Some times last year I felt I lived in a parallel universe:  Israeli government spokesmen saying new settlements were not an impediment to peace; Osama bin Laden located and assassinated after living for years in a suburb in Pakistan; the bizarre and so unlikely propaganda for the new North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un – described as a “joke” by his brother; the race in Australia to hand over high food producing land to Coal Seam Gas mining or sales to foreign investors; Australia handled the GFC better than any other country, yet the Opposition here say it is the worst government (or PM?) on record.

Iranian Youths during water fights at Water and Fire Park northern Tehran, July 2011. AP Photo/Milad Beheshti

Iranian Youths during water fights at Water and Fire Park northern Tehran, July 2011. AP Photo/Milad Beheshti

SPORT:  Australian cricket has been in crisis, but suddenly there is the emergence of good young fast bowlers, although two have already succumbed to injury.  The visiting Indian team were easily beaten in the Test matches. Tendulkar failed to get his elusive 100th Test century. Several older Australian cricketers (like Ricky Ponting) have had to perform, and have. Records have been broken.  The Australian public has finally warmed to the newish captain Michael Clarke who was Man of the Series and scored 329 not out.

Both tennis and cricket have fast food sponsors.  Their advertisements for their food on TV looked so totally unappetising and unhealthy; hamburgers, and chicken in batter and bacon sizzling in fat.  You are encouraged to relax at home watching sport on TV, eating fattening fast food, drinking Coke (or beer) and we are now urged with frequent interruptions to bet online on every aspect of the unfolding games.

Playing an Inter school tennis match circa 1963 – my style is very old-fashioned!

In Australia in January we have several tennis tournaments building up to the Australian Open in Melbourne.  There were many highlights – like actually being there to see the best players in the world play the semi finals. It was especially thrilling to see Rafa play Federer, and I was surprised at the fanatical support for Federer.  I do have to admit his record is extraordinary, and he is the most graceful player who always makes the game look effortless.  Overall the standard of tennis in the tournament was very high, although too many points were lost by an error, rather than won.  However, as the legend Rod Laver pointed out, returning is so good these days, that shots that would previously have been “winners” are now being returned, in very long rallys.

Any number of girls could have won, and at least six of them have been number one.  Many are attractive and healthy looking and are dressing much better.  Serena Williams made a surprising comment that she “never liked sport or exercising” (knocked out 4th round).  Men dress in a much cooler way these days although the Federer team uniform was a rather naff quasi-military jacket and cap he ( he lost).  Verdasco wore a shocking red and yellow outfit (he lost) and Dolgopolov wore red shorty pyjamas (he lost).

Both lost to Bernard Tomic, Australia’s long awaited new tennis star who has developed into quite an extraordinary player at 19 and has the tennis world fascinated.  One of quite a few players with parent coaches! Murray’s new coach Ivan Lendl seems to have banned Murray’s mother – I couldn’t spot her in the crowd.

Players have a punishing schedule, and many seem to be suffering or recovering from injury.  It is very hot at this time of the year here and most games are played outdoors, and the final was over 5 gruelling hours.  Tennis should not be such an endurance test.  There were several matches where players “found a way to win”.  The mental attitudes and psychological games were fascinating, and players confronting their particular nemesis – Federer failing again against Nadal, and Nadal against Djokovic.

Back home for the final on TV I was very moved to see a parade of the past Australian winners of the Australian Open –including  Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Frank Sedgeman, Rod Laver, and John Newcombe.  We seemed to dominate world tennis back then.  Azerenka thrashed Sharapova, and Djokovic beat Nada in the longest, and possibly the best final ever. Both winners won $2.3 million.

Taronga Zoo elephants.  Photo by Rick Stevens

Taronga Zoo elephants. Photo by Rick Stevens

AUSTRALIA:  It was quiet over Christmas with the politicians on holidays – there always seems to be less news!  But things hotted up quickly.  The PM was dragged to her car by security from a protest by Aboriginals who were nearby marking the anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy erected on the lawns of Government House 40 years ago.  I think Aborigines are remarkably sanguine under the circumstances about their dispossession and the poverty that so many of them still live with. There is a rare bipartisan approach to Aboriginal affairs so nothing is done.  A report on recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the constitution has just been presented to the government.

Media driven leadership speculation is running hot.  The deposed PM, Foreign Minister Rudd continues to stalk the PM, pretending he isn’t, and helping to destabilise an already unpopular government.  Too many careless and strategic errors cloud what have been major achievements for the government in a hung parliament, and in many ways a good economic record.

CSG:  The rampant mining of coal seam gas is a great issue facing Australia.  Environmental activists who are protesting over Coal Seam Gas are being spied on by the government!  Too many disturbing stories are surfacing from around the world about the effects of the mining techniques on the water aquifers, and other issues including the leaking of contaminated water.  Ultimately it is not suitable as a low emission “bridging fuel” between coal-fired electricity generators and large scale renewable energy. According to a recent American report the amount of greenhouse gases released by unconventional gas drilling exceeds that of oil and coal.

Some of our best agricultural and food producing areas are at risk, and many other properties are being sold to foreign investors at an alarming rate, with all food produced likely to go off shore.

Other recent reports seem to conclude that wind farms do not cause illness.  What does have to be considered with wind turbines as a clean source of energy however, is all the emissions from coal-fired power plants from producing the steel to build the gigantic turbines, and all the cement for the foundations.

Moir SMH 8 February 2012

Moir SMH 8 February 2012

GINA RINEHART:  Australia’s richest person ($20 billion), and possibly soon to be the richest in the world, Gina Rinehart seems to be increasingly throwing her weight around.  In the past it has been reported that Gina has proposed using cheap Asian labour in her mines, that the state of Western Australia secede, and that nuclear bombs be used for mining purposes and creating harbour facilities.  Not surprisingly, she funds climate-change deniers.

In a bizarre spectacle in 2010 she and sundry other mining billionaires protested on the streets against a proposed Super Profits Tax.  On the back of a flatbed ute, Gina shouted “axe the tax”.  Up against a campaign that cost the miners $23 million, the government watered down the Mineral tax, losing billions of dollars.

Now Gina has begun buying into Australian media – 10% of a television channel, and just recently nearly 14% of Fairfax Media which owns my newspaper of choice, the Sydney Morning Herald.

View this the video you were never supposed to see” and see how Gina’s move is most likely part of a strategy to control and influence aspects of the media.

I’ve complained at length about some examples of bias in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, which in many other regards is a very good newspaper.  Luckily the Fairfax Board in my opinion is known more for its lacklustre performance,and not editorial interference.

BILL GATES:  Leading by great example, Bill and Melinda Gates have donated $US750 million to make up for the shortfall in The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

WHALING:  The anti-whaling vessel the Sea Shepherd and supporters had the first skirmish of the season when 3 men boarded a Japanese vessel in the Southern Ocean.  In a costly exercise they were returned to an Australian vessel, and they did put the whaling issue on the front pages briefly.  All has been quiet since… or for the moment.

Asian Elephants, Taronga Zoo

Asian Elephants, Taronga Zoo

ELEPHANTS:  Recently there was a suggestion that elephants, highly endangered in Africa as we know, be brought to Australia to eat and control the highly flammable introduced gamba grass.  Oddly George Adamson advocated this when we spent time with him in Kenya.  I would imagine there would be problems of immunity to diseases, damage to vegetation and soil, and be scary for an unprepared public, especially if the elephants went feral like the herds of camels and buffaloes.  Other destructive introduced species in Australia include the cane toad, rabbits, foxes, cattle and sheep – and cats.

INDO-ASIA-PACIFIC:  It seems Australia may finally be well positioned in the world with the global focus now on the Asian region.  Obama’s decision to pull out from the Middle East and concentrate on the South East Asian region, is recasting international strategic thinking, although everything these days seem to be all about China!  There will be a small US base in northern Australia.  The Indian Ocean is the oil route to the Asian economies, and the navies in the region including the US, China, India, and not forgetting Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, will be keeping an eye on each other and these vital sea routes.

AMERICA:  A while ago I received an irate email after I had made some complimentary remarks about President Obama. She “wanted her country back”.  What did she want back I wondered, remembering the Bush years – a failure of intelligence over 9/11 and an inability to find Bin Laden, 2 expensive, deadly and unnecessary wars, and the GFC on their watch.  That’s a lot of mess to inherit and to clear up.

John Howard, our fellow conservative PM of the time, rushed to join Bush in Iraq, without even advising Parliament, and subsequently and unnecessarily made Australia a terrorist target.  An Australian passport can now be a liability although now we are to host a small American military base.  A recent letter to the SMH editor said “I returned to Australia at the end of the (John) Howard years.  I found Australia a colder, harder and more selfish society”.

My irate emailer also spoke very disparagingly about the participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It is a very old-fashioned protest movement, and perhaps some are a little scruffy, but the movement keeps gaining momentum and has certainly entered international consciousness very quickly.  In Ireland, protesters are occupying some of the many empty buildings for community purposes.  In Sydney some protesters got arrested on a rainy night recently allegedly “contravening council notices” in what seems ongoing police harassment.

Income disparity is predicted by some to be the key issue for 2012.

Former venture trader Mitt Romney (worth $250 million) personifies the 1% and that this is an issue in the US election is more evidence of the effectiveness of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  He pays a 14% tax rate and Obama is taxed at 26%.  The concerns of the 99% have been put on the agenda, triggering a sudden feigned concern by politicians for the middle classes. Romney is wooden, insincere and subject to faux pas but the most presentable of a pretty bad lot – and he seems to have been an effective Governor.  I don’t know what he believes in and I suppose it is a relief he is a “moderate”, which seems to be a dirty word in some Republican circles.  Hopefully he will see off Gingrich with his “ethical violations” and a call to an America of the past, not the future, and the “Jesus” candidate Rick Santorum who has just been resurrected.  In Australia most of us seem to accept – reluctantly, that a certain level of taxation is in the national interest, and while the Christian Right is also influential, it is not as powerful as it is in the US.

The tide may be turning for Obama.  There are some encouraging if small signs – like employment figures of the 3 year low of 8.3%.  A trump card could be Hillary Clinton running as Vice-President to Obama, while Joe Biden becomes Secretary of State, as has been suggested.

Birds of America Osprey

Birds of America Osprey

ASSANGE:  Judges have adjourned to consider their judgement about Julian Assange’s extradition to Sweden.  He is soon to be a television host on Russia’s RT network, interviewing “10 key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries… who will be shaping the political agendas of tomorrow”.

MISC STATS:  There are now more urban Chinese than rural;  5 million dogs are put down a year in the US;  $US56.8 billion worldwide sales for McDonald’s from 33,510 restaurants;  US national debt is $15 trillion;  Mexico’s drug trade is worth $38 billion; a 21% increase in drive-by shootings in Sydney’s suburbs.

MAIL:  Susan cheekily asked how my vegetarianism is going.  It was Christmas and the holidays and I’ve eaten everything offered to me!  I haven’t bought any meat except for my cats.  As it has been summer it is lovely eating lots of fruit and salads.  Overall I’ve tried to “graze” rather than eat big meals.  I eat too much bread, drink too much tea, and I don’t have cakes, biscuits or chocolates in the house.

A Lion Called Christian has just shown on Danish television and thanks for the many emails from Denmark – I’m so glad you have enjoyed it. Friends saw the video in their hotel in India last year and emailed “we didn’t know you spoke such good Hindi”!

Family Bush Tucker Dreaming c.1972 Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri

Family Bush Tucker Dreaming c.1972 Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri, Courtesy Aboriginal Artists Agency

TJUKURRTJANU Origins of Western Desert Art is a superb exhibition, which I saw just before it finished at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.  These were the first paintings produced in the desert in the early 1970s by Aborigines who brilliantly and effortlessly transferred their traditional designs and creation stories to a new medium of canvas board and acrylic.  Look out for the exhibition in Paris later in the year at the Musee du quai Branly (http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/), running 9 October until 27 January 2013.  Continuing at the NGV until 24th May is Living Water: Contemporary Art of the Far Western Desert, a colourful and comprehensive exhibition which illustrates how many of the desert Aboriginal artists like Ronnie Tjampitjinpa (below) have developed over the decades, in what has been described as one of the great art movements of the last century.

Water Dreaming at Malparingya 2001 Ronnie Tjampitjinpa

Water Dreaming at Malparingya 2001 Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, Courtesy Aboriginal Artists Agency

VEOLIA ENVIRONMENT WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2011: I love this annual exhibition of Wildlife photography which travels widely. It is now at the Australian Museum, Sydney until 18 March 2012.  We are reminded how beautiful nature is, but fragile, endangered and at risk, like these pelicans rescued from the oil spill in Louisiana.

Photo by Daniel Beltrá Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Daniel Beltrá Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 Winner

THE WORLD:  What a difference a few weeks or even a day can make.  More people killed by their own governments in the Middle East,  the illegal invasion of Iraq over and US troops withdrawn, protests begun in Russia, and the unknown future of North Korea and the region with the death of Kim Jung-Il in North Korea. Those crocodile tears!  But the EU are still unable to solve their problems and ease global financial uncertainty.

DURBAN:  One hundred and ninety four countries including the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters DID sign up to a 2015/20 agreement of sorts in Durban at the United Nations Climate conference.  Emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production grew by 5.9% last year to a record high of more than 9 billion tonnes of carbon.  There are reasons for some optimism however – even if driven by factors such as unsafe urban air pollution levels.  China is positioned to benefit most in the renewable energy economies.  9.6% of Australian energy comes from renewables, but there are plans to export even more coal, enough to drive carbon emissions above world targets.

EU:  If it wasn’t so serious, it has been fascinating learning more about the EU – such as the dominance of Germany with France playing second fiddle.  How marginalised could the UK become and what are the implications?  Germany has obviously benefited most from the EU – it has been a good export market for them, and  if low on profitability, it has provided good employment as they recovered from their reunification.  The Germans don’t like the debt of their profligate neighbours and do not want to compensate them for their perceived laziness.  Other smaller EU countries have found it harder to benefit.  Suddenly there are echoes of their not so recent wars and histories, like the German fear of hyperinflation from the Weimar Republic days.

Photo by Jack Salzke Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Jack Salzke Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

PUTIN:  Good to see that posturing Putin put on notice and an Arab Spring come to Russia although it is a potentially very dangerous confrontation – Putin is a very formidible opponent.

MIDDLE EAST:  My friend emails from Egypt, in one long sentence: “The Muslim Brotherhood will be good for the general population and give them again a sense of dignity after having none under Mubarak, they are really only interested in business and money so their religious fervour will be curbed by that, the army will not leave but act in the shadow to give an impression of a civilian state, it might be a slight improvement, but the liberals and artists and intellectuals, the ones who started the revolution will in fact gain nothing and might lose again.”  In recent days however, protesters, including women, are being beaten and shot at and killed by their government.

In Tunisia there has been a successful election and the Opposition installed, but unpopular leaders are hanging on in Bahrain and Yemen. In Syria Assad is living in a parallel universe accepting no responsibility for the killing of his citizens, and in his interview with Barbara Walters he said words to the effect “No ruler would shoot his own people”. It has become a family tradition.  I suppose the big news is the US troops leaving Iraq but one can only feel sad – hundreds of thousands of deaths, a trillion dollars, sectarian violence and an unstable future.  A warrant for the arrest of the Vice President was not a good start to “democratic” Iraq.  Like many others around the world I marched against the illegal invasion of Iraq, but it gives no satisfaction to still believe we were right!

I read in the SMH 20 Bedouin communities between Jerusalem and Jericho are to be relocated (again) close to a municipal rubbish dump on the edge of Jerusalem.  The report said this had been described as part of a strategic plan for a ring of Jewish settlements that would cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and would make a contiguous Palestine state impossible.

I hope it is a reason for optimism that Hamas in their rapprochement with Fatah, while still not acknowledging the state of Israel, has said it is shifting it’s emphasis from”armed struggle to non-violent resistance”.  Hopefully this means no more rockets and mortars will be fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.  550 more Palestinians have been released as promised from Israeli jails.

Iran is angry that the  Hamas leadership in exile are relocating from Syria, and have consequently cut their funding – an example of the many changing scenarios and allegiances in the Middle East.

Obama, Mr Cool, has seen his approval rating among US Jewish voters fall from 78% to 54%.  Luckily for him the Republican Presidential candidates to date have been a circus.

Photo by Hui Yu Kim, Veolia Environment Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2011

Photo by Hui Yu Kim, Veolia Environment Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2011

UK RIOTS:  It was interesting to read a report into the riots – the background was a pervasive sense of injustice, and for some this was economic, with a lack of money, jobs or opportunities, but also a significant factor behind the riots was a “widespread anger and frustration at the way police engage with the communities”.

AUSTRALIAN ISSUES:  The PM survived a tough year with a hung parliament (described by some as episodes of Survivor).  Just as abysmal polls rise slightly, the unhelpful distraction of Gillard/Rudd/Shorten? leadership tensions emerge.  The Government handled the GFC extremely well, in my opinion, but will be tested again.  Our current national shame is the months old stalemate between both parties over the processing of asylum seekers off-shore. Both agree with it, but not which countries to do it in. Meanwhile people are dying in their attempts to reach Australia – possibly 180 drowned last weekend which may finally force some action. The Indonesian Government has halved the number of Australian live cattle exports as pay back for the temporary ban after the footage of conditions in Indonesian abatoirs were shown on Australian television. There has not been an equivalent public outcry over the 180 asylum seekers who have just drowned.

Our conservation issues should be uranium mining and sales to India, and coal, with mega mines planned in the Galilee Basin in Queensland with 375 million tonnes of coal a year capacity which by 2035 would be eating up 4% of the world’s carbon budget and 9% of the emissions set aside for coal.

“If this goes ahead, it will destroy our chances of keeping global warming to 2 degrees.” John Hepburn from Greenpeace commented.

There is finally a debate about the wholesale embracing of coal seam gas mining without any definitive environmental impact studies as yet. “Wind turbine” syndrome is being discussed – do wind farms actually affect health?  Perhaps if you live near by, but are not being paid well to host them!  Water management, particularly in the Murray –Darling River basin is being fiercely fought over with the impossible task of pleasing local communities, farmers and irrigators.  From an environmental point of view, 4,000 gigalitres (GL=a billion litres) of water needs to be returned to the river, and the current proposal is for 3573 gigalitres by 2019.

A court decision has for the time being blocked plans for a big $30 billion liquefied natural gas terminal in the Kimberley region. The clearing of the site may have been in breach of the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act, and unresolved issues include sacred Aboriginal sites, a divided Aboriginal community, and environmental and heritage concerns.

Photo by Marc McCormack Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

Photo by Marc McCormack Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011

WHALING: The Japanese Antarctic whaling fleet has set out with a target of 900 whales in 3 months for “scientific data”.  There are bound to be confrontations with the Sea Shepherd who last year kept their total number to 17% of their target.  The hunt has been described as an expression of national pride – or that the Japanese are sick of being lectured to.  It is now however as provocative as it is anachronistic.  To protect the expedition the Japanese Government have given the project $28 million from earthquake/tsunami relief money!

MISC STATS:  China has $US3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves; Chinese trade with Australia is worth $105 billion; 271 (US dollar) billionaires in China (this has doubled since 2010), 400 in America, 57 in India, 35 in Australia; 600 million mobile phone users in China, 500 million in India; 40,000 Irish nationals left Ireland in the 12 months to April 2011; 150,000 Russians left home as well.

PREDICTION:  Hong Kong to emerge as the world’s financial centre.

HIV:  34 million people live with HIV.  There are 2.7 million new infections each year.  Fortunately drugs are prolonging lives but of the $22 billion funding required now, only $16 billion is available.

BRADLEY MANNING & ASSANGE:  It is interesting watching the Bradley case unfold, with the portrait being painted of his unstable behaviour something his superiors should not just have ignored.  Some people think that the US Government would like him to plead guilty, get a reduced sentence and be used as a witness against Wikileaks and Assange.  Julian has won the right to appeal against his extradition to Sweden.  I hope the treaty between the UK and Sweden prevents him from being extradited to the US. In the absence of any support from the Australian Government, quite a few prominent Australians have written an open letter to Foreign Minister Rudd asking him to protect Julian Assange from rendition to the US.

CONGRATULATIONS:  “The Protester” TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2011.

OCCUPY WALL STREET:  The small Sydney contingent are still camped in Martin Place.  There seems some sort of tacit arrangement with the police, but with on going harassment – like taking away some items of “public hazard”, and just recently, tents and sleeping bags.

JOHN DARLING:  John Darling, poet, artist and film maker was farewelled in a moving ceremony in Perth that brought together the cross cultural influences of Aboriginal, Christian and Balinese Hinduism customs and belief.  I spoke, and quoted an academic who said “John’s contribution to Australian understanding of Indonesia was unique” – although John had asked that he would prefer to have his “essence” discussed. He was indeed a beautiful person.  Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa oversaw the appropriate Balinese rituals with grace, and when he spoke, conveyed moving words from his father, the Prince of Ubud. There was a Memorial service in Melbourne, to be followed by a ceremony in Bali.

My thoughts are with those that have also lost family members or friends, and those living with illness.

Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa in Perth for John Darling's ceremony

Tjokorda Gde Mahatma Putra Kerthyasa in Perth for John Darling's ceremony. Photo by Made Wijaya

VALE:  Christopher Hitchens.  I am reading Arguably, a marvellous collection of Hitchen’s essays and articles. My friend Mandy said I should read his memoir Hitch-22 first.

VOICELESS WRITING PRIZE: To advance public understanding of the relationship between humans and animals – see www.voiceless.org.au.

MAIL:  Thanks for the emails, Christmas wishes, and sharing your stories on the blog and on the A Lion Called Christian website. Some people have had trouble leaving a “comment” on the blog – please email me directly if you are having trouble with this.  A Lion Called Christian showed again on Saturday night and I get such nice emails or messages each time.  This year Christian’s story has become better known in India and I’ve loved receiving emails and stories from there.  Thanks to Therasa, my sister Lindy, and Kylie for their help with the blog.

CHANEE: See Chanee’s latest video Sounding off about the forests about the deforestation caused by palm oil plantations. As I write this now, the tallest tree I can see from my windows, is being cut down. I wonder what the offence is – too old? Too high? Blocking someone’s view? I feel guilty that I never walked to the base of the tree and admired it up close and now it is gone.

CHRISTMAS GIFTS:  One can probably still buy online practical and useful Christmas presents from various Aid organisations.  From pigs, cows and goats to fruit trees, clean water and immunisation and educational needs.  I can’t really personally vouch for them but see CARE www.caregifts.org.au – gifts.  Also see www.worldvision.com.au/gifts and www.oxfamunwrapped.com.au. WSPA also have gift suggestions.  At this time many unsuitable pets are given as gifts and later discarded. This year it is “Red Dog” kelpie puppies (after the movie), but these dogs are sheep dogs and belong in the country.

SEASONS GREETINGS:  Merry Christmas if you celebrate it,  and hopefully some happy and relaxed time with family, friends and pets!  Happy New Year – some have predicted next year will be big, but the scientists have assured us it won’t be the end of the world! Good luck for the undoubted challenges and delights that lie ahead in 2012.

Perth November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Perth November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

SUMMER:  I have been in Perth and the photograph (above) is of the beach at Scarborough, opposite my hotel.  Tempting as the water looks there have been several recent shark attacks on Perth beaches.  I always say I haven’t been in the sea since seeing Jaws, now many years ago – and it is virtually true.  The Australian native flowers in Perth gardens and parks, and at home in Bundeena, have been especially beautiful and already the temperatures are quite hot.  Apologies to everyone going into winter!

OCCUPY WALL STREET: I was away and missed the most recent Sydney Occupy Wall Street rally.  Responses by the police removing ostensibly peaceful protesters from their sites everywhere are getting more heavy-handed.  There is an attitude “OK you have made your point, now go home”.  Sorry, but I don’t think it is going to work like that. I don’t know if the Sydney group has set up a new camp. Their absence of “leadership” and specific objectives is quite fascinating, and the organic growth of the movement still seems to be gaining momentum. They have certainly made the world – and presumably politicians – take notice.

JULIAN ASSANGE:  Australia does not seem to be assisting this Australian citizen in any way and I imagine Julian will appeal after losing his High Court battle in the UK against his extradition to Sweden.  I’ve been looking up some of the economic and political websites and blogs mentioned at the Occupy rally or by WikiLeaks sympathisers.  Most have been very informative, but some are quite scary.  I try not to be into conspiracy theories but then again I think I’m often very naive.  Fascinating and enigmatic as Julian is, I’ve only read edited sections of his “unauthorised autobiography” in newspapers.

Rafa

RAFA: While Julian may have disowned his autobiography, Rafael Nadal said he hadn’t even read his own “autobiography!  I found it very interesting.  The exceptional natural abilities, mental and physical toughness, and the unavoidable discipline and hard work required to make a sports star.  Then there are other  factors like luck, the other competitors (Federer ahead of him, and Djokovic emerging behind him), and the ever present risk of injury. Rafa is very tough mentally and can exclude all superfluous thoughts – like losing the last point. He is surrounded by a very good team and family. He has an effective if prickly relationship with his coach his Uncle Tony, who has taunted him as a “Mummy’s boy”. Every morning, no matter how late to bed, Rafa is on the court , or in the gym. I’m looking forward to the Australian Open in Melbourne in January – Rafa was injured last year.

TONY THE TIGER:  The victory in his court case has been the best news.  I have been trying to ascertain from the ALDF if he is still in his cage at the Truck Stop, and I fear he is.  What will the “owner” do with Tony, and can he appeal the decision?  Who will decide Tony’s subsequent future?  The ALDF and Dee de Santis will keep us informed hopefully.

Copyright WSPCA

Copyright WSPCA

ANIMAL NEWS: Read WSPA’s latest bear news here.  Also, you can read the new Minding Animals Bulletin #8.

BIPARTISANSHIP:  In Australia we have political bipartisanship only about “hot” and often difficult issues.  Aboriginal issues are often bipartisan, with both parties at the moment supporting an ill conceived and uninvited “intervention” in remote Aboriginal communities some of which are admittedly facing seemingly insurmountable social problems.  It suits both political parties to acquiesce with each other in these failed policies.

Because of our alliance with the US, both parties also agree over war, with our involvement in Afghanistan (and Iraq).  However 72% of Australians want our troops to come home – 32 Australian deaths in Afghanistan, and the last few have been killed by rogue Afghans from troops they have been “mentoring”.

Obama has just whizzed through Australia charming everyone and now we are to have American troops stationed here in a few years in northern Australia. Obama is trying to extricate America from the Middle East, and has committed America to the Asia-Pacific region and its growing economic opportunities.  Does this enhance Australia’s security or make us more of a target?  How will China, who has been keeping the Australian economy afloat, react to this? The move has been interpreted as an attempt to “contain” China, and we have been reminded “Chinese strategic missiles can reach Australia”.

Israel is also a bipartisan issue and our government was one of only 14 countries that recently voted against Palestine’s admission to UNESCO.  Although 107 countries supported Palestinian membership, the move has been described as “detrimental to the peace process”.  What “peace process” one may ask?  The US is now refusing to pay their $60 million contribution to UNESCO. Israel as a punishment is withholding at least $US100 million in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority and fast-tracking new settlement development.  It was refreshing to hear just how frustrated Obama really is with Netanyahu.

I wish there was a humane bipartisanship in Australia over asylum seekers and refugees rather than the blatant “race to the bottom” playing to the worst and most uncharitable instincts in the Australian population.  There have been yet more recent drownings in an unsafe boat setting off from Indonesia.

Up to 30 Indonesian children, who were possibly unwitting crew members on these “people-smuggler boats”, are languishing in our jails, while our media is hysterical over a 14 year old Australian busted for buying marijuana and boasting about it in Bali.

Bundeena November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Bundeena November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

CLIMATE CHANGE:  Australia’s Clean Energy Bill has passed the Senate.  Al Gore sent a message:

“With this vote, the world has turned a pivotal corner in the collective effort to solve the climate crisis… Today we celebrate.  Tomorrow, we do everything we can to ensure that this legislation is successful.”

Rupert Murdoch has assumed Chairmanship of News Ltd in Australia, and appointed a new CEO.  I was amused to read in his The Australian, that a prominent US physicist and global-warming sceptic in trying to disprove climate scientists were wrong, discovered that they were right – temperatures were rising rapidly.  However, true to form, another report in the newspaper found “an international statesman” who described international carbon trading as “halfway between a fantasy and a fraud”.

The US Department of Energy has calculated the global output of carbon dioxide has jumped by the biggest amount on record, and a draft UN report finds that man-made climate change has boosted the frequency or intensity of floods, cyclones, wildfires, heat waves etc., and this is likely to increase.

As I have previously mentioned, China is acting on climate change and their emissions, but they are also being forced into action because their air is so polluted.  I remember the sky was brown in Shanghai when I was there just before their EXPO in 2010.

Our own inimitable Cardinal Pell says it is “immoral” to spend money attempting to prevent climate change. I would say future generations will say it was “immoral” to do nothing about it.

Bundeena November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Bundeena November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

CSG:  Both coal seam gas and liquefied natural gas are expected to benefit in the short term from the price on carbon, because they generally emit fewer greenhouse gases than coal and at present they are cheaper than solar, wind or geothermal power. There are 4,000 coal seam gas wells sunk in Queensland already, and plans for as many as 40,000 more!  However the technique used (known as “fracking”) apparently caused a small earthquake in the UK recently, and the long term effects on water tables through this process and the use of chemicals etc., are still unknown.

In Queensland, dredging in ports to facilitate CSG export facilities is endangering The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area ecosystem.  You can show your concern by signing this GetUp! petition.

MINING: The Government is still trying to implement a Mining Tax against great opposition from most of the millionaire miners.  Apparently most companies pay as little as 14% taxation, and 83% of the companies are foreign-owned.  Shamefully, Canada is selling vast amounts of asbestos to countries like India for cheap (and possibly life-threatening) housing (Foreign Correspondent 8 Nov ABC).  The Australian Government seems to be about to overturn our ban on uranium sales to India which was based on the fact that India is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  This has been a long running impediment in our relationship with India who, despite what happened in Fukushima, Japan, is aiming at a total of 65 nuclear reactors.

RHINOS: As I have previously blogged African elephants are in an “extinction vortex”.  Africa’s Western Black Rhino, however, has been declared extinct and other sub-species may also be facing extinction. Read more in this LA Times article.

A LION CALLED CHRISTIAN:  I send a copy of the book or DVD of A Lion Called Christian to any children’s hospitals I read about and I received a letter back from one saying that Christian’s story was proving to be effective “distractive therapy” – an expression I hadn’t heard before.  I’m so pleased to think this can sometimes help those children facing often dire medical procedures or futures.

The books are available in digital versions and I have included links below.  I’m sort of  surprised that Christian’s story continues to inspire people – except his life was so exceptional!

iBooks: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/a-lion-called-christian/id437005297?mt=11

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Lion-Called-Christian-ebook/dp/B0038LB3Z4/

Waterstones: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/anthony+bourke/john+rendall/a+lion+called+christian+28ebook29/6449728/

WHSmith: http://www.whsmith.co.uk/CatalogAndSearch/eBooksProductDetails.aspx?productID=KB00104739541

Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/A-Lion-Called-Christian/book-OMXKLakmSEyu5TnRXJn31w/page1.html?utm_source=whsmith&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=detailpage

Audley Weir National Park Sydney, November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke

Audley Weir National Park Sydney, November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke

BLOGGING: I finally caught up with the film Julie & Julia which I enjoyed despite Meryl Streep’s no doubt good impersonation of Julia Child’s voice.  I was interested in the blogging – Julie was at it day by day, which I am not, and much more personal.  I don’t want to inflict on you my daily feelings, mood swings and neuroses.  Over a two or three week period what I want to comment on emerges – even if some of it is quite dated by then.  Blogging offers all of us the chance to express what we feel about the world, as many of us feel a certain impotence.  I’ve let you know I’ve had a life after owning a lion when I was young, and had a career in Aboriginal art which I have found fascinating.  In a blog I’m able to talk about other things that I find important or that interest me and I like the way it ends up a sort of diary.

Primarily, however, I hope the blog is a valuable global noticeboard about anyone doing interesting work or campaigning in relation to conservation and animal rights and welfare issues.  This very much also depends on your contributions.  If we together have helped in any way to free Tony the Tiger, for example, I think that is just wonderful.

I get many more emails than “comments” on the blog – perhaps many of you are rather like me and prefer a one-on-one communication, rather than a more public discourse.

MISC STATS: nearly 4000 protesters dead in Syria so far (and thousands of defecting Syrian soldiers joining the protests); 800 million Facebook users; Justin Bieber’s over 2 billion hits on YouTube overtaking Lady Gaga (his voice is breaking); 7 billion people in the world and 30 million millionaires; Chinese artist Ai Weiwei accused of owing $2.27 million in back taxes ( people are throwing money over his wall); 500 have died in the floods in Thailand; George Soros’ accurate prediction that the deal to fix the Eurozone/Greek financial crisis would last between 1 and 30 days – it lasted 4 days (good luck to the new governments in Greece and Italy); Brazil overtakes the UK as the world’s 6th biggest economy; Australia judged the second best country to live in after Norway!

I’m reading and loving The Colony: A History of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens, uncomfortably watching The Slap on TV,  loved k.d.lang’s great voice at her concert, and I was in awe and humbled in the presence of many of Picasso’s own Picassos at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Audley Weir National Park Sydney, November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Audley Weir National Park Sydney, November 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Occupy Wall Street, Martin Place Sydney 22 October 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Occupy Wall Street, Martin Place Sydney 22 October 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

OCCUPY WALL STREET: The Occupy Wall Street movement began on 17 September in New York when 1,000 protesters marched on Wall Street, protesting about the failure of the government to crack down on the practices that led to the financial collapse, the government’s bail out of financial institutions and a financial system that has allowed 1% of Americans to hold more than a quarter of the nation’s wealth.

The movement has spread to many cities around the world and has become a metaphor for many things that decent ordinary people, the 99%, are feeling.  I went to the rally in Martin Place, Sydney last weekend.  The protesters who were camping there were bundled out at 5am the next morning and this had happened the day before in Melbourne, where the protest was broken up, with ensuing violence, by over 400 police.  The Lord Mayor of Melbourne spoke very disparagingly about the protesters, and some commentators are confusing what they interpret as a “sense of entitlement” with a legitimate “sense of outrage”.  It was a small crowd at the Sydney rally, and in Australia at the moment there is not the middle class following (and celebrity endorsement) that the movement has in the US – but the current economic and employment situation in the US is much more dire.  Another rally is scheduled for 5 November – presumably in Martin Place.

I asked some of the mostly young protesters how one could support them.  They don’t seem to be into internet activism, they aren’t targeting businesses or politicians – I think they are creating a space for people to think about and debate “corporate greed”, and they presume politicians will be paying attention.  Before being disbanded, people were invited at 6pm each evening to talk about related issues and everyone voted on any suggestions or recommendations.  They weren’t even especially interested in my donation.

At the rally I ran into an old friend John Shipton – Julian Assange’s father.  It must be quite worrying to have a son described as “the most dangerous man in the world”, and Julian has certainly changed the world and made us aware of just how much information is withheld from us by our governments.  WikiLeaks is facing a financial blockade from US based financial companies and the publishing operation will be suspended until the financial crisis is solved.

Last time I saw John he was very interested (and amused) by the Christian the Lion internet phenomenon that we were caught up in – but our experience seems pretty tame and Walt Disney in comparison with Julian.

John was at the rally to listen to Steve Keen, an Associate Professor at the University of Western Sydney and author of Debunking Economics.  Keen is described in Wikipedia as a “post-Keynesian criticising both modern neoclassical economics and (some of) Marxian economics as inconsistent, unscientific and empirically unsupported.”

Occupy Wall Street, Martin Place Sydney 22 October 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Occupy Wall Street, Martin Place Sydney 22 October 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

The “trickle-down theory” that everyone would benefit if the rich got richer, has been disproved.  There are now apparently 1,210 billionaires in the world with a total worth of $US4.5 trillion.  With this year’s annual reporting season beginning, for the first time Australian shareholders will be able to exercise their right to protest over the obscene level of pay some executives are receiving.  From this year on, if 25% of shareholders vote against the salary packages of executives and directors two years running, the entire board will be spilled.

Our airline Qantas seem to be locked in a fight to the death with 3 different unions.  Is CEO Allan Joyce’s attempt at a major restructure of Qantas and expansion into Asia worth his $5 million salary compared to the CEOs of Cathay Pacific ($1.4 million), Singapore Airlines ($982,000) and China Southern ($153,000)?

In Australia median pay for the CEO’s of our top 100 companies has rocketed by 131% in 10 years, with bonuses up by 190%.  But the stock market value of those companies has increased by just 31%.

Summer whale migration. Source: SMH, photo by Liina Flynn

MANNERS:  I think my primary school motto was “Manners Maketh Man”.  The very successful writer Alexander McCall Smith has been in Australia to talk at a Festival of Dangerous Ideas.  Various factors have contributed to social dysfunction in “The Broken Society” and the recent riots in England, including absent or hard working parents, Blair’s education policies, Cameron stripping back services, police powers to stop and search people etc.  McCall’s “dangerous idea” was the absence of manners in society these days!  He argued that manners act as a social lubricant and without them society and the community have suffered.  Children especially are having less meaningful conversations and communication and have very little civic respect.

Alan Moir, SMH

Tony Abbott Opposition Leader by Alan Moir, SMH

CARBON TAX:  Although it is not to be implemented until July 2012, our carbon tax legislation has been voted in, with a price of $23 per tonne.  However we have a very successful and totally negative Opposition Leader (see cartoon above) who has threatened to rescind the carbon tax and this is robbing business of the certainty they require – from investment in aging power stations to alternative energy sources.  India and China are referred to as the new polluting economic giants – and they are in some respects, but India has a carbon tax and China plans to have an emissions trading scheme in six regions by 2013 and nationwide by 2015 and is positioning itself to benefit from new green economic opportunities.

Unfortunately there have been solar panel scams in Australia and the US.  However, Chinese investment in solar has seen their market share increase from 5% to 54% in six years – compared to the US which has gone the other way – from 42% in 1997 to just 6% today.

Experts have been taken by surprise as to the extent of glaciers melting because of climate change from the Andes to across the Himalayas where lakes are forming which could cause catastrophic flooding.  In Australia there is also noticeably less snow on our ski slopes.

DEMOCRACY:  While people are taking to the streets and actually dying for “democracy” in some parts of the world, it may be inappropriate to question the effectiveness of democracy.  However, the 24 hour media cycle, constant polling and focus groups, marginal seats, and the power of the shock jocks are all contributing factors to a dumbing down of the political discourse.  Interestingly at a recent debate in Sydney on the State of Democracy the majority of people did not believe democracy is failing the world and that its disappointments should not be confused with its shortcomings.  Arguments included: “democracy has defeated science” in relation to climate change for example; “democracy had reached a point of paralysis and inefficiency”; other models could include “a citizens senate or Confucian democracy”; and others argued democracy keeps “government accountable” and “fostered peace and innovation”.

BUSH HERITAGE:  In my last blog I mentioned the work of The National Conservancy (TNC).  The organisation Bush Heritage also successfully buys and rehabilitates land – like clearing it of sheep grazing and protecting threatened animals and plants.  It began in 1990 with a grant from Greens leader Bob Brown to buy a property.  Bush Heritage now owns almost a million hectares and over 33 reserves, and is aiming to protect 1% of Australia by 2025.

2011 Nyapanyapa Circles at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery Sydney

Nyapanyapa, Circles 2011 at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney


2011 Nigel Milson Untitled Judo House (Golden Mud) at Yuill-Crowley Sydney

2011 Nigel Milson Untitled Judo House (Golden Mud) at Yuill-Crowley Sydney

Petrina Hicks Excalibur at Stills Gallery Sydney

Petrina Hicks Excalibur at Stills Gallery Sydney

GALLERY IMAGES:  I had a run around some Sydney galleries last week and loved some exhibitions and works in their stock rooms.  My favourite was the bark paintings by Aboriginal artist Nyapyanapa at Roslyn Oxley9 and I bought one.  I have long admired Robyn Stacey, and her luxurious photographs in the exhibition House at the Museum of Sydney make us look at 19th century domestic life in a new way.  There is an accompanying book, and I recently bought the book Museum, which contains Stacey’s equally stunning photographs based on the Macleay collection of entomological specimens.

Nigel Milsom’s scary paintings of dogs at Yuill/Crowley were inspired by reading Hess’ Steppenwolf and living near a greyhound racing track.  You can see more images here on smh.com.au.

At Stills Gallery I saw an image of a dog by Petrina Hicks which has always rather haunted me.

ARAB FALL:  An unpleasant, if not totally unexpected end for Gaddafi, and illustrative of the difficulties ahead for a transition to a better future.  Difficulties include the interests of the various tribes that make up the Libyan people, and so many weapons in the country.  Luckily oil will provide an economic base.  The Tunisians, who have a very different history, have successfully held their “free and fair” elections, won by a moderate Islamic Party.  It is a relief to have Gilad Shalit finally back home in Israel, exchanged for the 1,027 Palestinians released, or to be released, from prison.  I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand the Israel/Hamas/Fatah/Syria/Iran/Hezbollah/Sunni/Shiite histories, strategies, agendas and alliances – but I hope for some progress, any progress, towards a more peaceful and secure life for them all.  Protesters are still dying in Yemen and Syria, but footage that has been smuggled out is going to make convincing evidence against authorities for their crimes against humanity.

I see that Condoleeza Rice is trying to rewrite history and claim that the invasion of Iraq has contributed to the Arab Spring popular uprisings.  This war has cost $US800 billion and 5,000US lives, and many many more civilian deaths. I think we will see just how “democratic” the government of PM Nouri al-Maliki is once the US withdraw all troops by the end of the year.

Interestingly, Noam Chomsky believes that the role of technology in the Arab uprisings has been exaggerated.  “The core of the Arab Spring was really labour organisation.  Take a look at Egypt; that was attributed to tech-savvy young people with Twitter.  That’s not false, but there is a close correlation between long-term labour activism and the effectiveness of democracy movements.”

SHAME:  Amnesty International recently visited the ironically named Utopia, a remote Aboriginal community in Central Australia, and was appalled by the living standards.  The community feel they are being deliberately starved off their traditional land and being forced to relocate to other centres.

We should also be ashamed that in Australia we are detaining our relatively few asylum seekers (including children) for so long – some for over 2 years, that there are scandalous levels of mental illnesses and self harm.

2011 Jupiter kissing Ana Julia Torres Luis Robayo, AFP Getty Images

2011 Jupiter kissing Ana Julia Torres. Photo by Luis Robayo, AFP Getty Images

LIVE CATTLE EXPORTS:  The Government has accepted the recommendations of the review into Australia’s $1 billion live export industry.  Exporters will have the responsibility for the welfare of animals (to World Organisation for Animal Health standards) from departure to the point of slaughter.  Animal lobby groups object that stunning before slaughter is still not mandatory, and that the review did not address the conflict of interest of vets on board export vessels.

2011 Tigers from Animals in the News - Reuters, photo by Ilya Naymushin

2011 Tigers from Animals in the News - Reuters, photo by Ilya Naymushin

OHIO:  The slaughter of dozens of lions, tigers, bears and wolves set free from a private farm in Ohio has sparked calls for restrictions on the largely unregulated ownership of exotic pets in several US states.  Eighteen Bengal tigers were shot – and there are only 1,500 left in the wild in India.  There are approximately 2,884 pet tigers in the US but there is a certain amount of genetic manipulation with interbreeding between different sub species.  I have been emailed recently about caged tigers and panthers used recently at extremely noisy sporting events in the US, with cheerleaders even performing on the roof of the cage, and of course Tony the Tiger’s predicament weighs on most of our minds.  Read the SMH article here – http://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/ohio-exotic-animal-slaughter-sparks-outrage-20111020-1m9wq.html.

Three Sumatran tiger cubs have made their first appearance at Taronga Zoo as part of the captive breeding program.  Only 400 survive in the wild, their habitats and lives threatened by the palm oil industry and hunting.

DONKEYS:  I’ve got several friends very concerned about the welfare of hard working donkeys.  The Brooke has been working for over 75 years to help working donkeys, mules and horses in countries like Egypt, Pakistan, India, Ethiopia and Kenya. For more information see www.thebrooke.org/littledonkey.

2011 Kevin Richardscon copyright Barcroft Media

2011 Kevin Richardscon copyright Barcroft Media

MAILBAG:  Thanks to David for sending the beautiful, interesting and sometimes appalling images from Animals in the News from TheAtlantic.com, George for the email about the improper use of animals at sporting events, and Christine for the superb photographs of Kevin Richardson with his animals – especially the lions.

Thanks for sending these stories in. We post most of them on the www.alioncalledchristian.com.au website and we are building a great archive which people are enjoying.

Vanity Fair listed ways to support the protection of elephants and other endangered species.

CHRISTIAN THE LION: Thanks to Matthew for this YouTube link with a new version of Christian’s story reedited from the original footage.

MY PHOTOS:  Some people sweetly commented on my photographs last blog.  Bundeena is so beautiful and on my afternoon walks armed with my small trusty Lumix it is hard to go wrong – even without my glasses!

Reflections, Bundeena 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

Reflections, Bundeena 2011. Photo by Ace Bourke.

 

  

TONY THE TIGER:  It was extremely good news that the ALDF won the court case for Tony the Tiger.  You can sign this petition click here to try and have him released prior to December when the permit will not be renewed.  There are unanswered questions however including who will have ‘custody’ of him and determine where he goes next?  It is essential to get him out of his cage as soon as possible to make his last years more enjoyable. 

 

 

 

COOPER THE CAT:  Every cat owner wonders where their cat goes to and this is one of the reasons I love Cooper’s photographs!  For over three years he has been fitted once a week with a lightweight digital camera which takes a photograph every two minutes.  Who would have thought the photograph (at top) was taken by a cat?  He now attends his own exhibition openings and media interviews – which would be an impossibility for me with my cats.  Although I know it sounds hypocritical coming from me, I have noticed more animals being used inappropriately lately – a lion cub unnecessarily in a Vanity Fair photograph, and an elephant in the city at the opening of the film Water for Elephants.

 

'Risqué' by Cooper the Cat

 

AUSTRALIA:  In 1964 Donald Horne, a well known academic and writer described Australia as “a lucky country”.  This quote was misunderstood as he actually went on to say “run by second rate people who share its luck”.  This seems particularly true at the moment. 25% of our mining exports go to China and were worth $58 billion in 2010, 37% higher than in 2009.  This helped us survive the GFC so successfully.  Political “discourse” has been reduced to whether or not there should be a carbon tax, and both major parties competing to be meaner to asylum seekers and refugees, and people on welfare.  Shock jocks are inflaming their listeners, and politicians are playing to them primarily, although many would probably not even bother to vote if they didn’t have to.

UK:  Congratulations to the government and the bi-partisan support to cut carbon emissions by 50% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2027, although funding for clean-energy technologies has been cut.  In Australia, our negative  Opposition persist in their pretend policy, ranting against a carbon tax.  The myth of carbon storage and capture (“clean coal”) seems to have finally died.  Malcolm Turnbull, who lost his position as the Leader of the Opposition over his support for action on climate change is looking thinner – don’t they say that’s a sign someone is about to make an attempt for the leadership?  It was true in the case of a newly trimmed down new Premier of NSW who is already looking as bad as his predecessors – retrospective legislation over solar panel rebates, and courting the dreaded Shooters and Fishers Party, by allowing more hunting in National Parks.

 

  

EASTER:  I know Easter is now a distant memory, but as a Republican, an agnostic, and a pacifist I felt very marginalized over Easter and saw ironies and hypocrisy everywhere, and resented everything was closed!  Amnesty International has just criticized Australia for a lack of leadership on human rights issues (discrimination against indigenous communities, asylum seekers and refugees), but our PM was lecturing the Chinese about human rights while we were getting tougher on asylum seekers who dared to protest in detention over the long delays in their processing.  There are 7000 locked up in detention here including women and children, but there are 20 million refugees in the world.  Many are fleeing wars where Australians are actually fighting – like Afghanistan.  A proposed new political fix is to send them to Malaysia, a country with a reputation for not treating refugees humanely.  After Easter we also had Anzac Day “remembering” “celebrating” or even “romanticizing” a famous military defeat.  One can be very grateful for those who fought for Australia (or were cannon fodder for Britain), especially those that made the ultimate sacrifice, but all our remaining old soldiers seem to say war is just appalling and should be avoided if possible.  The last World War I veteran just died – Claude Choules joined the navy at 14 and lived to be 110.  Our other colonial cringe over Easter was Royal Wedding fever, and I must admit as an antidote I loved Dame Edna Everage’s bitchy commentary on television.

CHINA:  The Chinese talk about their “advances on human rights” but we seem to be witnessing the opposite –  the most aggressive crackdown for decades.  It has been good to see the international art world unite with concern for artist Ai Weiwei and after 43 days his family has finally been able to at least contact him.

MIDDLE EAST:  600-800 killed in Syria, with 8000 detained since the crackdown…finally sanctions against the regime…recriminations (and questionable jubilation) over Osama’s execution…Fatah and Hamas in Palestine kiss and make up…Palestinians protesting on Israel’s various borders…the International  Criminal Court moves on the Gaddafi  regime…and unfortunately Obama’s recent attempt to provide an overarching narrative and a way forward for the emerging democracies in the Middle East has been mostly met with disappointment or hostility.  Platitudes about international aid and economic support, no “circuit breaker” on the Israel/Palestinian conflict, and Saudi Arabia not even referred to, has only fed cynicism of U.S. motives.

 

With my sister Lindy Bourke at The Cross Art Projects

 

JEFFREY MOUSSAIEFF MASSON:  At the opening of my exhibition of Indian tribal art, I met Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.  He is very well-known for his books about the emotional life of animals and I have ordered several.  I am especially looking forward to The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats – A Journey into the Feline Heart.  “We need cats to need us…It unnerves us that they do not.  However, if they do not need us, they nonetheless seem to love us”.  His book The Face on your Plate may make me a vegetarian!   His blogs are very interesting to read and his website is very informative.   His blogs are more like essays or a meditation on one subject – most recently he asks Do Animals Get Depressed? and Shark Attacks: What’s the Truth?  He is very well-educated in various disciplines, and he is making a very valuable contribution to our understanding of animals, and human and animal relationships.  View his site www.jeffreymasson.com.

 

 

 

 MUHAMMAD YUNUS:  I have long admired Mr Yunus for pioneering micro loans to the world’s poorest people.  He was recently forced to resign from the Grameen Bank he founded in Bangladesh and which now has 8 million members.

SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE:  Awarded to Julian Assange – congratulations!  Isn’t it a relief to have a highly intelligent if enigmatic “celebrity” in the spotlight for a change?

ACCIDENTS:  At a recent steeple chase horse riding event in Victoria a horse died, many jockeys fell, and onlookers were injured when a riderless horse jumped a fence. This “sport” seems unacceptably dangerous. 

 

 

RUDYARD KIPLING:  I’ve just read Kipling Sahib: India and the Making of Rudyard Kipling by Charles Allen.  It deals very comprehensively with the influence of India and other factors that made him such a successful writer in his day. It was hard searching for clues to his extraordinary empathy with animals as it wasn’t the central thesis of the book, and he had systematically destroyed as much information about himself as he could.  As a very young child “Chang” his Chinese pug had been his “best playfellow”.  It seems that there was a confluence of influences in his late 20’s.  He was already very well-known, he was about to write the Jungle Books, the Just So Stories, and his “masterpiece” Kim.  He had just had his first child, and he was asked to write some children’s stories by a well-known writer.  A primary influence was his early childhood in a tropical Bombay garden, and the stories told to him by his Indian ayah.  Apparently every European child raised in India heard these stories from the Jatakas which were originally based on Buddhist moral tales, and were about the interaction between birds, animals and men.

The other influence was his tolerant, compassionate and rather wonderful sounding father whom he sometimes collaborated with, and who had just published and illustrated his own book Beast and Man in India: A Popular Sketch of Indian Animals in their Relations with the People.

Interestingly, I’ve just noticed that my late godparents Beth and Mick Busby gave me The Second Jungle  Book, in addition to my most favourite book Orlando the Marmalade Cat, and I do wonder what influence these books had on me!

MISC STATS:  …soon there will be 700 billion people in the world…Australia anticipating 36 million by 2050 (how will we manage our finite resources and live sustainably?)…20 species and sub species of birds have become extinct since European settlement of Australia (1788), and presently 30 are listed as critically endangered…tropical forests around the world are disappearing at the rate of about 13 million hectares each year (the size of Greece)…there are 2.14 billion Christians – and growing in Africa, Asia etc…only 14% of people now get their news from the newspapers…and tennis player Novak Djokovic has had his 39th consecutive win. 

 

My Cats

 

CHRISTIAN THE LION:  Dana Broe emailed and asked me to clear up a few discrepancies about Christian on Wikipedia and in the Daily Mail.  We flew Christian to Kenya in 1970.  We returned and saw him in 1971 (the YouTube reunion), and again in 1972.  He was last seen in early 1973 heading in the direction of Meru National Park.  As a male it was impossible for him to remain at Kora competing for the limited resources with the wild male lions there.  I now understand if he had established his own pride somewhere else, it would have been impossible for him to leave them unprotected and come back and see George Adamson and his assistant Tony Fitzjohn, who is now the Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust  This information is in our revised A Lion Called Christian (2009), and Tony writes about this in his recent book Born Wild.

Lions can live approximately 9-12 years in the wild (up to approximately 18 in zoos), and George Adamson thought that as Christian grew into one of the biggest lions in Kenya, he could defend himself, and the effective “bush telegraph” never reported the sighting of a lion this size, dead or alive.  So we are optimistic or hopeful he continued to lead a natural life for several more years at least.

PS:  Our thoughts are with those people and animals currently struggling with floods and other catastrophic events particularly in Quebec and America.  Recent reports say there is mounting scientific evidence linking climate change to the intensity and frequency of these natural disasters.