August 12, 2016
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN
Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 in an unprepossessing and long closed down zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon, UK. Who could have imagined after five generations of captivity in Europe, he would be returned to Africa, and be successfully rehabilitated by George Adamson of Born Free fame?
For those unfamiliar with Christian’s story, see his website alioncalledchristian.com.au.
I am most often asked what happened to Christian. No-one knows. Christian was last seen by George Adamson in early 1973 when he was nearly four years old and was growing into one of the largest lions George had ever seen. He had survived the most dangerous years, although life as an adult lion would also always be very challenging. George thought he was looking for a territory of his own, away from the aggressive local lions of Kora. We like to think Christian created a pride of his own and lived at least the average 10 -12 years of lions in the wild.
Christian remains very popular and I continue to get many emails from nearly everywhere – often in waves from another round on Facebook, or as other countries discover him – like India more recently.
It was the posting on YouTube in 2008 of our reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 which brought Christian’s story back to a new and wider audience (100 million+ views), and our clip was recently listed as No. 5 on the top 20 to 1 Viral Sensations (Channel 9).
Sony bought the rights to our story in 2008. Given Christian’s enduring popularity, and the many relevant issues his life exemplifies, I am disappointed that many years have now gone by and sadly we are no closer to going into production. My feelings are exacerbated by the fact that there is such a crisis in wildlife, indeed we are at a tipping point for many species, not only lions, elephants and rhinos. Christian’s story could possibly make a contribution to generating more urgent action on behalf of animals in the hope of saving and protecting lives.
I’m relieved I’m not presently writing or commentating about the precarious state of the world which has unravelled even more dangerously than when I last blogged. We all deal with uncertainty and anxiety in different ways. I find it very relaxing living near the water, beside a National Park on the edge of Sydney. I like to walk, garden, read, spend time with friends and family, listen to Radio National, spoil the cat, and even do some interesting work! Despite the criticisms – and the costs to Brazil and the local population, I’m loving watching the Olympic Games and am, so far, finding it life-affirming.
GAWPT: Leonardo DiCaprio is such a great advocate for the environment and through his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has recently donated US$15.6 million in grants – towards wildlife and habitat conservation, to aide indigenous rights, and to combat climate change and solve environmental issues. Visit his Facebook page here.
Included among the “grantees” in Africa are the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (GAWPT)/ Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary, and the Elephant Crisis Fund (in partnership with Save the Elephant) – both very worthy recipients.
WFA: Working for Animals has a new website www.workingforanimals.org.au primarily about the WFA animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India. I am on the Committee of WFA and will contribute to News and Blog items from time to time. The founder, Christine Townend, is very well known internationally for her pioneering work in animal welfare and rights, and is well informed about the most pressing animal issues and debates world-wide.
We both hope to attend the upcoming Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in Mumbai 21-23 October 2016. We spoke at the last FIAPO conference in Jaipur in 2014 and look forward to hearing wonderful and dedicated people talk about the successes and advances made in animal welfare in India, despite the many challenges.
WFA will continue to post information about various campaigns – and I remain especially concerned about canned hunting in Africa, and the continuing captivity of Tony the Tiger at the truck stop in Louisiana.
TIGERS: I remain very excited about seeing tigers at close quarters in the Ranthambore National Park in India earlier in the year. On my return I watched several fascinating David Attenborough tiger documentaries, but as they were made several years ago, I hope the poaching and sale of tiger body parts and skins, and the flawed assessment of tiger numbers in the wild etc, are now more closely scrutinised and policed. Many issues conflate including the pressures of balancing sustainable tourism, competition for resources, the danger of wildlife to local villagers, and the expansion of wildlife corridors etc.
Officially, there are 2266 tigers approximately in India at present and 70% of the world’s tigers are in India. The most recent WWF survey states that 3890 tigers remain in the wild. I think seeing tigers up close reminded me of just how privileged I have been to know – and love – a big cat, and to be reminded of their magnificence, their power, and how they need us to fight – harder – for their survival.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!
Leadership, Israel & Palestine, GFC (II), David Suzuki, Wade Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tony The Tiger, A Lion Called Christian, Australian Animal Studies Group, Minding Animals International, Jonathan Safran Foer, Food, John Darling
October 8, 2011
LEADERSHIP: We are being failed by our leaders – or perhaps we get the leaders we deserve? We are entitled to criticise them as they have pushed themselves forward. Obama has put his own re-election prospects above the Palestinian people and he has lost me. Blair tries to be all things to all men – from invading Iraq, to being on JP Morgan’s payroll, to friendship with Gaddafi, to being the Middle East Envoy. One could argue that this makes him ideally suited to play his role – or should disqualify him. I think he has lost all credibility.
In Australia our entire political discourse seems aimed at shock jock audiences in marginal seats. Our government is examining every possible angle to send our relatively few asylum seekers (including children) back to anywhere rather than fulfilling our international obligations. I am losing a little faith in democracy – or compulsory voting at least – and for global problems like global warming, I wish for a more powerful and corruption-free UN type organisation.
GFC (II): We seem to be on the brink of a world recession or have never really recovered from the GFC of 2008. Again there is an outrageous failure of leadership politically, economically and financially. Everyone is caught by surprise again, and there seems to be no coherent response. It was not reassuring for trader Alession Rastani to say bankers at Goldman Sachs “rule the world”, and that he dreams of another recession as “our job is to make money from it.” The necessary structural reform for a new global era just hasn’t happened. Short term jolts to the economies are not sufficient (although the stimulus measures in Australia were successful), nor are slashing government spending and taxes. Austerity measures and consumer pessimism are inhibiting the spending necessary to prevent going deeper into recession. Not that I understand these matters – but alarmingly neither do the so-called experts!
OCCUPY WALL STREET: I’ve been blogging about 1% of the population owning so much wealth, and it seems that finally enough is enough. The Left has finally emerged revitalised and galvanised into action. The growing disparity between the rich and poor is the greatest challenge of our time. The Occupy Wall Street and The Other 99% movement is spreading quickly as the cause is so just – a concern for ordinary people. Count me in.
ISRAEL & PALESTINE: This must be one of the major unresolved international relations issues of our time and after 20 years looks no closer to resolution. With the Israelis insisting on the Palestinians formally acknowledging Israel as a Jewish state and Palestinians insisting on a freeze in settlement growth, the situation has been described as “utter hopelessness” after the performances by their respective leaders at the UN. It does seem provocative at the moment for Netanyahu to be determined to push ahead with the construction of one thousand new houses to be built in a large settlement in East Jerusalem. With the “Arab Spring” and the loss of Turkey and Egypt as allies, Israel is facing a new and shifting scenario, and you’d think a new and more conciliatory approach is urgently required. This is the dilemma that Obama is trying to juggle – very unsuccessfully.
Let’s hope for a new paradigm, a new generation of courageous and imaginative leaders, and more economic cooperation and partnerships. I did read that young secular Israelis are more concerned with the high cost of living than “security” and are wondering how Israel will support itself with the attitude among some Orthodox Jews that not paying taxes is acceptable. Apparently they have on average 8 children and will be the majority in thirty years.
DAVID SUZUKI: I recently read The Legacy which is a summation of Suzuki’s experience and knowledge and vision for the future. My immediate thoughts were why aren’t wise Elders like him utilised by our governments to solve some of our urgent problems?
He succinctly summarises our natural and human origins and what we and the biosphere consist of in a way that a layman like myself can understand.
In 1992 1,700 senior scientists signed the World’s Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources… No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.” So in 2011 one wonders if the tipping point in relation to the atmosphere, water resources, oceans, soil, forests, species and population may have been reached.
Issues and subjects he discusses which particularly interested me include: we face a doubling of population, and uncontrolled growth is suicidal; economic growth versus the environment and how a price can actually be put on nature’s services; how consumerism was actively encouraged and why it should now be discouraged; 99% of our genes are identical to the genes of the great apes; we have an innate need to be with other species and that all of life is our “kin.”
Despite the damage and depletion of resources he has observed throughout his life, he is however quite optimistic and discusses various ways forward. He discusses all the unforeseen technological benefits that actually flowed from the USSR and US “space race” and what could be achieved by the concerted action of “joining together in a common goal and a commitment to confront our enormous ecological challenges.” But change “begins with each of us.”
Suzuki discusses how indigenous people understand how we are the environment and that their very survival has depended on their ecological awareness and adjustment.
I have worked for many years as a curator with Aboriginal artists, but over the last few years because of the Christian the Lion phenomenon I was suddenly given the chance to talk about animal welfare, conservation and environmental issues. But my two major concerns are linked because it is of course indigenous people that can show us how to care for and tread lightly on the environment we entirely rely on.
WADE DAVIS: While Suzuki is concerned with the biosphere, fellow Canadian and ethno botanist Wade Davis is concerned with the “ethnosphere” – which is described as “the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations and intuitions brought into being by the human imagination.” He is National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence.
Friends had told me about him over the last year or two, and I read some of his articles. Recently I finally had the chance to attend a talk by him on Human Migration at the Australian Museum. He was very knowledgeable, sophisticated and articulate – nearly too good to be true! He reminded me of Australia’s own brilliant ubiquitous know-all Tim Flannery. Wade seems to have lived with or visited many obscure indigenous people in the world, tried many mind-altering drugs, and written many books about his experiences, all of course illustrated with his own excellent photographs.
What really sticks in my mind? Previously he had written extremely well about our own Australian Aboriginals and in this Oration he did say they were the first wave out of Africa. A sample of an Aborigine’s hair collected a century ago demonstrates that they left Africa 62,000 – 75,000 years ago and were the first of multiple waves of migration that travelled through Asia and interbred with recently identified archaic humans called Denisovans.
Davis is primarily concerned with all the knowledge that we are losing as languages disappear. He commented on the extraordinary Polynesian navigational skills as an example of ingenuity that could sometime be at risk. He also talked about what is catastrophically lost with deforestation. His studies include the so-called zombie drugs in Haiti, and his extensive travels include Tibet, Peru and the Amazon. I haven’t really done him justice as he talked very quickly and bombarded us with interesting information which I struggled to digest while also watching a quick succession of marvellous photographs.
Importantly, he too is optimistic about the future. He remarked on our capacity to change our attitudes. One example he gave was the attitude to gay people over the last 20 years, and the present debate about gay marriage which previously would have been unimaginable.
Wade Davis was giving the Thomas Foundation Conservation Oration, in association with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). TNC has been working in Australia since 1999 and is already helping to protect more than 6 million hectares and supporting conservation across more than 30 million hectares of largely Indigenous lands. TNC takes a collaborative non-confrontational approach to conservation that is based on sound science and their efforts are very much worth supporting www.nature.org/australia. There are conservancies all over the world, and I have previously referred to several in Africa. I think they are an excellent concept: preserving large continuous tracts of land and natural and traditional animal migration corridors, rather than piecemeal areas.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: Leonardo is in Sydney filming The Great Gatsby. He has demonstrated a deep commitment to environmental concerns. He has financed films such as The 11th Hour about the convergence of environmental crises and the need for leadership which he produced and narrated. He has donated $1 million to the WWF to help save the tiger from extinction. When he recently tweeted about the campaign concerning tigers in captivity in America, my agent immediately sent him a copy of A Lion Called Christian, and we hope to draw his attention to the plight of Tony the Tiger which he is most probably already aware of.
TONY THE TIGER: I emailed the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) for an update and they replied. “The court has scheduled two new hearings in the Tony the Tiger case. On October 17th, the court will hear the States’ exceptions, which challenge the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the case. On November 2nd, the court will hear ALDF’s motion for a permanent injunction to revoke the permit that lets Michael Sandlin confine Tony at the Tiger Truck Stop.”
MISC STATS: 2,600 Syrians killed so far in their protests; 60,000 anti nuclear protesters take to the streets in Japan; Rupert Murdoch owns 70% of the metropolitan newspapers in Australia and the family own 40% of the voting stock in News Corp; 71% of the earth is covered by ocean; according to author and birdwatcher Jonathan Franzen 9 million birds are killed by cats in the US each year.
AASG: The Australian Animal Studies Group (AASG) has emailed their latest bulletin. It contains a lot of information, especially reviews of very interesting books. There is also news of upcoming events and conferences, and new courses such as Humans, Animals and Society at Flinders University South Australia. There is a report on the recent Global Animal Conference which was about the implications of globalisation for animals, and I was on a panel in one session.
MINDING ANIMALS INTERNATIONAL: I have also just received their Bulletin No.7 There are fascinating conferences all over the world including: Barcelona 24-25 October, Oslo, Prague, New York, Uppsala in Sweden, Rennes in France, Geneva, Vancouver, Berlin and Buddhism and the New World Order: Compassion, Animal Welfare and Conservation in New Delhi in November 2011.
FOOD: I attended a talk entitled What We Are and What We Eat by Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals. He discussed how it is often difficult even having conversations about vegetarianism. In the US 99% of meat and chicken is factory farmed. Factory farming is the single worst thing for the environment, and for animals. He framed the discussion and his arguments amusingly and well. Rather than recommending people become vegetarian (although he wants us to), he suggests we all eat more vegetarian meals. I think he wants us to become vegetarians by stealth.
With television programs such as MasterChef and various food festivals, people must be getting better educated about food and better diets, and alternatives to meat. A gathering of chefs, scientists and the now obligatory wild food foragers, met recently in Copenhagen to find solutions to the planet’s food problems (Mad ideas to save the world, SMH Good Living Tuesday 27 September). With the population rising from nearly 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, food production needs to increase by 70%. “Vegetables will come from rooftop gardens and community plots; fish will feed off plankton in our kitchen tanks; ants, worms and grasshoppers will flavor breads; urban beehives will supply our honey; soil will be an ingredient(!); and meat will be a rare treat.”
I also recently watched a program on genetically modified food. It was a reminder of how our food has been tampered with over many years. I’m not sure however, I want to eat food which contains antibiotics and insecticides, especially as there seem to be no long-term tests yet of the effects of their toxicity.
PETS: 63% of Australian households have pets and it is one of the few sectors of our economy which is actually growing. I hate pet accessories let alone costumes, but love it that we are lavishing attention on our pets and hopefully feeding them nutritious foods.
PROJECT NIM: This sounds a terrifying if fascinating documentary about Nim, a chimpanzee brought up as a human to see if primates can be taught to construct sentences with sign language. He was born in 1973 the year Christian was last seen. I think we learned more from Christian than vice versa, and he certainly wasn’t an ‘experiment’. While he may not have lived as long, Christian’s life was much happier. We only had a short time with Christian and it was primarily a success because he was young. Lions are family/pride animals and Christian was so good natured, and as a cub was open to a degree of domestication and socialisation – up to a point!
JOHNNY DARLING: One of Australia’s leading documentary makers (the classic Lempad of Bali and extremely lyrical Below the Wind etc) is seriously ill, and many of us love him dearly and have treasured his intelligence, wisdom, humour, encouragement, creativity and friendship over the years.
December 4, 2010
I have had a long love affair with India, and had many adventures there. However, I had not been back to India since I organized a cultural exchange and exhibition of Aboriginal bark paintings for the Australian and Indian Governments at the Crafts Museum, New Delhi in 1999. Michelle Obama visited the Museum recently and loved it, and I was also very pleased to see it remained one of the great cultural institutions in India.
I had been asked to India by Christine Townend (who founded Animal Liberation in Australia in 1976) to visit two animal shelters she and her husband Jeremy started in the foothills of the Himalayas at Kalimpong and Darjeeling, a “hill station” I had always wanted to visit.
KALIMPONG: Kalimpong Animal Shelter (KAS) was built on an acre of land on the outskirts of the town in 1995. It is an incredibly beautiful setting with lovely trees and views. The various buildings sit discreetly throughout the site – the clinic where people bring their animals, shelters for animals being treated, and a variety of accommodation for the vet and volunteers. After the heat of Calcutta/Kolkata, the temperature was very pleasant.
It can sometimes be exhausting just posting a letter in India, so how Christine and Jeremy Townend have purchased land, built all the facilities, secured funding, and set up and staffed two shelters, leaves me in absolute awe, and I want to help them in any way I can. Most importantly, with their dog programs in Kalimpong where KAS operates, the incidence of human rabies has been almost, if not completely, eliminated. However, in the remote villages rabies remains a serious problem. The ABC (animal birth control program), has resulted in fewer but much healthier dogs.
One day we visited one of the “camps” that KAS routinely sets up in outlying villages where people bring their animals for examinations, treatments, sterilizations and vaccinations. They are advertised in advance, and the vet and staff work all day. In the towns on an ongoing basis KAS catch roaming mangy dogs, treat, spay and vaccinate them, and drop them back where they found them. We went on several lovely walks, and Christine was always on the look out for mangy or neglected and as yet untreated dogs. Many people bring their animals into the clinic, and there is now a much better respect and care for animals.
In India, people outside of the big cities seem to maintain a strong sense of community in their villages which many of us have lost, and they also seem to be less alienated from nature and live in close proximity to their animals, many of which they utilize – goats, cows and farmyard animals and birds. Of course it is easy to romanticize their lives – the splash of brightly coloured saris of the women in the field, but the reality is they work extremely hard for little return, many young people leave for the cities, and lives in the villages seem untouched by the extraordinary economic progress of the last decades.
After a few days in Kalimpong we drove for several hours through spectacular mountain scenery and precipitous tea plantations to Darjeeling. Both towns are perched on ridges and steep inclines, and roads, laneways and alleys are narrow and congested, and many of the people are Nepalese and Tibetan. I read a fascinating book that explained much of the history of this still very contested Northern Frontier region – the biography by Patrick French of the British soldier Francis Younghusband, who amongst many extraordinary explorations and exploits enthusiastically led a not very successful British invasion of Tibet in 1904. The book was a great history lesson on India and Tibet, and the imperial ambitions of Britain, China and Russia.
DARJEELING: The Darjeeling Animal Shelter (DAS) which opened in 2007 is on the outskirts of town, smaller and in a more urban environment, but again, an attractive site with views of the mountains and valleys. It was Diwali (Festival of Lights), and this particular day was Kukur Tihar – Honour a Dog Day – and all the dogs (and cats, so they didn’t feel left out) -were garlanded with marigolds and pink tikas on their foreheads. Isn’t that a beautiful idea and celebration? It was just so gorgeous and I fell in love with several puppies and kittens, most of whom were trying to sit on Christine’s lap at the same time. Again, all the staff were so friendly and the animals so lovingly and beautifully looked after.
HOW CAN WE HELP?: The resident vet is leaving after several years and going to the USA, and Christine and Jeremy Townend will soon need a vet urgently. Does anyone know a vet who would like to volunteer? I can assure them it would be the proverbial experience of a lifetime! The Animal Shelters have the most loyal international supporters and donors. Animaux Secours (Arthaz France) have provided core funding for Help In Suffering (HIS) and KAS since their inception, and One Voice (France) funded the building and running costs of DAS. But any donations are most welcome, indeed necessary! I’m going to make a donation to feed some of the dogs not adopted out that live at the shelters, like three-legged Lolly. To view Christine’s Working for Animals Inc see: www.workingforanimals.org.au .
Christine was Managing Trustee (and later Chair of Trustees) of the HIS Animal Shelter in Jaipur, and she and Jeremy Townend lived and worked there for 17 years. They are now involved in the founding of the HIS Camel Rescue Centre on the outskirts of Jaipur, and I hope to visit next year.
ASSAM: From Bagdogra I flew to Guwahati in Assam to visit the Kaziranga National Park. The well known Wild Grass Resort sent a car to meet me, but I don’t recommend the mad 5 hour drive on a congested National Highway in darkness. The owner of the hotel is interested in many aspects of plant and wildlife conservation, the preservation of local customs and traditions (local villagers dance each night for the visitors), and he is even a poet! His son is writing a PhD at Oxford University on elephant and human conflict. A warning – they don’t take credit cards, and you are a long way from any ATMs!
KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK: Covering 1002 square kilometres, the park consists of beautiful grasslands, wetlands and woodlands. For several days I was driven to the different sections of the park and saw the Indian one horned rhinoceros of which there are several thousand and the park has successfully conserved. I also saw Asian elephants, wild buffalo, swamp deer and rhesus monkeys. There are nearly 500 different birds and the park is a favourite with twitchers. It was extremely pleasant there, but it is hard to compete with the more exotic animals of Africa. However, as part of an Indian experience, it is definitely worthwhile. I have recently been sent a gruesome video of rhinos with their horns hacked off, and poaching in the Park is a great problem. Two poachers were shot dead just after I left.
TIGERS: There are also approximately 30 tigers in the Park, and they are rarely seen. A tiger footprint in the mud was as close as I got to one. It was gratifying to read lately that Leonardo DiCaprio has pledged $1 million to save tigers. There are 39 tiger sanctuaries in India, and 8 more reserves wil be set up over the next 6 months. This comes at a price however. Leopards are usually displaced by tigers, and the Soliga tribal people, for example, who have always lived in the forests sustainably and harmoniously and are not frightened of tigers, are currently resisting offers of compensation to be relocated elsewhere.
CHRISTIAN: Christian’s story is not well known in India, and I only mentioned it once. My young guide was very knowledgeable about animals, and when I said I had been lucky enough to meet George Adamson in Kenya and spend time with him and his lions, he had never heard of George, and was completely uninterested. When I left I gave him my favourite book – Christian the Lion’s scrapbook, and shyly pointed me out, explaining it was 40 years ago. He flipped through it in a desultory way in a few seconds and then, without commenting, rolled it like a newspaper, and that was it! So I still don’t know how Indians would react to Christian’s story – although as many worship Ganesh the Elephant (amongst many other gods), Christian’s story could capture their imagination.
READING: While I was there I reluctantly began reading Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. My father had always loved him and I wondered what influence, if any, it had had on me and my sister as children. It was riveting – what a storyteller! I was very moved by Mowgli and his adoption then rejection by the wolves, then villagers, and absolutely terrified reading about Rikki-tikki-tavi the mongoose and his battle with the cobras Nag and Nagaina. I am now very curious about Kipling. I know he spent his early childhood in India, but where did his extraordinary empathy for animals come from?
CLIMATE CHANGE: At first I saw no reference to climate change, now customary in our newspapers. However, over the nearly three weeks I was there, I read references to the need to curb pollution, and for energy and emission efficiency. There were reports about “unscientific” mining and related water contamination, and the bleaching of coral reefs. The recent India International Trade Fair in New Delhi had as it’s theme “energy efficient technologies and green products”.
In Mumbai there was concern and promised government action over the ecological imbalance caused by the destruction of mangroves. There are many animal welfare organisations, and in addition to great concerns about tiger numbers, there is the serious problem of elephant/human conflict, and the number of deaths due to shrinking habitats and the encroachment or blocking of traditional elephant corridors. An elephant was killed and another seriously injured on a railway track where 7 elephants died a few months ago. On a lighter note, Pamela Anderson arrived to appear in Bigg Boss, a controversial reality show. The crowd at the airport “snowballed into a mob” which understandably terrified her. I didn’t realise we were fellow animal activists – she is a vegetarian, is an advocate for PETA and clean water (she brought water filters), and had written to the Prime Minister about examples of cruelty to animals in India.
How India juggles so many such seemingly impossible obstacles so marvellously astounds me – more next blog!