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!
February 5, 2016
Now I am back in Sydney I can’t quite believe I saw this tigress in Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan a week or so ago! She has been nick-named Arrow head and is 2 years old. Apparently she recently fought with her mother and is the age when they go off and live on their own. Our attention was drawn to the several jeeps with tourists that had parked quite near her as she rested in rushes beside a lake. All of us were thrilled – to be fortunate enough to sight a tiger (we had been unsuccessful on our first safari in the morning), and to just stare at the beauty of her markings and her magnificence.
I am feeling very blessed by the animal world after this recent visit to India where I was fortunate enough to see several Bengal tigers – in the wild – at very close range, and two leopards. India’s wildlife is as exciting as Africa’s – it is just sometimes more secretive, mysterious or requiring more patience. This can lead to disappointments …or bliss. A few years ago I only saw a tiger paw mark in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, but the compensation was seeing many elephants and rhinos on beautiful plains.
There was great excitement as the tigress got up and moved closer towards us and settled in the rushes again, perfectly camouflaged. All their markings are distinctive – and we can see why she has been nick-named “Arrow head”. It was mid-afternoon and still quite hot.
I spoke at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations conference in 2014 in Jaipur, and at the Minding Animals Conference at Jawaharlal Nehru University last January – so I have an idea of how much work is being done on behalf of animals in India – from the front line work of animal shelters, to all the wildlife conservancy work and related issues such as habitat destruction, wildlife tourism, protecting wildlife corridors, animal-human co-existence etc. In India and elsewhere, the academic field of Animal Studies is generating essential, diverse and often fascinating research work.
I am on the Committee of Working for Animals which administers animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Founded by Christine and Jeremy Townend, I am full of admiration for what the shelters achieve – for animals, and for the local populations.
I was fortunate to have lunch with Vivek Menon, Founder and Executive Director of the Wildlife Trust of India, who was about to fly to London as he was nominated for The Economist’s Inspiring Innovator of the Year. He is the first wildlife conservator to be nominated – specifically for his work in securing, restoring and expanding corridors for elephants to prevent their accidental deaths and human-animal conflict. These corridors are traditional migration routes. Vivek also told me that as a result of the Minding Animals Conference last year that the WTI co-hosted, JNU is now offering an Animal Studies course.
After the first tiger sighting recently in Ranthambore National Park, we then drove to a lake where there were many animals and birds. This second tiger appeared unexpectedly. With the imminent danger of a tiger, animals and birds quietly disappeared, except for a few wild boars. This male tiger is also about 2 years old although he was bigger and heavier than the tigress we had seen earlier. He passed quite close to us and was striking looking. I felt quite vulnerable in our open jeep, although the tiger could not have been less interested in us. He was hunting. We watched him for half an hour, as he quietly moved closer and closer to an oblivious solitary wild boar knee-deep in the lake. As dusk was falling we had to leave the park and I’m glad I didn’t witness a grisly end to a magical afternoon.
I travelled with friend and wildlife photographer Avi Gupta who took these photographs on my new Sony A6000 and familiarised me with the camera. As these encounters with tigers are relatively rare – and often fleeting, I didn’t want to miss “the moment” of actually seeing a wild tiger – or mess up the photographs. I did take some photographs with my trusty Lumix and I’ll share these next blog.
Last year I visited the Asiatic lions in Gir, Gugarat and was lucky to see several handsome young ones. We also saw a stunningly beautiful leopard that suddenly crossed right in front of us. The lions have now spread out of their sanctuaries, and according to a May 2015 census, an estimated 1/3 are now living outside, establishing new territories. This obviously creates problems for villagers and their cattle. I saw one tribal village at Gir that had been relocated to a safer position within the sanctuary – with a solar panel for a light above a well. Fortunately, the numbers of lions continue to increase, and currently stand at 523 in the region.
We next visited Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh in central India where we were lucky enough to have another tiger spotting…this time more fleeting. The number of tigers in India is estimated to be 2266 – and I have seen 3 of them! Jeeps materialised from nowhere and the tigress aged about 4 years old strode quickly across the track. Later, in another location, this male leopard (above) also crossed the dirt track. Next day we saw a very similar leopard, or it may have been him again.
As tigers and leopards are solitary and elusive, the safari guides rely on hearing the warnings of danger from other animals to each other. Spotted deer screech in a birdlike way, Sambar deer stomp their hooves, and langur monkeys cry out clamorously.
We saw many other animals including blue bulls, crocodiles, a sloth bear, and many birds, especially peacocks.
As we stopped to photograph some vultures, I asked Avi why he loved birds especially? He said “because they are everywhere”. The Tree Pi bird actually acts as a tooth pick for tigers – a dangerous job! Over 300 species of birds have been identified in Ranthambore National Park alone.
We also visited Panna National Park and stayed at the beautiful Ken River Lodge – overlooking the mighty river. A proposed dam would flood this tiger reserve where 32 tigers have been introduced. As it was raining I didn’t go on safari at 5.30am! On the way back to Delhi we visited the famous and magnificent Hindu temples at Khajuraho some dating from AD 900. The often erotic carvings have miraculously mostly survived intact. Near Agra I glimpsed the shimmering Taj Mahal which I have visited several times before.
TONY THE TIGER: Tony the tiger was never far from my mind in India and I have a renewed commitment to Tony the tiger in 2016. The Animal League Defence Fund say “our advocacy for Tony remains positive and strong” but time is running out. Please spread the word and have friends and family sign the petition to save Tony. There are many more tigers in private hands in the USA than there are in the wild in India, and this in no way ensures – or benefits, the long term survival of these truly magnificent animals.
The tiger replaced the lion as the National Animal of India in 1973 as part of a national tiger protection programme.
VALE: David Bowie (1947-2016). His emergence in the early 1970s had a huge influence on many of us and we are shocked by his death. I saw him as Ziggy Stardust (above) in 1972. We arrived in London from Australia in 1969 and this was at the tail-end of the “Carnaby Street” and “Kings Road” eras. Bowie’s genius, originality and imagination helped change and set the tone for the next decade and beyond. See this tribute in the NY Times here, and I liked his Confessions of a Vinyl Junkie here.
I enjoyed The Australian Tennis Open (although shocked by the match fixing allegations – even in tennis!), mid-flight I finally saw Blue Jasmine with the riveting Kate Blanchett who I had seen in A Streetcar named Desire, and I read Island Home by Tim Winton where he beautifully describes his relationship and growing awareness of our unique environment in Australia, and how it has influenced his ideas, writing and life. We too grew up surrounded by bush and I was horrified to recently hear “children playing outside” referred to as “unregulated nature time”! Tim Winton concludes “Aboriginal wisdom is the most under-utilized intellectual and emotional resource this country has”.
September 14, 2015
BORN FREE: It was so wonderful seeing Born Free again and I just marveled at how beautiful, expressive, intelligent and socially-engaged lions are. The lions were filmed superbly, as was Africa and other wildlife. Like Joy and George Adamson with Elsa the lioness, we too took off Christian’s collar symbolically for our first walk with him on African soil and the beginning of his natural life. I will never forget it.
It is appalling to think how animal populations have diminished since 1964 when the film was made. There has been an approximately 80% reduction in numbers since, and only 20,000 lions remain in the wild.
BLOOD LIONS: There are many sad lions in Blood Lions, the recent documentary on canned hunting in South Africa (watch the trailer here). Ian Michler, a well known South African conservationist who participated in the documentary, introduced it at selected viewings in Australia. In up to 200 unregulated facilities, lionesses are forced to have too many cubs. After birth, the cubs are quickly taken away and are hand-fed to become human-friendly. Tourists pay to pat them as cubs and walk with them when a little older. Ultimately they are shot in enclosures by “hunters”. Like other animals, unwanted lions are sold for their bones and other animal parts to the Asian market. Volunteers, who pay to work at these facilities, are conned into thinking they are contributing to conservation. They are not. Breeding lions for canned hunting is not an insurance against the catastrophic decline in the numbers of wild lions.
The people making money out of canned hunting are mainly older Apartheid-era white men who, I imagine, have as little respect for the rights and welfare of lions as they did for black Africans.
President Zuma giggled about Cecil the lion’s death, describing it as “just an incident”.
Donalea Patman of fortheloveofwildlife who organised the viewings of Blood Lions, was so outraged by canned hunting that she wrote a letter to our Environment Minister Hunt. This has resulted in the ban on the importation of lion animal body parts and trophies into Australia which is an incredible achievement, and is the most effective way of eliminating canned hunting. Perhaps some of you may be inspired to write to the relevant ministers in your own countries – especially the EU and the USA.
GLOBAL MARCH FOR RHINOS, ELEPHANTS AND LIONS: On Saturday October 3rd we will meet at the Sydney Town Hall at 11.00 am and we are to be addressed by Mark Pearson of the Animal Justice Party in Martin Place. See details here.
CHRISTIAN THE LION: I loved a recent and very thoughtful email from Janice who said that Christian was obviously “loved, nurtured, cared for, and plain adored”. She goes on “But Christian’s tale isn’t a tale of tears. His tale is that of forever love, forever friendship, and of eternal freedom. No tears need to be shed for that lucky lion. If anyone wants to weep, he/she can weep for the Cecils who never received the blessings that were showered on Christian”.
WORLD: Europe is experiencing the largest transmigration of people since the 2nd World War. Germany is expecting 800,000 by the end of the year which is extraordinarily generous. Some other EU countries are less welcoming and because of the volume of people, there is now talk of borders soon being closed. The social and political consequences cannot be predicted. Lebanon and Jordan are also overwhelmed by refugees. Aid agencies do not have the resources to cope and urgently need donations. Winter is approaching. Beyond making donations, the Saudis and wealthy Gulf States do not seem particularly helpful.
Last year 60 million people were displaced around the world, and 120 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
You may donate to the UNHCR Syria Crisis here. It is sad that it has taken the photograph of a drowned Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi to galvanise the world into action, despite many drownings in the Mediterranean over the last few months and 71 people recently asphyxiated in a truck. .
PM Abbott’s idea of a contribution to this humanitarian disaster is, apparently, by asking President Obama to invite Australia to drop bombs in Syria. We have accepted. Doesn’t anyone ever learn? What is the strategic aim or hoped for outcome in Syria? Bombing Syria will only cause more deaths and refugees. If Assad is ousted who will fill the vacuum? Russia is extremely unlikely to allow this to happen and is apparently ready to assist Assad.
Our unnecessary involvement can only further alienate our own Muslim population, as will the discriminatory intention to select mostly Christian Syrians ahead of others in our promised 12,000 refugee intake.
Abbott’s policies on asylum seekers of just turning their boats back to Indonesia – to an unknown future – were recently described in The New York Times as “unconscionable”, “inhumane” and of “dubious legality”. While Abbott is increasingly unpopular here in the polls, he is becoming a poster boy for some of the lunatic Tea Party Republicans in the USA. The popularity of Donald Trump is very disconcerting.
It will be fascinating to watch Jeremy Corbyn, the new socialist leader of the UK Labour Party, and see how popular he will be. He is certainly a refreshing antidote to previous leaders. In comparison, it is hard to know what our own Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten actually believes in. He is not as disliked as Abbott but is not performing well either. He has also made inexcusable gaffes, and is too close to the union movement. Unlike the PM however, Shorten’s party seems united behind him.
Update since first published: Tony Abbott has been removed as Prime Minister by his own party. Bravo. He was challenged and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull who in contrast to Abbott is intelligent, sophisticated and moderate. Turnbull is independently wealthy, arrogant and not particularly astute politically. Many Australians are very happy today that we have a new PM who is not so captive to vested interests and rigid ideology, who actually believes that climate change is real and requires urgent action, and that Australia should become a republic.
GREENIES: We are holding progress and development back in Australia! We are the new scapegoats to distract from the government’s economic failures. PM Abbott is not going to “protect the environment at the expense of the economy”. Planned legislation would prevent environmental court challenges by 3rd parties. For example, I would have no right to participate in a court challenge to a mine, or to protect the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, if I did not reside nearby. Ag-gag laws are also being considered. While ostensibly under the guise of “bio-security” and concern for the health of farmed animals like chickens and pigs, these laws are really an attempt to stop animal activists trespassing and exposing these cruel practices.
Apparently, if the proposed mining in the Galilee Basin in Queensland goes ahead, the world has no chance of limiting global warming by 2 degrees. One of the mines is owned by Mr. Adani who is a very wealthy Indian who is close to PM Modi. A port would have to be expanded and would require dredging near the Great Barrier Reef. The company does not have a good environmental record to put it mildly. This proposal is very unlikely to go ahead and it is not because of us “greenies” – an expression I don’t particularly like. It will be primarily because of the low price of coal and that coal is becoming a stranded asset. Major banks are refusing to finance the project. The momentum for alternative renewable energy and divesting in fossil fuel shares will just keep growing. Realistically, coal will have a role to play for decades to come – but it will be a diminishing one.
In a bizarre move, the Mineral Council of Australia has a promotional campaign “Coal Is Amazing” starring a lump of coal! It was immediately ridiculed widely. Our PM Abbott has of course said “Coal is good for humanity”. He also said that wind farms are “ugly” – could anything be uglier or more destructive of the environment than the Bulga mine in the photograph above? Could anything be more unsightly or unhealthy for the devastated local community? Shenhua are proposing a mine like this beside the Liverpool Plains which has Australia’s richest food -producing soil. A mine like this could only destroy the water aquifers.
CULLING: There is a campaign building to cruelly cull feral cats by baiting, and for restrictions on pet cats, I will return to this subject in due course. After an unusual 14 shark attacks on the NSW coast of Australia this year, there are calls to cull sharks, and a Jaws-like fear for the impact on the looming summer tourist season. Apparently one reason for the sharks is their attraction to the “balls” of millions of small fish unusually close to the coast. People are not sure what is causing this. There were several fatal shark attacks in West Australia last year, and the culling of sharks has been a very contentious and unresolved issue.
VALE: Oliver Sacks said “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet”. What an intelligent and interesting man he was.
Khaled al-Asaad the 82 year old Syrian archaeologist was murdered by IS in Palmyra, and now the irreplaceable Temple of Bel and Temple of Baalshamin have been destroyed..
VIEWING: Last weekend I’ve enjoyed visiting the 2015 Sydney Contemporary Art Fair and the Sydney Antiques Fair. I’ve loved watching the US Tennis Open and our Rugby League football finals. The most popular recent TV shows in Australia have been cat and dog videos – programs that were probably quickly assembled when another show was cancelled. Their success hardly surprises many of us – we know what joy these animals bring into our lives.
August 12, 2015
Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 at Ilfracombe Zoo, in Devon, UK. His parents were Mary and Butch. A few years ago we were told that Christian was actually hand-reared by one of the staff. This probably explains why Christian seemed so comfortable with us right from the start.
We are often asked how long do lions live? I usually say 10-12 years but they can live longer in zoos. Christian was last seen in 1973 and even at four years old was growing into one of the biggest lions George Adamson had ever seen. He proved to be courageous and smart and survived the most dangerous years. Ironically, George regarded Christian, the lion from London, as one of the most successful rehabilitations.
The murder of Cecil the lion by an American hunter in Zimbabwe continues to be condemned around the world.
Let’s ensure Cecil’s death was not in vain. There are several petitions in circulation relating to Cecil – the AVAAZ petition is to the EU and the USA authorities asking them to classify lions as an endangered species and to ban the import of any hunting trophies. This is probably the most effective way to stop these senseless deaths, and you may want to sign here.
The United Nations has recently passed a Resolution “Tackling the Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife”.
All of us must redouble our efforts to fight canned hunting, and Cecil’s death will add momentum to the campaign against the breeding of lions for hunting, and the importation of animal body parts and trophies. I ring travel agencies that advertise tours to Africa and ask airlines about their policies on these issues. All volunteers and travellers to Africa should look at this updated Volunteers in Africa Beware Facebook page to ensure they are supporting reputable wildlife sanctuaries.
Last Monday was World Lion Day and I cannot resist sharing last year’s message from Kevin Richardson and Tau the Interrupting Lion – who roared throughout! Watch the clip here. I met Kevin when he was in Sydney recently and he posted this photograph of us on his Facebook page and there are of course wonderful photographs of lions on there too.
I am told our YouTube reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 is circulating on Facebook again and I am receiving emails, especially through the website, www.alioncalledchristian.com.au, from people just discovering Christian’s story. For example, Monique has just emailed “And wasn’t Christian just the most remarkable being? He took everything in his stride and managed to bridge the animal and human worlds wonderfully”.
Many of you have let us know over the years the influence Christian’s story has had on you, and we of course will never know the full extent of his legacy. I also recently received an email from a volunteer at Stichting Leew (Lion Foundation) in the Netherlands. I was thrilled to read that the owner was so inspired by Christian’s story and his successful rehabilitation that 3 years ago he opened his own big cat sanctuary to rescue animals from circuses, zoos etc. Their aim – see here – is to look after all animals that come to them, but to return purebred wild cats to the “semi-wild” where possible. This is of course a very complex indeed contested issue.
Also based in Holland is AAP and I do know much more about their marvellous work with rescued animals, especially big cats, after meeting their representatives at the Animal Studies Conference in Delhi in January.
AAP are soon to officially open their Spanish branch, Primadomus, and the first occupants – 2 lions and 2 tigers rescued from a French circus wagon, are already in residence. See here.
GEORGE ADAMSON: The 20th of August is the anniversary of George Adamson’s murder at Kora in 1989. I love this photograph of George and Christian as it shows the love and familiarity of two good friends. Christian looks so big I think the photograph must have been taken early in 1973 and is possibly the last photograph of him. George, we thank you for your giant contribution to our understanding and protection of animals, and Christian…how can I express what you still mean to us and to so many others?
OK, I confess, as it is his birthday I’ve just watched the Youtube reunion and sniffled through it as I did with Born Free last weekend. HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN.
Born Free, Blood Lions, Canned Hunting, Cecil the Lion, Tony the Tiger, World, Australia, Renewables, Climate Change/Dutch Court Case, Electricity Costs, Coal, Birds, Christine Townend, Asylum Seekers
July 31, 2015
I love this photograph, and many others entered in the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. Some of the other entries follow below and see here for a wide selection. With so many people with cameras and the plethora of images in our daily lives with social media and Instagram etc, it is great there are now so many competitions giving photographers greater exposure. Countless images of our beautiful natural world and wildlife can only contribute to renewing our efforts for urgent protection.
BORN FREE: After the initial successful fund raiser for Animal Works and The Feline Foundation, I have been asked again to introduce the classic film Born Free on Saturday 8th August at 2pm, at Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney. I loved seeing the film again. The story of Elsa the lioness is sensitively told and Africa looks very fresh and beautiful. Please spread the word as Animal Works do support such important causes and projects! You can purchase tickets here.
BLOOD LIONS: This documentary, which took considerable courage to make, addresses the horrific practice of captive lion breeding and canned hunting in South Africa. It has just been shown at the Durban International Film Festival. No doubt it will soon be shown in Australia and internationally, so keep up to date via the Blood Lions website.
CECIL THE LION: the shooting of well known Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe by an American dentist has created a social media “firestorm” and international outcry. The 13 year old lion who was collared and under surveillance, was apparently lured outside his territory by bait. He was initially shot with a bow and arrow and forty hours later was shot with a gun. He was skinned and beheaded. What sort of people take pleasure in this? His cubs will be killed by another lion. Sign this petition and we can only hope Cecil’s death will add to the momentum against canned hunting and a world wide ban on the importation of animal body parts and trophies.
TONY THE TIGER: Please sign this petition for Tony! It is hard not to be very upset and pessimistic as the years go by and Tony remains imprisoned for the fifteenth year! I have been told that our collective signatures are noticed and can make a difference. There are now over 50,000 on this petition for Tony but they are aiming at 75,000.
A new sign on Tony’s cage at the truck stop says “we are proud of our record and it is a great joy to provide this free exhibit to you. Recent attacks by Animal Rights Terrorists and legal organisations against private zoos have resulted in huge legal fees. Donations are greatly appreciated”! This is just outrageous and we must keep the pressure up in any way we can to free Tony, the “free exhibit”.
WORLD: This 1st century statue of the Lion of al-Lat in Palmyra, Syria was destroyed earlier in the month by ISIS militants. Other sites in Palmyra are undamaged at this stage, but there has been widespread looting and vandalism across ISIS controlled areas. The unnecessary loss of cultural heritage is shocking – as is the plight of the millions of displaced people in the region.
It is hard not to be pessimistic about the world at the moment. There is new unsettling change, transition and insecurity. The sovereignty of some countries, particularly in the Middle East, is threatened and borders are reconfiguring. There are real fears over the territorial ambitions and influence of Putinism, and of China in the South China Sea. No-one really knows what repercussions there may be from the sluggish global economic growth, the disastrous handling of the Greek debt crisis, and now the Chinese stock market collapse.
However, with the end of his presidency in sight, and no election to face, Barack Obama’s recent activities are giving us some reason to be optimistic and people have a renewed admiration for him. At least he is trying to break a stalemate with Iran with the nuclear deal. Yes, lifting sanctions will make Iran wealthier and even more influential in the region, but their nuclear ambitions can be much more closely monitored. Obama also met with Native Americans which must be rare if it makes the news, as was his visit to a federal prison to meet with prisoners.
AUSTRALIA: There is growing frustration in Australia at the lack of any serious political debate or action on vital issues such as falling revenues, job creation, urgent tax reform and huge health and education budget shortfalls. The government – and opposition, play populist politics, both frightened of reform and of alienating core constituents. We are seemingly always in election mode, and policy reduced to inane slogans.
Respected journalist Laura Tingle recently wrote “we don’t seem to quite be able to take in the growing realisation that we are actually being governed by idiots and fools”.
Interestingly, in frustration, various diverse organisations are coming together to address the issues the government hasn’t: tax reform, an economic and jobs strategy, and the implications of climate change. These groups include the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Australian Council of Social Services.
For an informed appraisal of the government’s performance and the state of the economy see the article Abbott hiding behind scare campaign by Ross Gittins in the SMH earlier this month (read full article here). The PM “ wants to divert us from the hash he is making of the economy”. Our Australian government thinks National Security is a vote winner and is ramping up fear at every opportunity. The PM even repeated that the “ISIS death cult is coming to get us”. As Gittins points out more people in Australia are dying from smoking, alcohol, car accidents and domestic violence than in terrorist attacks.
Our government is legislating to take away citizenship from jihadists and has seized the opportunity to curtail our own rights and freedoms. Denmark now welcomes their jihadists back and attempts to deradicalise them with education and employment opportunities. Their “flow” of fighters has become a “trickle”. By contrast, our government continues to alienate many in our Muslim community by often demonising them.
RENEWABLES: While windpower in Denmark recently produced 140% of power requirements, in Australia the government continues to attack renewable energy with a third attempt to disband the successful Clean Energy Fund Corporation. Unlike most of the rest of the world, the government are particularly targeting wind power and even small scale solar possibly because it is proving so popular. The opposition Labor Party have finally said something: they have announced a 50% renewable energy target by 2030 although there are no details or costings. Although the issue of climate change has had high profile political casualties, it will be a major factor in the next election. I think our present government will be shown to be on the wrong side of history. A majority in the community now believe urgent action is necessary, as do forward planning business leaders.
ELECTRICITY COSTS: The central question is just how much will a transition from fossil fuels to renewables cost? The Murdoch press, shock jock Alan Jones and the PM all predictably responded with wilful misinformation. For those interested in this vital and complicated question – see this article The true cost of green energy by Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper (25/26 July) where he comprehensively quotes the actual likely costs. “The arguments against renewable energy are not just without scientific basis, they lack economic credibility”.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance compares the costs of new wind farms, large scale photovoltaic projects, coal fired power stations, and gas base load stations. They conclude “both wind and solar are already cheaper than coal” and “the cost advantage of non- polluting energy is rapidly increasing”.
Mike Seccombe also quotes the Climate Works Australia CEO Anna Skarbek who says “Australia could completely decarbonise its economy while maintaining current rates of economic growth and do it – mostly – using existing technology”. In the article she describes four basic steps to achieve this.
CLIMATE CHANGE / DUTCH COURT CASE: do see this article where 886 concerned Dutch citizens successfully sued the Dutch Government over climate change inaction. The government “inaction” is illegal, and an abrogation of their “duty of care”. Citizens in other countries intend to follow suit, although unfortunately in Australia it would be more difficult.
COAL: It is likely permission will be granted for a Chinese coal mine (Shenhua Watermark) to proceed on the Liverpool Plains in north/west NSW. The threat to water is the main concern, not only for agriculture, but the area is a major catchment for the Murray-Darling Water Basin. This is Australia’s richest food producing land and I think this proposed mine will be the line in the sand that unites conservative land owners, conservationists and the majority of the public.
I haven’t visited the once extremely picturesque Hunter Valley for many years, but apparently mining has trashed it. Mining has threatened communities, tourism, vineyards and horse breeding and much else. The Indian Adani company seems unlikely to proceed with their vast coal mining plans in the Galilee Basin, Queensland, which also involved expanding port facilities and further endangering the Great Barrier Reef.
ASYLUM SEEKERS: The opposition Labor Party have now backed the government’s brutal policy to turn back refugee boats to Indonesia. I’m sure our inhumane response to the relatively few refugees (compared to Europe) breaks International Refugee Conventions. The boats to Australia have apparently stopped although the government releases no information, have payed off the people smugglers themselves, and annoyed the Indonesian government. People can go and drown or fight to survive somewhere else it seems, and I am sad to say, the majority of Australians agree. We have inhumane off-shore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. 2 people have died on Manus Island, and not one person has been processed or resettled in 2 years.
Waleed Ali has commented that Australians are tolerant (or not racist) as long as “minorities know their place”. One of our best Aboriginal footballers Adam Goodes is currently being booed during games in a form of mob hysteria that has an undeniable racist undercurrent. He is a highly respected leader of his people who is unafraid to speak up, and he was Australian of the Year last year. During a match two years ago he objected to someone in the crowd calling him an “ape”. As the person turned out to be a young girl, Goodes has been vilified ever since as a bully!
CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine Townend’s poetry collection, Walking with Elephants (published by Island Press) was launched on 13th July, by Dr. Dinesh Wadiwel, a lecturer in Human Rights (USyd). The launch took place at the recent three day conference, Animal Publics, Emotions, Empathy, Activism, held at the University of Melbourne. Read one of her poems, Walking with Elephants. Her poems effortlessly express her love, concern and understanding of animals – and India. See this excellent review.
The animals at the Working for Animals shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong KAS) in India just adore her – I’ve seen it!
BIRDS: Birdlife Australia reports an alarming drop in the number of birds including kookaburras, willy wag-tails and magpies which are seemingly plentiful where I live. The Australian Bird Index is a citizens project carrying out rigorous and systematic surveys of our bird numbers. There are superb bird photographs on the website – and more photographic competitions.
Zoe Tweedale has named her current exhibition at Robin Gibson after Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and contains a painting of the star Tippi Hedren. The artist finds birds both extremely beautiful and exotic, but sometimes sinister and unsettling.