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




 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.


December 4, 2010

Mount Kanchenjunga the third highest mountain in the world, as seen from Darjeeling

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 with mobile phone tower- there are supposedly 710 million mobile phone users in India

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.

My quarters and washing!

I was adopted by 3-legged dog Lolly

Kalimpong Animal Shelter Clinic with staff and vet (right)

Patient, post operation

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.

The 'camp' set up at a village out of Kalimpong

Local patients, and their owners

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.

The Teesta River on the road from Kalimpong to Darjeeling

Christine Townend and me (photograph by Jeremy Townend)

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 Animal Shelter

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: . 

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. 

Two Puppies Thinking by Christine Townend

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!

Wild Grass Resort

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.

Rhinoceros Unicornis

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.

Unfortunately, these elephants are tethered and used for riding

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!

The sun setting on Mount Kanchenjunga