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First sighting of tigress in Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 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.

First sighting of tigress in Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

Tigress in Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

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.

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‘Domestic’ chained elephant, Bandhavgarh. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

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.

Second tiger sighting, Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

Second tiger sighting, Ranthambore. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

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.

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Getting closer. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

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.

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Wild boar and tiger. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

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.

Leopard in Bandhavgarh. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

Leopard in Bandhavgarh. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

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.

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Tree Pi bird. Copyright Avi Gupta, 2016.

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.

A small temple at Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh. Photograph Ace Bourke

A small temple at Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh. Photograph Ace Bourke.

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

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.

David Bowie

David Bowie

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”.

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In Ranthambore National Park, 10th Century Fort in background. Photograph Ace Bourke 2016.

SIGN THE PETITION HERE to OPPOSE SB 250 and to UPHOLD Louisiana State Law PROHIBITING private ownership of tigers.

Louisiana Senator Rick Ward has introduced bill SB 250 seeking to: “exempt certain persons from the requirements of the big exotic cats rules” (specifically to allow Michael Sandlin to keep Tony at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete Louisiana.) The bill is scheduled for Senate floor action TODAY.

Tony has been confined for all of his nearly 14 years. We all know that many many animals are confined and imprisoned all over the world, but somehow for me, Tony the Tiger – in a cage at a truck stop – is a symbol of all that is unacceptable in human-animal relationships.

Let’s do our best to get him released and make his last years peaceful and more enjoyable.

You can read more about the issue HERE and see what further actions we can take. Keep up to date with Tony the Tiger via Facebook and Twitter.

Please spread the word urgently!

Many thanks ACE.

TELSTRA NATIONAL ABORIGINAL & TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER ART AWARD 2010

Mr Donegan, Papa Tjukurpa and Pukara, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 180 x 200cm. Image courtesy of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

 

ABORIGINAL ART: Last blog I referred to Aboriginal art and how the international art world has been so interested. Recently Mr. Donegan, as he likes to be referred to, won the annual Telstra Award, now showing in Darwin, N.T. The winning painting is dazzling – I love the colour, composition and energy – not bad for a virtually unknown 70 year old. Aboriginal art constantly surprises, and I feel so privileged to have had an association with many of the artists over the years, and made many friends. Many Aboriginal paintings from the desert are actual maps of the artist’s country, and tell ancestral and creation stories – in this case, “the painting is about dingo dreaming (Papa Tjukurpa), a rockhole and a father and a son”. View 27th NATSIAA online gallery. 

  

I love these original lithographs by John Gould. The Antique Print Room (in Sydney) has an exhibition of over100 works from the The Birds and Mammals of Australia, published 1848-69.  They can be viewed on www.antiqueprintroom.com . Where I live on the outskirts of Sydney there are many kookaburras (pictured). 

  

  

  POLITICS: I am sorry to be parochial talking about our Australian election, but I think there are probably international parallels.  After an abysmal and depressing election campaign, aimed at bribing and not frightening swinging voters in marginal seats many of whom are uninterested in politics, and are economic illiterates (like me), our “hung” parliament has finally been resolved, with the government only just returned. This is with the support of a few Independents who may be crucified by their rather conservative electorates. It is extraordinary that perhaps the only government in the Western world that did not go into recession with the GFC, could not sell this achievement – perhaps we survived it so well, the public did not really understand the dangers that we avoided. Interestingly, with the negotiations and trading required to form a minority government, many issues not raised in the election got aired (and may be debated when parliament resumes)– including neglect of rural areas, indigenous employment, the status of same-sex relationships, tax reform, reform of parliament, Afghanistan etc. The election result was really more about people NOT voting for either side – many people are so sick of their spin, fear mongering, lack of leadership and vision,  the influence of focus groups and polls, the intervention of the media, and the adversarial nature of a two-party system. The Greens benefited from the dissatisfaction, and will next year hold the balance of power in the Senate, and the Government has had to form an agreement with them. The Government was too frightened to have bold policies on climate change (and the Opposition are virtually in denial), and we may now, ironically, see a much more positive attitude to actually formulating a much overdue strategy. It is fascinating how the issue of climate change has undone several of our leaders. Unfortunately, there are now quite a few new divas and loose cannons that are in a position to make stable government extremely difficult. Luckily our PM, Julia Gillard, is a very good negotiator, but it could all easily end in tears! 

  

Lake George by Joseph Lycett 1825

  

CONFESSION:  Yes I collect colonial prints, and especially love Joseph Lycett.  I recently went to Canberra and have always looked forward to driving along side Lake George, which has always mysteriously filled and emptied. I confess Iwas horrified to see wind farm turbines on the horizon, and was equally surprised by my reaction, as I am of course an ardent supporter of alternative energies. The “visual pollution” of this particularly scenic view made me think of the compromises ahead, and at what price sustainability? I was going to Canberra for the opening of the most magnificent exhibition LIFE, DEATH & MAGIC , 2000 Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art.  Drawn from major collections around the world by the National Gallery of Australia ,  these items will probably never be assembled together again. 

  

Botany Bay 2010 by Micky Allan and Steenus von Steensen

   

BOTANY BAY: In 2008 I curated an exhibition Lines in the Sand, Botany Bay Stories from 1770 and 1788, which examined our foundational narratives and the first European/Aboriginal encounters from Captain Cook’s visit, and the First Fleet. The exhibition contained both colonial material and contemporary art works, and I emphasised the overlooked Aboriginal perspective on these events. Recently I co-curated Shifting Sands, Botany Bay Today, also at the Hazelhurst Regional Gallery  in south Sydney and currently on show, and a group of very interesting and diverse artists were asked to respond to the social, cultural and environmental history and development of Botany Bay. It reminded me of the important role of artists – as interpreters and visionaries. For more information about the exhibition and the viewing the online catalogue ( and my Introduction) visit Shifting Sands, Botany Bay Today

 

Free Tony the Tiger!

   

SAVE TONY THE TIGER: I was emailed by John Martin who has drawn my attention to the campaign to release Tony the Tiger in Louisiana, who has been kept in a cage at the Tiger Truck Stop as a gimmick for all his life (9 years). Despite repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act and the inherent cruelty, there has been no action by the authorities, and I think we should all sign the petition – and spread the word – to ensure the permit to allow Tony to remain imprisoned is not renewed again by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  I think we should also directly contact the Department, but of course you will make up your own mind, see: Petition.  

Other Relevant Sites: 

http://freetonythetiger.wordpress.com/ 

http://freetonythetiger.weebly.com/ 

http://www.bigcatrescue.org/press-room/301-rescue-tony-the-tiger- 

 

 

BRISBANE WRITERS FESTIVAL:  Last week I attended this Festival, now in its 51st year. Apart from sessions on my own, I was part of a Call of the Wild panel with 3 very intrepid Australian women writers who had had adventures in Africa and life changing experiences with animals. Annette Henderson (Wild spirit published by William Heinemann), Sally Henderson (Ivory Moon published by Pan Macmillan) and Tammie Matson (Elephant Dance published by Pan Macmillan) are all committed conservationists and Dr. Matson, for example, has been studying elephant/human conflict in Africa and Assam. With their shrinking and contested habitats, wild elephants are causing problems for villagers. She is staging a fundraising exhibition in Sydney in early October of beautiful elephant drawings – see http://animalworks.com.au/drawings-slideshow , and for exhibition details contact nafisa.naomi@mac.com .  I haven’t been to Africa for nearly 40 years and their books and presentations made me even more enthusiastic to go back. I very much enjoyed attending the festival , and I was asked some very interesting questions, particularly from enthusiastic children. For example, “would you have done anything differently with Christian?” An unkind friend later commented “you could have worn different clothes”!