Broken Cats by Britta Jaschinski winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist Award

Broken Cats by Britta Jaschinski. Winner of the Wildlife Photojournalist Award.

The winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year have just been announced. This annual competition is run by London’s Natural History Museum and attracted 42,000 entries from almost 100 countries. A selection of entries tour internationally. Broken Cats by Britta Jaschinski won the Wildlife Photojournalist Award.  The deadness in the faces of these humiliated animals performing in China, reminds me of the depression I saw in the lions bred for canned hunting in the recent documentary Blood Lions. I was horrified by the recent photograph of another animal being dissected in front of school children at a zoo in Denmark – this time a lion.

I suppose my blog is a sort of diary of what I have found interesting – or scary – over the last few weeks. I think most people would find the present times uncertain and this blog articulates many of my worries! In addition to family and friends, I know many of us find great solace in animals: as companion pets; working for their welfare and rights and to protect their habitats; or just for their sheer beauty and company. I always look forward to the Wildlife Photographers Awards touring to Sydney (usually early in the year), and the beauty of most of the photographs is extraordinary – and very contemplative and soothing. The winner of the Wildlife Photograph of this year (below) is both beautiful and rather grisly, and reminds us, as we learnt with Christian the lion and his on-going battle with the local wild lions, life in the wild can be tough!

 A Tale of Two Foxes by Don Gotoski - winner of Wildlife Photographer of the Year


A Tale of Two Foxes by Don Gotoski. Winner of Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

While many of you have winter approaching, in Australia our spring, like autumn, can be fleeting, and we have already had summer temperatures of 30+. Native plants like grevilleas and bottle brushes are flowering and gardening is even more of a pleasure. Bush-fire warnings have already begun.  The sea looks inviting – although none of the protection measures suggested recently to protect against sharks convinces me yet.

The Company of Three by Amir Ben-Dov - winner of Birds category, Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards

The Company of Three by Amir Ben-Dov. Winner of Birds category, Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

WORLD: I suppose we have all been concerned post GFC that our leaders are failing to properly address both the old fundamental problems and weaknesses in our global economic and financial systems and structures, but also new challenges, transitions and necessary reforms.  There is even more inequality. Most leaders seem to be floundering on most fronts, and some are confronted with the many millions of displaced people at present on the move and overwhelming Europe on a scale unseen in the life times of many. Read my extended view and comments on the Middle East, ISIS, Russia, China, and other anxiety-inducing topics HERE.

Flight of the Scarlet Ibis by Jonathan Jagot, France. Winner of Young Wildlife Photographers 15- 17 years old.

Flight of the Scarlet Ibis by Jonathan Jagot, France. Winner of Young Wildlife Photographers 15- 17 years old.

TECH REVOLUTION: It is obvious that we are going through a technologically driven social and knowledge revolution – apparently this sort of movement happens every 50 – 60 years. The potential for sharing knowledge, education, the global connectivity, the shaping of opinion, the changing of laws etc, is very exciting and transforming.  For various reasons I resist Facebook and I know I miss excellent articles, and more concerning, the dates of protests, or marches in support of animals. It will be so interesting to see the ramifications of this new – and not face to face, changing social interaction.

I love the potential of “citizen science” – from the reporting and data collection on bird populations, to “nodders” who, for example, are at present tracking forest fires in South East Asia online. I also believe in the power of “aggregate voices” – and clickitivism, and some of us have contributed to the success of some animal campaigns via this blog.

Tony the Tiger

Tony the Tiger

I have to say, despite efforts by so many people, the campaign to free Tony the Tiger has so far failed, and his continuing imprisonment haunts me.  He is now 15 years old. Dee de Santis tells me she visited Tony twice last month. This must be so heart breaking and I admire Dee enormously for her commitment to Tony. She says “Sorry there are no updates concerning his case, his petition remains open”. If you haven’t already, sign THIS PETITION to help free Tony.

By the way, it was a very successful March for Rhinos, Elephants and Lions on a recent lovely sunny day.  We were addressed by Mark Pearson, the first member in the world for an Animal Justice Party.

Other implications of the internet concern espionage and cyber warfare. Apparently the Chinese are very active hackers politically, militarily and economically.  State-backed theft of Western Intellectual properties is on a huge ‘industrial” scale and is bankrupting many companies.

But some people are also warning about the “undemocratic” power and monopolies of Facebook, Google and Amazon etc – so called “economic choke points”.

Edward Snowden informed us that as of last week, in Australia “everything you do online is being tracked and retained for two years”.

Aurora australis from Bells Beach, Victoria. Photograph by Pete James Photography.

Aurora australis from Bells Beach, Victoria. Photograph by Pete James Photography.

AUSTRALIA: We have had great news in Australia!  A cloud has lifted. Tony Abbott was thrown out in a surprise coup and Malcolm Turnbull is our new Prime Minister.

In his challenge for the leadership Turnbull said Tony Abbott “has not been capable of providing the economic leadership the nation requires”. Abbott was very unpopular – he broke election promises, he was inept and gaffe-prone, and tried to inflict unfair policies.  His world view was very out of date, like another dinosaur, Stephen Harper in Canada who has also just been thrown out.  Harper has been replaced as PM by the refreshing Justin Trudeau.

In The Saturday Paper editorial Abbott was described as the “worst prime minister ever”. See – it wasn’t just me!  Read my extended view and comments on Australian politics HERE.

ADANI COAL MINE: Despite the enchantment with our new PM, the government still has many distasteful policies, and has been especially shocking in relation to action on climate change. The government has just given permission for the huge Adani coal mine to go ahead in Queensland.  Immediately the Australian Conservation Foundation announced a nation-wide People Climate March – see here for details in Australian cities.  In Sydney we meet in The Domain at 1pm on Sunday 29th November.  This mine just cannot go ahead as it will be an environmental disaster.  Coal will be a “stranded asset” and several banks have already refused to finance the mine. As for the Indians without power who are supposedly the beneficiaries, they are off the grid, and domestic solar panels with battery storage is a much cheaper and cleaner option.

A Whale of a Mouthful by Michael AW, Australia. Winner, Underwater category Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

A Whale of a Mouthful by Michael Aw, Australia. Winner of Underwater category, Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

SHARKS: Eight Great White sharks have recently been tagged to try and understand the “spike” in shark sightings and attacks along the 2000 kilometres of our NSW coast. While those sharks have now scattered far away, there are still plenty of other shark sightings close to shore. The recent Sydney Shark Summit discussed netting (which some Sydney beaches have) and other physical and visual barriers, electric deterrents, physical aerial surveillance, and sonar, satellite and acoustic technologies. At this stage none are 100% safe – but are preferable to culling.

A recent report by researchers at the University of Adelaide states that warmer and more acidic oceans will lead to a food change collapse with large ocean animals like sharks, the most vulnerable.

Koala

KOALAS: Many of our koalas are suffering from a chlamydia infection that can result in infertility, blindness and death, and there is an alarming proposal to dramatically cull koala populations in the hope of eliminating the disease. Koalas “moderately” sick could be treated with antibiotics, but the others would be euthanised. Apparently the population would recover in 5-10 years. Koala populations also face the threat of deforestation, habitat reduction, and the dangers of cars and dogs.

SOUL SEARCHING: In Australia we have lately had to confront some very frightening statistics and home truths. There has recently been a spate of deaths of women through domestic violence which has illustrated the horrifying extent of this with one in four women having been the victim of domestic violence. The government has just allotted what seems to be a lot of money to fight DV, and while it has been welcomed, in general, funding to many essential front-line services such as Legal Aid, the Courts, shelters etc has been reduced. Drug addiction, and we are in an ice epidemic, is also under resourced. We have just had Mental Health Week which again highlighted the failure to adequately deal with the extent of mental health problems within the community.

A Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has continued to reveal the equally horrifying extent of this abuse. The Catholic Church has just described its own history regarding child abuse in Australia as “shameful, corrosive and complicit”.

This treatment of women and children has finally made more Australians also outraged about the women and children (and men) we imprison on our off-shore detention centres.

A 15 year old boy shot and killed a police worker here recently which has heightened the debate around terrorism, the tightening of security laws, and the radicalisation of youth. The new PM’s much more moderate and considered language (compared to Abbott’s fear mongering) has led to a more productive cooperation with Muslim leaders. We did not need the divisive Geert Wilders, the ultra right MP from Holland, to come to Australia to support the formation of an Anti Islam party.

Rebellious teenagers, especially from Middle Eastern backgrounds could feel marginalised in Australia – because they are. They do not feel they belong here, and they could find ISIS attractive – until they get there I imagine. Parents, church figures and schools often have very little influence on youth going through these stages – that’s the point of rebellion! The most insightful and realistic article I have read about teenagers and the “radicalisation” of Muslim youth was by Hussain Nadim in the SMH – see it here.

Casual champion Johnathan Thurston returning home with the League Trophy. Photograph by Brendan Esposito, sourced from The Herald.

Captain of the Cowboys champion Johnathan Thurston returning home with the League Trophy. Photograph by Brendan Esposito, sourced from The Herald.

Racism in sport has also been a huge debate here. It is interesting the role sport plays in the national psyche, especially in the absence of an as yet defined Australian national identity. The Rugby League Final (NRL) was thrilling – a match none of us will forget. Both teams were led by charismatic Indigenous captains and the NRL is about to be dominated by Aboriginal, Islander, and Pacific Islander players. In comparison, while the Australian Football League (AFL) also has many Indigenous star players, a champion Sydney Swans player Adam Goodes, was booed by opposing teams and ended his illustrious career on a depressing note. He has lately also had to endure racist insults on social media for his promotional role with a leading department store. Adam was an articulate and outspoken Australian of the Year in 2014, and I hope he plays an important public leadership role in the future….

Thanks for reaching the end of an over-due and over-long post.  I appreciate your interest and patience.

Snow leopards at Brookfield Zoo - Only 4000 to 6500 remain in the wild. Photograph by Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society.

Snow leopards at Brookfield Zoo – Only 4000 to 6500 remain in the wild. Photograph by Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society.

Ace Bourke photographed by Stephen Oxenbury for Ace Bourke: A Collector's Journey

Ace Bourke photographed by Stephen Oxenbury for Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

OCEANS:  A recent book Ocean of Life: How Our Seas are Changing by Callum Roberts (Allen Lane) has received good reviews.  The oceans are so unexplored and unknown in many respects, but their resources are not inexhaustible and are integral to our lives and survival.  The author paints a frightening and comprehensive picture of what has already been lost  – coral, ocean megafauna, fish stocks etc., and the future challenges.  But Roberts also discusses positive ways to counteract some of the losses – with protected marine areas, bans on many forms of fishing, and global regulatory mechanisms. But despite marine ecosystems being capable of rapid recovery, the world is “living on borrowed time”.

Let’s hope Australia’s newly declared and extensive marine areas are to be adequately protected.

The new CEO for Greenpeace Australia Pacific David Ritter has expressed astonishment – as have many of us – that the Australian Government could be giving the go-ahead for the aptly named Alpha coal mine (co-owned by Gina Rinehart) to build a rail link and one of the world’s largest coal ports ON Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef.  The many environmental concerns are to be managed by “strict operating conditions”.  Sure.  After living in Europe, Ritter wonders how Australia could commit to such an old fashioned development involving fossil fuels which is so likely to endanger the Great Barrier Reef?

You can visit the Greenpeace site to protest should you want to.

SHARKS: Apparently there is a new shark app providing ocean observatories through a wave glider robot of mapping technology for Great White Sharks where numbers can be assessed, and one can “interact” with “Chomp, Mr. Burns, Little John” etc!  I’m terrified of sharks and will NOT be watching.

Grey Nurse Sharks. Photograph by Justin Gilligan.

Grey Nurse Sharks by Justin Gilligan, courtesy The South Australian Museum ANZANG nature photography competition

FISH: Protest against the super trawler Margiris (renamed the Abel Tasman!) fishing in Australian waters on a huge scale for small pelagic fish which are critical in our marine ecosystem.  There is now widespread opposition to this 142 metre vessel which will probably vacuum up “by-catch” of other sea creatures indiscriminately.  The trawler is licensed to catch 18,000 tonnes of fish which is 5% of total stocks from a huge area that stretches from southern Queensland, around Tasmania, and across to Western Australia.  Sign the Greenpeace petition here to stop the super trawler.

ASYLUM SEEKERS:  Many boats with asylum seekers have been making the dangerous journey to Australia.  At least 100 drowned last week and there wasn’t even a national outcry, with drownings now seemingly commonplace.  Both major political parties have been in a “race to the bottom” over this issue to demonise these people.  New laws have stripped away their human rights and these inaccurately described “illegal immigrants” are now likely to be locked away out of sight and processed off-shore on a barren Pacific island (Nauru), or a malaria-infested island (Manus Island in PNG) for unspecified periods. Both these previously used centres are in shocking condition and one wonders why the money could not be invested more wisely in the welfare of these desperate people.  This is similar to ex PM John Howard’s Pacific Solution where most people were eventually resettled in Australia, but many with long lasting mental problems. 70-90% of them were found to be genuine refugees.  Australians, I am ashamed to say, have not been compassionate or welcoming.

There has been a fascinating television program called Go Back To Where You Come From on SBS where people with diverse views were actually sent to Kabul in Afghanistan, and Mogadishu in Somali to witness for themselves the conditions that have made refugees flee. The Australians were terrified for their safety. They met an Hazara in Afghanistan who belongs to a small minority of people who have been hounded there for decades. Over 300 of them who reached Australia were returned to Afghanistan by the Australian Government, and some have subsequently been killed.  Unfortunately no easy solutions exist, but hopefully after this documentary series more of the Australian population are  now a little better informed and more sympathetic.

The UNHCR estimates there are 42 million refugees worldwide and Australia’s yearly intake is 180,000.

The polls have slightly improved for our embattled Prime Minister – by playing to our prejudices by being tough on asylum seekers, cleverly wedging the Opposition leader on carbon pricing, and talking about important if unfunded policies – a National Disabilities insurance scheme, education reform and dental care.

While the Australian economy has been one of the best performing in the world, there is now talk that our commodities boom is coming to an end, with a fall in prices for iron ore, and a slow down of the Chinese economy.  The deposed PM Kevin Rudd has worryingly reappeared lately with a few strategic appearances.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: David was recently in Australia and his live performances sold out in minutes. In an interview he said that about 10 years ago it was apparent from scientific data that global warming/climate change was real, and today I think it must be very hard for any reasonably intelligent person to argue that this is untrue and not want to do something about it. At 86 he has 70 documentaries to his credit, and still looks handsome, although he hobbled a little which he blamed on injuries sustained while climbing Mount Gower on our Lord Howe Island several years ago.

The arctic ice cap has shrunk to the lowest level yet recorded.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

WATER: It seems the world will not have the water to feed the expected 9 billion people by 2050. A vegetarian diet may be the solution as animal protein rich food consumes 5-10 times more water.  At present 1/3rd of  the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals!

ELECTRICITY PRICES: For those wanting to blame our high Australian electricity bills on the recent carbon tax, I am again pointing out that there has been an 80% increase between 2007 and 2012 (and a cold winter!)

CARBON PRICING SCHEMES: From 2013, carbon pricing schemes are expected to be operating in at least 33 countries and 18 states and provinces. These schemes will cover about 850 million people, about 30% of the global economy and about 20% of global emissions. This includes US states and Chinese provinces. Very recently, the Australian Government has scrapped the floor price for carbon and will join our emissions scheme to the European Union by 2015.  I presume this is a good move and it does blunt the Opposition’s criticism that we are “going it alone” and are economically disadvantaged.

Tracey Moffatt and Peter Mack

Tracey Moffatt and Peter Mack at Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

JULIAN ASSANGE: Despite their protestations, the Australia Government has not supported Julian Assange and seemingly lies about what it does or doesn’t know about US intentions. On a television program (Four Corners on the ABC) a few weeks ago it was very apparent the “charges” against Assange in Sweden were non-existent – mere accusations centred around not using a condom.  Julian offered to discuss this matter while in Sweden and was allowed to leave the country. He should be very concerned about extradition to the US where Bradley Manning has spent 800+ days in jail without trial.

Julian should not be surprised by the fierce American opposition to himself and WikiLeaks after his exposures which I support, although I hope no identified “informants” were subsequently murdered.  However I do not support his relationship with both Russia and Ecuador which are two countries with appalling track records regarding freedom of the press.

PUSSY RIOT:  I want to acknowledge these three brave and articulate girls that have been jailed for 2 years for protesting about increasing restrictions in Putin’s Russia and his intolerance to any dissent.  While their performance in a church was provocative, it was appropriate given the Orthodox Church’s political support for Putin.

BURMA: congratulations on the lifting of press censorship…..

Rare hairy nose wombat born at Taronga Park. Image courtesy of Taronga Zoo.

Rare hairy nose wombat born at Taronga Park. Image courtesy of Taronga Zoo.

US: Paul Ryan is an interesting choice for Romney’s running mate although he actually gives Obama more of a target – as Maureen Dowd commented “He’s the cutest package that cruelty ever came in”.  The poor or disadvantaged have to become “more self-reliant”, while the rich get richer and have 80% of the wealth.  Apparently over time this has produced a two-tier society where children of the rich go to the best colleges, and subsequently get the best jobs, leaving most others permanently disadvantaged. While polls are close between Romney and Obama, apparently Australians would choose Obama by a 14 to 1 margin – even 64% of conservative voters.

This is partly a hang-over from the Bush/Howard years and the still lingering negativity towards both of them over the Iraq war which cost $US3 trillion, resulted in many deaths and has ended up with Iraq allied with Iran. South Africa’s Desmond Tutu recently said that Bush and Blair should face the International Criminal Court. Don’t forget John Howard!

I was not impressed with the cloyingly sentimental testimonials at the Republican convention or Clint Eastwood’s bizarre performance.  Not surprisingly there was no acknowledgement of the economic and foreign affairs mess Obama inherited from Bush, while Paul Ryan has been accused of making “false or distorted” statements.  I hope Michelle Obama and the Democrats play it a little cooler…

Growth in the US is only 2% but share prices have risen 20% which is one of various indicators encouraging for Obama’s re-election, although 8.2% unemployment is not.  It is anticipated that the US will be energy self-sufficient in a few years from shale gas and oil. No doubt, like in Australia, the short and long term effects of all this mining – on communities, food agricultural land, and water tables, has not been scientifically tested.

RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: Australia is being left behind in R & D and for the first time the Asian region surpassed the Americas in its investment – $518 billion to $512 billion. China spends 6 times more than Australia does – and our scientists are collaborating on carbon capture technology for power plants, climate change modelling, stem cell medical research, solar voltaic materials and disease transmission from animals to humans.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

Photograph by Narelle Autio. Courtesy Stills Gallery.

MIDDLE EAST: In EGYPT the new President seems have asserted himself and one wonders how and when the Generals will fight back….while SYRIA seems to be “exploding” rather than just “imploding” while the world watches impotently. 100,000 Syrians fled last month. The new UN “Peace” envoy to Syria thinks his job is “nearly impossible”.  There were a few more Australian soldier deaths in Afghanistan, and with such a brazenly corrupt government, local warlords and the Taliban lurking, the sooner we stop the charade and leave the country the better.

When I woke up the other day, the news was that the Syrian government forces were shooting  their own people from helicopters as they queued for bread, more asylum seekers drowned on their way to Australia, and some beheadings in Afghanistan. What sort of world do we live in?

ISRAEL: The historian Tom Segev warns that the Arab and ultra orthodox populations in Israel are growing, and that this is “ the main reason I think we should leave the occupied territories. Those Israelis who built Israel as a Jewish and democratic country are becoming a minority”.  He was quoted in an article by John Lyons in The Australian which went on to say that “Children were taught that when Israel was established in 1948 it had been empty – it was a land without people for a people without land. Historians (like Segev) have demolished the myth with documents showing almost half the Arabs who left were forced out, many violently”. This is similar to the myth of ‘terra nullius” in relation to the Aboriginal people in Australia, and the subsequent British colonisation.

We have to remember that many Israelis are also concerned about the military occupation of the Palestinians and realise that the settlements are designed to make peace with the Palestinians impossible. An organisation of veteran Israeli soldiers called Breaking the Silence have compiled a report from soldiers’ testimonies relating to the wounding and killing of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza. This follows two other reports that detail multiple violations of international law by Israel in its treatment of children.

I did read a worrying article in Vanity Fair about Netanyahu, which despite his comfortable majority in the Knesset is described as “moving forward by standing still” and is now “unrelentingly cautious”.  His wife Sara apparently “runs the show”, and the media has been neutralised with the assistance of two American billionaires.

So is Israel preparing to go to war with Iran over their nuclear program -or merely threatening for the benefit of the US where the Presidential elections are another complicating factor? Apparently Israel, unlike the US, do not have the weapons it needs to penetrate Iran’s underground nuclear facilities.

The US sold a record $US66.3 billion of arms sales overseas last year.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

NOEL PEARSON: In Australia it is hard to work out Noel Pearson, a very intelligent and articulate Aboriginal.  He is the architect of the Government’s flawed and controversial Intervention in Aboriginal communities – a one size paradigm NOT fitting all by any means, and imposed originally with no community consultation.  The Intervention has rare bi-partisan support which suits both political parties as most policies and vast amounts of money have seen little improvement for Aboriginal people over many years.  Recently there has been a glut of information about Pearson in both major papers, and I can’t work out why.  Unfortunately he seems to have become autocratic, untouchable, and foul mouthed.  His central idea is that the welfare dependency of many Aboriginal people is counter productive, and it is undoubtedly ultimately demoralising.  Unfortunately the Intervention has led to the discontinuation of many worthwhile programs Aboriginals themselves initiated in their own communities.  Pearson’s chosen communities and projects in Queensland, however, ironically seem particularly awash with government funding.  Scrutiny or criticism is treated with contempt, and it is hard to measure any actual achievements as yet.  While one must applaud genuine attempts to counter Aboriginal disadvantage, some of his ideas do seem paternalistic and a hangover from the Mission days. I do support various ideas and projects however, including encouragement for people to have their own gardens and grow their own vegetables. Make up your own mind.

MISC STATS: Facebook 955 million users but the share price halved; Apple worth $622 billion; 100 million deaths in the world from smoking each year and Australia has $200 million invested in Big Tobacco in our Future Fund; 80% fewer koalas on the east coast of Australia because of urban development; 1/3rd more tigers killed in India this year.

READERS:  As readers, my generation, (and a little older and a little younger), have been “spectators” in a sense and are fast becoming an eccentric minority. Now consumers are more “participants” through Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc.  More people are now into this constant flow of information and other stimulation. Are they afraid of silence? When is the “quiet” time, or the time for reflection?  Planning?  Thinking?

SMH: Over 70 journalists and writers have taken redundancy packages and left my favourite newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald.  This can only have a detrimental effect on the standard of the newspaper, although several of you have complained in the past about the sources for news and commentary that I rely on!

 JOHN RALSTON SAUL: In an essay Saul asks “When did saving a bank become more important than saving a country?” I particularly liked some of his ideas as I grapple to understand the effects of the “solutions” to the GFC and the future for countries such as Greece, Spain etc. in the European Union.  Saul is amazed as “those who have produced the failure press on”.  He sees a failure of imagination, and an illiterate leadership.  He challenges the policies of austerity and growth, and asks when did austerity ever historically lead to prosperity?  He discusses the destructive attitudes to public debt and wonders about the primary obligation to the well being of citizens.  He is not surprised by the return of popularism, xenophobia and fear.  He says there is a production surplus and the problem is that it is distributed unfairly. We must “move on to ideas of social and economic well being not dependent on growing consumption”. Read the full article from the SMH here.

FELINE FILM FESTIVAL: Apparently over 10,000 people attended this recent outdoor event in Minneapolis to view 79 selected entries.  Apparently 10 million cat videos are on the internet!  The winner of the Golden Kitty award was Will Braden’s existential Henri 2: Paw de Deux and it is just marvellous!  He certainly understands cats.

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey

Ace Bourke: A Collectors Journey