George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian (c. late 1972- early 1973)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

During the last world crisis, the Global Financial Crisis, Christian’s “reunion” footage with us in Kenya on YouTube was a soothing and positive diversion, and this helped to make it so popular. I have been getting emails recently with people saying they have been watching Christian’s story as a distraction, or to make them feel better in “lockdown”. It amazes me that Christian still casts this spell over so many of us.

See here should you want to watch the version of our reunion with Christian with Whitney Houston’s song, as it gets harder to find on YouTube, and needless to say, it is my favourite version.

Many of you no doubt celebrated World Lion Day on August 10th, and International Tiger Day on the 29th July.

LIONS: We all remain concerned with the crisis in lion and wildlife populations. I am presuming “canned hunting” is not thriving with the widespread COVID-19 virus in South Africa, but at a time like this the owners of the numerous “lion farms” that have profited from this dreadful practice may start to maltreat the animals including not feeding them properly or looking after them. Even worse, the current situation may encourage the participation in the illegal trade in lion body parts. The human population in South Africa, with widespread unemployment, is also faring very badly.

Image source: Allen & Unwin

While I have as yet only read an extract, there is a new book The Last Lions in Africa: Stories from the frontline in the battle to save a species by Anthony Ham. He is, to my surprise, an Australian.

The author states that as of 2019, there are approximately 22,509 lions left on the African continent. At the end of the C19 there were 200,000. They have disappeared from 95% of their historical ranges, and from 26 countries. By now we know most of the reasons, primarily, destruction of habitats, hunting and human and animal conflict. The author also notes that there are approximately only 4,000 tigers left in the wild, and 1,000 mountain gorillas.

Depressingly, in my blog after blog over the years, we have been watching these figures diminish despite many organisations and individuals doing good work. Rather like action, (or inaction) on climate change, nothing seems to be reversing the “extinction vortex” we are witnessing.

These giraffes from the Mogo Wildlife Park, NSW, nearly died in the bushfires and have now welcomed a new born calf

BUSHFIRES:  In Australia we had a horrific fire season with 10 million hectares of the east coast burnt, which was news around the world. We were all in shock at the scope, the intensity, and that the fires were described as “unstoppable”. I live surrounded by a National Park which was very dry, but we were lucky this time. The smoke and air quality from the fires was a danger to health over vast areas. I put my art collection in storage, and like many others, had a suitcase and the cat box by the door for months on end.

Quite a few people lost their lives, including fire fighters, and many lost their houses and businesses. Many animals died – they estimated a billion at the time, but that has just been updated to 3 billion dead or displaced. This does not include the cattle and sheep lost. Despite the early start to the fire season and the incredible ferocity of the fires, despite all intelligent people and fire experts pointing to climate change as a factor, our conservative government said “now was not the time” to talk about such things. Now we are heading towards the next season as ill prepared as we were last year. We continue not just to ignore the experts but also indigenous fire practices honed over centuries.

As many as 5,000 koalas lost their lives during the fires, and their habitats destroyed.  There is even talk of extinction. Our NSW Government has stated it wants to double koala populations by 2050, but this government has not stopped land clearing and habitat destruction, which like creeping urbanization, are the major threat to koalas, along with bush fires, disease, dogs and feral animals. The government fully supports mining, even allowing mining that threatens Sydney’s water supply.

Australia has the worst record in the world in relation to the extinction of mammals – 30 species lost since colonization (1788), and 14 in the past 50 years.

COVID-19: Who would have thought how much the world would have changed since Christian’s last birthday? We have all been overtaken by COVID-19 and I hope all of you and your families are managing. Everyone has been affected in some way. Australia had coped quite well up until recently, although due to some inexcusable quarantine carelessness, we now seem to be having a dangerous “second wave” in Victoria, and some outbreaks in my state of NSW. Luckily as an island continent we can close our borders, although our state borders are more porous. The lucrative international tourism industry and the international student sector, have been decimated.

Interestingly, the Federal Government has responded quite well and suddenly and unusually, listened to medical experts and scientists – unlike their ongoing climate change denial. The government is now getting very worried about the economy and is anxious to reopen everything and for it to be business as usual. They have been forced to embrace spending and borrowing billions of dollars after criticizing the Opposition for years, although it was the ALP who were then in government and successfully navigated us out of the Global Financial Crisis.  Our economy and jobs growth have not been strong for years, and as yet there are no proposals or ideas for job creation or economic stimulation. The Treasurer even referenced Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as his models for economic recovery which is rather indicative of the government’s outdated ideological mindset.

The arts and entertainment industry here has also been decimated and given very little support, and none of it as yet has been forthcoming. Galleries and museums are tentatively reopening. Under the cover of “Covid”, funding to our national broadcaster the ABC, universities (especially “the Humanities”), the public sector and the arts, all imagined enemies of this government, will be minimized.

People around the world have appreciated surprisingly clear skies and clean water. Now would be an ideal time to have a new low carbon and green approach to the economy, and transition to renewables. In Australia we still don’t have an energy policy that business can invest in, and the government remains fixated on coal and gas. Now is also the chance to review: overdue taxation reform; much needed public housing policy; aged care; wage growth and the casualization of labour; and to consider free universal childcare, and the vital role of women (and migrants) in the health and service industries.

I’m glad I don’t live in Sweden where my age group seems to have just been sacrificed for the greater good, although their economy, and the number of deaths, does not indicate that this approach has been successful. I have been very worried about friends in the UK, the USA and Brazil. Trump and Bolsonaro have both been criminally negligent. I am also very worried about friends in India, and especially Rajat, a very intelligent and dedicated young fan of Christian’s who is battling a serious disease I’m sure he will overcome, and my thoughts are with him and his family.

Over the last year, the leaders of America, Russia and China have shown their true colours, and there has been a dangerous unravelling of the old world order. Cyber surveillance and warfare is the norm and it is difficult to ascertain the truth with the claims of “fake news” and the widespread conspiracy theories. In the USA I have no confidence in Biden, but removing Trump would do the world a service. My prayers for the future of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, and for the citizens of Beirut.

Congratulations to the few countries like New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam that acted quickly and effectively against the virus. In Vietnam they have banned the trading in wild animals and their body parts which is good, although some are allowed for “medicinal purposes”. Wild life products do seem to be incubators of disease.

So take care, wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance.

The ice keeps melting…. Photograph by Michael Ginzburg for PBS.org

We listen to scientists and medical experts with the epidemic – why don’t we listen to climate change scientists and their predictions?

SELF-ISOLATION: How have you all managed in self-isolation? People initially seem to have found it frustrating but also quite interesting. Most have enjoyed more time with the family, although “home schooling” has been a challenge for many. With so many working from home, and Zoom, this may change work habits and paradigms. Musicians have made music in their bedrooms, and artists and galleries have been imaginative about art online. Cooking, eating, gardening and DIY home renovations seem to have been popular.

Many people binge watched Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix but I resisted, although I did later see a documentary on these unsavoury people, messing with such beautiful animals. There are more big cats in private hands in the USA than are left in the wild. There is no conservation value as their breeding practices are indiscriminate. What is going to happen to the animals if these zoos are closed down, and the owners in jail?

Many of us have been supported at this time by our companion animals, who have had to adjust to us being home much more! Initially there were many more adoptions from animal shelters which was encouraging and understandable. I do wish even more people would adopt these animals, at risk of euthanasia, rather than buying expensive hybrid dogs like Cavoodles, Groodles and Moodles. I have noticed that Dachshunds have become very popular. My cat has been a great source of comfort even if she has manoeuvred/manipulated me into now being fed on demand, and I now realise she can sleep 23 hours a day.

I have got some overdue writing projects actually finished or well advanced, and have read some very good books. I have found classical music very soothing. Luckily Bundeena where I live is very beautiful and this winter quite mild so I walk every day. I have always felt in quarantine here!

“Misunderstanding” by Tony Albert. Courtesy Sullivan +Strumpf.

BLM: Aboriginal people in Australia have been protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and across the world, and of course they have much to relate to. As in America, there has been a growing section of the white population that also agree that enough is enough. Aborigines have a shocking incarceration rate, and there have been many Aboriginal deaths in custody, with no-one EVER bought to account.

White people have increasingly had to face our privilege in the last few years, and acknowledge the results of dispossession of indigenous people by colonisation. We also have to realise the amount of “casual” racism that exists, let alone the overt racism people of colour deal with on a daily basis. Enough IS enough!

Recently, the mining company Rio Tinto blew up two caves in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia that were sacred to Aboriginal people. Artefacts dated to 46,000 years had been found there, so the caves were one of Australia’s most significant archaeological sites. The company said it was a “misunderstanding” – hence why one of our best Aboriginal artists Tony Albert called his artwork “Misunderstanding”. Google him to see more of his wonderful work. The nation was very shocked – briefly.

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Our thoughts are with our WFA staff in India where the virus is particularly severe. The best news however is that the new cattery at the Kalimpong Animal Shelter (KAS) is now being built and finally cats will have the necessary space that they require. We are particularly grateful to Laura Louie and Harry Bohm who very generously donated money to purchase the additional land and build the cattery. I am very much hoping I can visit when travel is permitted again.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s new book

BOOK: Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has a new book Lost Companions, Reflections on the Death of Pets. This is possibly his 13th book, and dogs have been his speciality. Many of us have had the trauma of dealing with the death of loved pets, and Jeffrey recounts various stories about our special bonds with animals and the different ways people deal with their grief. I always regret that it is not possible to express our last words, explanations, or our thanks to them for all they have meant to us.

Jeffrey mentions Christian, as an example of interspecies relationships. Of course we don’t know what happened to Christian which I am quite relieved about. That is one death and trauma we didn’t have to face. About our reunion with Christian, Jeffrey, who is a friend of mine, says about me “I understand why this single encounter has stamped his life forever”. I think it has but I’m not sure how! While I was not surprised Christian remembered us, I may have been surprised at just how exuberant he was. Jeffrey noted what I also found extraordinary, that Christian’s “pride” who were not familiar with humans, milled around us, caught up in and sharing Christian’s excitement. He was loved by lions and humans alike.

MOROCCO: I was very fortunate to have a great trip to Morocco, Paris and London late last year, as international travel for us all is unlikely for the foreseeable future. There were cats and kittens everywhere in Morocco – no doubt too many, but I was pleased to see they were treated well.

In Fez I visited the American Fondouk, which was established in 1927 by an American woman to offer free veterinary care for “four legged” animals – mules, horses and donkeys. If these animals get injured, the families often have no other source of income. American Fondouk (hotel) is very well resourced with the latest equipment – for weighing and moving heavy animals, an operating theatre, and a test laboratory etc etc. The staff and volunteers were very welcoming to me – as they are to anyone who would like to visit and see their work. The founder’s family continue to support the Fondouk, but extra donations are always appreciated.

Speaking to the two young vets who showed me around, I said I had been lucky enough when I was younger to meet and know Joy and George Adamson. To my surprise, they had never heard of Elsa the lioness, the Adamsons, or Born Free. They said “we only know about those two young Australians who took their lion from London back to Africa”. They seemed to believe that I was one of them!

I was very shocked that generations now may not know Elsa’s extraordinary story, and the film and book Born Free that affected millions of people all over the world in the 1960s. Although I didn’t read the book at the time, I was very aware of the story. We were fascinated by Elsa’s affectionate relationship with the Adamsons and her successful rehabilitation back into the wild. It was almost unimaginable. Like David Attenborough who had begun making his documentaries, the spotlight was put on wildlife, and the affirmation that, like us, all animals, including “wild” animals, were sentient beings. I finally read Born Free a few years ago, and Elsa, like Christian, was an exceptionally intelligent animal. The Adamsons could take her on holidays, and she would just jump into the back of their vehicle. Joy Adamson was a very creative woman, and the photographs in the book were wonderful.  I have seen the film more recently at fund raising events, and it remains amazingly fresh, and a feast for lovers of lions.

I can’t really completely explain or understand why Christian’s story still has such resonance so many years later. He was very charismatic, attractive, and full of personality.  His life was very well documented, and years later, he has had the benefit of the social media age and YouTube.  He demonstrated an obvious capacity for love. He too was successfully rehabilitated, and we can presume a happy ending. For some people our story also represents a more adventurous and less regulated era …… what do you think?

I would love you to Leave a Comment on your thoughts on what Christian and his story (or Elsa and Born Free) has meant to you!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN we are all still thinking of you, especially today.

Christian photograph by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian photographed by Ace Bourke 1972

Kevin Richardson

                                   Kevin Richardson

I am very much looking forward to meeting “lion whisperer” Kevin Richardson when he comes to Australia next month. See here for details of when he is appearing at fund raisers in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney (17th June) for Painted Dog Conservation Incorporated. I want to ask Kevin about the risks he seems to take with lions that I never would, and if he shampoos them – they look so fluffy and gorgeous.  He is an active campaigner against the “canned hunting” of lions.

I have heard two interesting interviews relating to animals on our ABC Radio National lately. Jacqui Sunderland-Groves, a primatologist and Senior Advisor at Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia described “forest school” where orangutans are taught and prepared to be returned to the wild. 170 have been rehabilitated successfully to natural habitats and are forming viable populations.

The other interview was with Australian Damien Mander who brings his experience as an ex-soldier to the Anti-Poaching Foundation primarily working in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He seems mainly concerned with the prevention of the poaching of rhinos, especially that rhino horn can now command up to $75,000 a kilo!

Christine Townend sent me this link to Psychology Today.  There are many articles which illustrate the fantastic range of contemporary thinking about animals.  Through a wide variety of animals and experts, there are many discussions and views on subjects as diverse as sentience, rewilding, compassionate conservation, and interspecies friendships.

In NSW we are celebrating that Mark Pearson won a seat for the Animal Justice Party in the NSW Parliament Upper House.

BORN FREE: I loved seeing Born Free again and it was a successful fundraiser for The Feline Foundation and Animal Works. The film was not dated and Africa looked so beautiful and fresh. Virginia McKenna, although more English rose than the volatile Austrian Joy Adamson, is an excellent actress. The lions were wonderful and Elsa was an amazing animal. The film portrayed Joy Adamson as the one keenest to keep the cubs, but it was George who relented at the last moment and did not send Elsa with the others to a zoo in Holland. George Adamson later said they should have kept the three cubs as this would have made Elsa’s lonely and precarious rehabilitation easier. This was why he created a pride around our Christian the lion, with Boy as the adult male.  George gambled that Boy would not kill the younger Christian who was nearly old enough to be perceived as a threat.  Only 3 out of 15 lions used in the filming of Born Free were rehabilitated, which angered Joy and George and Virginia and Bill Travers.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.

Tony Albert’s Memorial to Indigenous soldiers in Hyde Park.
Photography by City of Sydney Paul Patterson.

WAR: Tony Albert is a highly regarded Aboriginal artist and his striking memorial to the previously overlooked contribution of Indigenous soldiers to our armed forces was recently unveiled in Hyde Park, Sydney. Last month was the anniversary of 100 years since Australians and New Zealanders landed at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915. 8709 Australians and 2701 New Zealanders were sent to their deaths by incompetent British commanders. Those precious lives – great losses on both sides – should serve as a lesson against war, but they haven’t.

The $325 million spent on this anniversary could instead help many still struggling Vietnam Vets, or families of servicemen.

I think Australians were probably good soldiers: they were fit and brave, supported their “mates”, had a healthy suspicion of authority, were perhaps a little “crazy” brave and exhibited “careless behaviour”.  Arthur Conan Doyle described them as “rude and rough, but honest, kindly and true”.

Australians seem to be sent to war by conservative governments or at the request of our allies who we hope will come to our defense sometime in the future. Conservative PM Menzies sent troops to Vietnam in 1965, but at least that war was in our region. Conservative PM Howard sent us into Iraq in 2003, and present PM Abbott has just sent another 300+ back to Iraq. On the day this “mission creep” was announced, our Minister for Defence could not name the commander of Islamic State although there is a $US10 million price tag on his head.  Mind you, I couldn’t either.  His name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and he is now rumoured to be injured.  He apparently planned his IS Caliphate while imprisoned in the notorious Iraqi Abu-Ghraib prison.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

The winner of the Bulgari Art Award, Ildiko Kovacs, with her painting Onda. Photograph by Renee Nowytarger. Image sourced from The Australian.

I’m thrilled that friend and fellow Bundeena resident Ildiko Kovacs has won the prestigious Bulgari Art Award. The painting has been acquired by the AGNSW, and includes a residency for the artist in Italy. Ex Bundeena resident George Gittoes has just won the Sydney Peace Prize 2015. He has set up a Yellow House (à la Vincent Van Gogh and Martin Sharp) in Jahalabad, Afghanistan, which he describes as “Taliban Central”. He is a very interesting and intrepid artist who has documented many wars and their aftermath, and believes that art is more effective than weapons.

AUSTRALIA: As Donald Horne said in his 1964 book A Lucky Country “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise”.

Unfortunately this remains quite true so many years later. I just can’t see any constructive strategy from the government for addressing our problems and changing economic circumstances. The looming May Budget  next week will be a huge test.

I did love Tony Abbott’s frank answer to Angela Merkel who asked him what drove our relationship with China: “greed and fear”, although, unfortunately our resources boom and exports to China now seem to be dwindling.

I also loved this tweet from cricketer Shane Warne who I also criticised for talking about alcohol after the Australian World Cup victory: “Do gooders get stuffed. Straya (Australia) is the best place in the world, not politically correct, keep it real. Aussies celebrate properly!#thirsty

Jonathan Jones 'Luminous'. Image sourced from Museum of Contemporary Art.

Jonathan Jones’ celestial fluorescent wall in Luminous  at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney

CLIMATE CHANGE: Australia has been criticised recently for inaction on climate change as 193 countries get ready for the conference in Paris later in the year.  We are the highest per capita emitters in the world and we are not transitioning – or diversifying, out of our reliance on coal.  Environment Minister Hunt has been hailing his Direct Action policy a great success.  The government abolished the carbon tax as unfair on tax payers, (and emissions have consequently risen), yet this policy pays polluters (with our money) to stop!  Already most of the money allocated for these projects has been spent, yet we are still well short of our targets.

While the government has scandalously slashed funding to science, climate change bodies and education, they have found $4 million for Danish Bjorn Lomborg to establish an “Australian Consensus Center” at the University of West Australia. Lomborg acknowledges the human factor in climate warming, but is a “sceptical environmentalist” and does not seem to actually want to do anything about it in case it affects the economy!  He seems to have low academic qualifications (in political science!) and I think the outcry against him and the university will only grow.

This is unfortunately yet another example of the government’s shameless ideological bias. Other recent examples are  a government “White Paper” on Energy which mentioned climate change ONCE, and a decade-long Intergenerational Report which also overlooked climate change.  This report was described by respected economist Ross Gittins as a “blatant piece of political propaganda”.  Is this the objectivity one should expect from our government as they supposedly plan our future?

Despite our considerable sun and wind resource base in Australia, the government has made investing in renewables as unattractive as possible. They are on “the wrong side of history” and recent advances like the Tesla Powerwall and Tesla Powerpack will revolutionise the potential for storage of electricity generated from solar panels, and will be cheap enough to solve the reliability of intermittent solar and wind.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

Berndnaut Smilde, Nimbus II, 2012, digital C type print, 75 x 112 cm. Image sourced from Ronchini Gallery, Amsterdam.

There is an exhibition at The Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne entitled Nature/Revelation. It is a key component of the “Art+Climate=change festival” and seeks to “celebrate the unique capacity art has to cut through prevailing rhetoric to stimulate individually and emotionally in the face of current environmental issues”.

ECOMODERNIST MANIFESTO: A conservative group of international scientists has issued this manifesto and believe that “the next generation of solar, advanced nuclear fission and nuclear fusion represent the most plausible pathways toward the joint goals of climate stabilisation and radical decoupling of humans from nature”.

An ANU Report states that Australia’s abundance of renewable energy resources should make exiting fossil fuels possible by 2050, at a manageable cost to the economy. AGL – listed last blog as one of Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, is to exit coal-fired power plants by 2050, and not build new ones. I am cynical of this attempt to appear “green” as the announcement follows a recent stocking-up spending spree.

The Salt of the Earth poster

The Salt of the Earth poster

I’m looking forward to seeing The Salt of the Earth, the documentary about the great  Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado made by his son and Wim Wenders. Salgado’s often beautiful and powerful images have been criticised for ennobling or romanticising the poverty or working conditions of some of his subjects, but they equally also garner necessary attention. See a review of the film here.

WORLD: In Australia we were recently shocked by the recent execution in Indonesia of 8 convicted drug smugglers, including two Australians.  Capital punishment is appalling and has been proven not to be a deterrent.  It was all handled in a very chaotic and cruel way, and unfortunately President Joko Widodo appeared weak. He was recently humiliated (again) by his Party chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri, herself a failed president.

Up to 10,000 people may have died in the recent earthquake in Nepal. The country is one of the poorest in the world and the devastation so comprehensive that they urgently need extensive international aid.  Co-ordination of relief efforts and rebuilding does seem beyond the capacity of this government.  Apart from all the lives and livelihoods lost, many historical and culturally important buildings have been destroyed.  Animal victims are receiving emergency aid from the Humane Society International’s Vet Team.

Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

                    Photograph by Sebastiao Salgado

I read reports that Egypt is massing large-scale ground and air forces along the Libyan border in preparation for a military campaign to capture eastern Libya from IS occupation.  I suppose more will flee to Europe with 1500 lost at sea already this year, including the 750 people that drowned recently. 5800 were rescued last weekend!  Apparently Assad’s grip on power in Syria is finally weakening.

I am glad Pope Francis, among many others, has spoken up on the centenary of the estimated 1.5 million Armenians who were killed by the Turks, and it is time Turkey faced up to this historical reality.

The UK election seemed to be very close with no party likely to win a majority in their own right, but exit polls today are however pointing to a Tory victory.  While there has been some growth in the British economy, especially compared with most other countries, the general population do not feel they are sharing any benefit. Apparently Rupert Murdoch continued to interfere in the democratic process with his biased newspapers, while in Australia, his papers just blatantly back the government.

I suppose I hope Hillary Clinton wins the next US presidential election. She does carry a lot of “Clinton” baggage, but I thought she was a competent state secretary. All the Republicans seem too closely allied to that loony right wing Tea Party  – and who could bear another Bush as president? Hillary has a $US 2.5 billion war-chest for her campaign.

The rioting and destruction in Baltimore followed yet another death of a black American at the hands of the police or while in custody.  It is a breaking point in race relations, and long standing social problems and disadvantage remain unaddressed.

The stalling of growth in the American economy is concerning for us all.

The exhibition Indigenous Australia – Enduring Civilisation has just opened at the British Museum, UK. It includes Aboriginal objects, weapons, art etc. collected early in the white settlement of Australia, and includes a wooden shield and spears collected by Captain Cook’s crew in Botany Bay in 1770.

The annual exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year is at the Australian Museum, Sydney and runs until 5th October.  It isn’t too late to enter the National Geographic Traveller Photo Contest 2015  – the competition closes on June 30th!

Photograph by Matty Smith, BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014 Finalist, see at Australian Museum

Photograph by Matty Smith, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 

See more marvellous ocean and wildlife images by Matty Smith here.