High res Ace and Christian

Ace with Christian, 1972. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN

Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 in an unprepossessing and long closed down zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon, UK. Who could have imagined after five generations of captivity in Europe, he would be returned to Africa, and be successfully rehabilitated by George Adamson of Born Free fame?

For those unfamiliar with Christian’s story, see his website alioncalledchristian.com.au.

I am most often asked what happened to Christian. No-one knows. Christian was last seen by George Adamson in early 1973 when he was nearly four years old and was growing into one of the largest lions George had ever seen. He had survived the most dangerous years, although life as an adult lion would also always be very challenging. George thought he was looking for a territory of his own, away from the aggressive local lions of Kora. We like to think Christian created a pride of his own and lived at least the average 10 -12 years of lions in the wild.

Christian remains very popular and I continue to get many emails from nearly everywhere – often in waves from another round on Facebook, or as other countries discover him – like India more recently.

It was the posting on YouTube in 2008 of our reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 which brought Christian’s story back to a new and wider audience (100 million+ views), and our clip was recently listed as No. 5 on the top 20 to 1 Viral Sensations (Channel 9).

Sony bought the rights to our story in 2008. Given Christian’s enduring popularity, and the many relevant issues his life exemplifies, I am disappointed that many years have now gone by and sadly we are no closer to going into production. My feelings are exacerbated by the fact that there is such a crisis in wildlife, indeed we are at a tipping point for many species, not only lions, elephants and rhinos. Christian’s story could possibly make a contribution to generating more urgent action on behalf of animals in the hope of saving and protecting lives.

I’m relieved I’m not presently writing or commentating about the precarious state of the world which has unravelled even more dangerously than when I last blogged. We all deal with uncertainty and anxiety in different ways. I find it very relaxing living near the water, beside a National Park on the edge of Sydney.  I like to walk, garden, read, spend time with friends and family, listen to Radio National, spoil the cat, and even do some interesting work! Despite the criticisms – and the costs to Brazil and the local population, I’m loving watching the Olympic Games and am, so far, finding it life-affirming.

Leo DiCaprio GAWPT photo

Rhinos from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Facebook page. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

GAWPT:  Leonardo DiCaprio is such a great advocate for the environment and through his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has recently donated US$15.6 million in grants – towards wildlife and habitat conservation, to aide indigenous rights, and to combat climate change and solve environmental issues. Visit his Facebook page here.

Included among the “grantees” in Africa are the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (GAWPT)/ Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary, and the Elephant Crisis Fund (in partnership with Save the Elephant) – both very worthy recipients.

WFA: Working for Animals has a new website www.workingforanimals.org.au primarily about the WFA animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India. I am on the Committee of WFA and will contribute to News and Blog items from time to time. The founder, Christine Townend, is very well known internationally for her pioneering work in animal welfare and rights, and is well informed about the most pressing animal issues and debates world-wide.

We both hope to attend the upcoming Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in Mumbai 21-23 October 2016. We spoke at the last FIAPO conference in Jaipur in 2014 and look forward to hearing wonderful and dedicated people talk about the successes and advances made in animal welfare in India, despite the many challenges.

WFA will continue to post information about various campaigns – and I remain especially concerned about canned hunting in Africa, and the continuing captivity of Tony the Tiger at the truck stop in Louisiana.

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Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

TIGERS:  I remain very excited about seeing tigers at close quarters in the Ranthambore National Park in India earlier in the year. On my return I watched several fascinating David Attenborough tiger documentaries, but as they were made several years ago, I hope the poaching and sale of tiger body parts and skins, and the flawed assessment of tiger numbers in the wild etc, are now more closely scrutinised and policed. Many issues conflate including the pressures of balancing sustainable tourism, competition for resources, the danger of wildlife to local villagers, and the expansion of wildlife corridors etc.

Officially, there are 2266 tigers approximately in India at present and 70% of the world’s tigers are in India. The most recent WWF survey states that 3890 tigers remain in the wild. I think seeing tigers up close reminded me of just how privileged I have been to know – and love – a big cat, and to be reminded of their magnificence, their power, and how they need us to fight – harder – for their survival.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

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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.

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.

Lion cub and lioness in Naboisho Conservancy, Masai Mara, Kenya by Marja Schartz

Lion cub and lioness in Naboisho Conservancy, Masai Mara, Kenya by Marja Schwartz

I love this photograph, and many others entered in the National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest. Some of the other entries follow below and see here for a wide selection.  With so many people with cameras and the plethora of images in our daily lives with social media and Instagram etc, it is great there are now so many competitions giving photographers greater exposure. Countless images of our beautiful natural world and wildlife can only contribute to renewing our efforts for urgent protection.

BornFree

BORN FREE: After the initial successful fund raiser for Animal Works and The Feline Foundation, I have been asked again to introduce the classic film Born Free on Saturday 8th August  at 2pm, at Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney.  I loved seeing the film again. The story of Elsa the lioness is sensitively told and Africa looks very fresh and beautiful.  Please spread the word as Animal Works do support such important causes and projects! You can purchase tickets here.

BLOOD LIONS: This documentary, which took considerable courage to make, addresses the horrific practice of captive lion breeding and canned hunting in South Africa.  It has just been shown at the Durban International Film Festival. No doubt it will soon be shown in Australia and internationally, so keep up to date via the Blood Lions website.

CECIL THE LION: the shooting of well known Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe by an American dentist has created a social media “firestorm” and international outcry.  The 13 year old lion who was collared and under surveillance, was apparently lured outside his territory by bait. He was initially shot with a bow and arrow and forty hours later was shot with a gun. He was skinned and beheaded. What sort of people take pleasure in this?  His cubs will be killed by another lion.  Sign this petition and we can only hope Cecil’s death will add to the momentum against canned hunting and a world wide ban on the importation of animal body parts and trophies.

TONY THE TIGER: Please sign this petition for Tony!  It is hard not to be very upset and pessimistic as the years go by and Tony remains imprisoned for the fifteenth year!  I have been told that our collective signatures are noticed and can make a difference.  There are now over 50,000 on this petition for Tony but they are aiming at 75,000.

A new sign on Tony’s cage at the truck stop says “we are proud of our record and it is a great joy to provide this free exhibit to you. Recent attacks by Animal Rights Terrorists and legal organisations against private zoos have resulted in huge legal fees.  Donations are greatly appreciated”!  This is just outrageous and we must keep the pressure up in any way we can to free Tony, the “free exhibit”.

Lion of al-Lat at Palmyra

Lion of al-Lat at Palmyra

WORLD: This 1st century statue of the Lion of al-Lat in Palmyra, Syria was destroyed earlier in the month by ISIS militants. Other sites in Palmyra are undamaged at this stage, but there has been widespread looting and vandalism across ISIS controlled areas. The unnecessary loss of cultural heritage is shocking – as is the plight of the millions of displaced people in the region.

It is hard not to be pessimistic about the world at the moment. There is new unsettling change, transition and insecurity. The sovereignty of some countries, particularly in the Middle East, is threatened and borders are reconfiguring. There are real fears over the territorial ambitions and influence of Putinism, and of China in the South China Sea. No-one really knows what repercussions there may be from the sluggish global economic growth, the disastrous handling of the Greek debt crisis, and now the Chinese stock market collapse.

However, with the end of his presidency in sight, and no election to face, Barack Obama’s recent activities are giving us some reason to be optimistic and people have a renewed admiration for him.  At least he is trying to break a stalemate with Iran with the nuclear deal. Yes, lifting sanctions will make Iran wealthier and even more influential in the region, but their nuclear ambitions can be much more closely monitored.  Obama also met with Native Americans which must be rare if it makes the news, as was his visit to a federal prison to meet with prisoners.

Photograph by Laura Keene for the National Geographical Traveler Contest

Photograph by Laura Keene for the National Geographical Traveler Contest

AUSTRALIA: There is growing frustration in Australia at the lack of any serious political debate or action on vital issues such as falling revenues, job creation, urgent tax reform and huge health and education budget shortfalls. The government – and opposition, play populist politics, both frightened of reform and of alienating core constituents. We are seemingly always in election mode, and policy reduced to inane slogans.

Respected journalist Laura Tingle recently wrote “we don’t seem to quite be able to take in the growing realisation that we are actually being governed by idiots and fools”.

Interestingly, in frustration, various diverse organisations are coming together to address the issues the government hasn’t:  tax reform, an economic and jobs strategy, and the implications of climate change. These groups include the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Australian Council of Social Services.

For an informed appraisal of the government’s performance and the state of the economy see the article Abbott hiding behind scare campaign by Ross Gittins in the SMH earlier this month (read full article here).  The PM “ wants to divert us from the hash he is making of the economy”. Our Australian government thinks National Security is a vote winner and is ramping up fear at every opportunity. The PM even repeated that the “ISIS death cult is coming to get us”. As Gittins points out more people in Australia are dying from smoking, alcohol, car accidents and domestic violence than in terrorist attacks.

Our government is legislating to take away citizenship from jihadists and has seized the opportunity to curtail our own rights and freedoms. Denmark now welcomes their jihadists back and attempts to deradicalise them with education and employment opportunities. Their “flow” of fighters has become a “trickle”.  By contrast, our government continues to alienate many in our Muslim community by often demonising them.

Photograph by Jez Bennett for the National Geographical Traveler Photo Contest

Photograph by Jez Bennett for the National Geographical Traveler Photo Contest

RENEWABLES: While windpower in Denmark recently produced 140% of power requirements, in Australia the government continues to attack renewable energy with a third attempt to disband the successful Clean Energy Fund Corporation. Unlike most of the rest of the world, the government are particularly targeting wind power and even small scale solar possibly because it is proving so popular. The opposition Labor Party have finally said something: they have announced a 50% renewable energy target by 2030 although there are no details or costings. Although the issue of climate change has had high profile political casualties, it will be a major factor in the next election.  I think our present government will be shown to be on the wrong side of history. A majority in the community now believe urgent action is necessary, as do forward planning business leaders.

ELECTRICITY COSTS: The central question is just how much will a transition from fossil fuels to renewables cost?  The Murdoch press, shock jock Alan Jones and the PM all predictably responded with wilful misinformation.  For those interested in this vital and complicated question – see this article The true cost of green energy by Mike Seccombe in The Saturday Paper (25/26 July) where he comprehensively quotes the actual likely costs. “The arguments against renewable energy are not just without scientific basis, they lack economic credibility”.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance compares the costs of new wind farms, large scale photovoltaic projects, coal fired power stations, and gas base load stations. They conclude “both wind and solar are already cheaper than coal” and “the cost advantage of non- polluting energy is rapidly increasing”.

Mike Seccombe also quotes the Climate Works Australia CEO Anna Skarbek who says “Australia could completely decarbonise its economy while maintaining current rates of economic growth and do it – mostly – using existing technology”. In the article she describes four basic steps to achieve this.

CLIMATE CHANGE / DUTCH COURT CASE: do see this article where 886 concerned Dutch citizens successfully sued the Dutch Government over climate change inaction. The government “inaction” is illegal, and an abrogation of their “duty of care”. Citizens in other countries intend to follow suit, although unfortunately in Australia it would be more difficult.

COAL: It is likely permission will be granted for a Chinese coal mine (Shenhua Watermark) to proceed on the Liverpool Plains in north/west NSW.  The threat to water is the main concern, not only for agriculture, but the area is a major catchment for the Murray-Darling Water Basin.  This is Australia’s richest food producing land and I think this proposed mine will be the line in the sand that unites conservative land owners, conservationists and the majority of the public.

I haven’t visited the once extremely picturesque Hunter Valley for many years, but apparently mining has trashed it.  Mining has threatened communities, tourism, vineyards and horse breeding and much else. The Indian Adani company seems unlikely to proceed with their vast coal mining plans in the Galilee Basin, Queensland, which also involved expanding port facilities and further endangering the Great Barrier Reef.

Refugees from North Africa heading for Italy. Photograph by Massimo Sestini.

Refugees from North Africa heading for Italy. Photograph by Massimo Sestini. Image sourced from The Australian.

ASYLUM SEEKERS: The opposition Labor Party have now backed the government’s brutal policy to turn back refugee boats to Indonesia. I’m sure our inhumane response to the relatively few refugees (compared to Europe) breaks International Refugee Conventions. The boats to Australia have apparently stopped although the government releases no information, have payed off the people smugglers themselves, and annoyed the Indonesian government. People can go and drown or fight to survive somewhere else it seems, and I am sad to say, the majority of Australians agree. We have inhumane off-shore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. 2 people have died on Manus Island, and not one person has been processed or resettled in 2 years.

Waleed Ali has commented that Australians are tolerant (or not racist) as long as “minorities know their place”. One of our best Aboriginal footballers Adam Goodes is currently being booed during games in a form of mob hysteria that has an undeniable racist undercurrent. He is a highly respected leader of his people who is unafraid to speak up, and he was Australian of the Year last year. During a match two years ago he objected to someone in the crowd calling him an “ape”.  As the person turned out to be a young girl, Goodes has been vilified ever since as a bully!

townend-cover

CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine Townend’s poetry collection, Walking with Elephants (published by Island Press) was launched on 13th July, by Dr. Dinesh Wadiwel, a lecturer in Human Rights (USyd). The launch took place at the recent three day conference, Animal Publics, Emotions, Empathy, Activism, held at the University of Melbourne. Read one of her poems, Walking with Elephants.  Her poems effortlessly express her love, concern and understanding of animals – and India.  See this excellent review.

The animals at the Working for Animals shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong KAS) in India just adore her – I’ve seen it!

Curlew by Zoe Tweedale, exhibiting at Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Curlew by Zoe Tweedale who is exhibiting at Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

BIRDS: Birdlife Australia reports an alarming drop in the number of birds including kookaburras, willy wag-tails and magpies which are seemingly plentiful where I live. The Australian Bird Index is a citizens project carrying out rigorous and systematic surveys of our bird numbers.  There are superb bird photographs on the website – and more photographic competitions.

Zoe Tweedale has named her current exhibition at Robin Gibson after Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and contains a painting of the star Tippi Hedren. The artist finds birds both extremely beautiful and exotic, but sometimes sinister and unsettling.

Raven by Zoe Tweedale, exhibiting at Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Raven by Zoe Tweedale, exhibiting at Robin Gibson Gallery, Sydney

Goa. Photograph by Fionna Prins.

                      Goa. Photograph by Fionna Prins.

INDIA: Having returned to India again for a second conference with people concerned about animal welfare, animal rights and animal studies, it was lovely to see some of the same people again. One was Fionna Prins and I love this photograph of the front steps of her house in Goa.  She and her partner seek out dogs in need, and don’t believe in cages and rules. They house up to 30 dogs. See www.strayassist.blogspot.in.  I also love this photograph of the dogs on a daily walk.

Walking with the pack. Photograph Fionna Prins.

             Walking with the pack. Photograph Fionna Prins.

If it weren’t for the summer heat and the monsoon, and my family and cats, I’d move to India too! I have just loved spending the last few weeks there –from attending a very interesting Animal Studies Conference in Delhi, to seeing Asiatic lions in the Gir National Park, southern Gujarat, lolling in a lovely hotel in Mumbai watching the Australian Tennis Open and catching the Delhi Art Fair before flying home.

Ace and Yuan Chih at MAC3 New Delhi

                  Ace and Yuan Chih at MAC3 New Delhi

MAC3: Minding Animals Conference 3 in Delhi was co-organised by Minding Animals International and the Wildlife Trust of India and hosted by the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The campus itself stretches over 1,000 acres and hosts an astonishing array of wildlife, including rare and endangered plants and animals, many birds, and packs of dogs that reminded us of why we were there. People came from all over the world, most with academic backgrounds, and there was a strong Australian contingent. Very valuable information was exchanged, important links were made, and global networks expanded.

Over 8 days we had many choices of a wide variety of presentations, discussions and debates with Animal Studies now a large field. Topics ranged from discussions about concepts of sentience in animals (see sentiencemosaic.org and D.M. Broom’s Sentience and Animal Welfare), to the prominence animals in Indian life, religion and, mythology – also in Jainism,Confucianism and Buddhism. Softies like me were all at the presentation by Jessica Walker from New Zealand on Behavioural Responses of Dogs and Cats to the Loss of an Animal Companion.

Yuan Chih (above), a great fan of Christian, spoke about Beast Film – in 1930s Shanghai in Chinese cinema.  See her blog (in Chinese here).  Margot Decory spoke about the work of AAP Rescue Centre for Exotic Animals which is about to open a centre in Spain primarily for lions and tigers and other animals rescued from the exotic pet trade.  This a subject close to my heart!  TRAFFIC India report that keeping wild animals in India is rising steeply.  AAP endorse a Positive List of animal species that are suitable as pets. See here and here.

The Earthfire Institute in America is “nestled” on 40 acres in the Yellowstone-to-Yukon Wildlife corridor.  They rescue and save the lives of animals such as bears, wolves, cougars, bison, coyotes etc.that can never be released into the wild. See www.earthfireinstitute.org.  Possumwood Wildlife also run a self funded recovery centre and sanctuary outside of Canberra, Australia, for injured and traumatised Australian Native animals.

While I loved listening to these people that work directly with animals, I was also fascinated by the valuable and fascinating research so many academics are doing.  I especially love the way so many at the conference now speak not only about the exploitation, rights and welfare of animals, but are now seeing the animal’s point of view and asking – how can their lives be enriched?

There was a great deal of information about Asian elephants.  There are approximately 35,000-50,000 Asian elephants in the wild and range over 13 countries. 13,000 are in captivity.  Co-existence and human/animal conflict was a recurring theme of the conference.

Kim Stallwood spoke about the extremely tragic story of an elephant called Topsy who was publicly electrocuted in New York in 1903.

Topsy

                Topsy

I finally met Australian vet Andrew MacLean, renowned from his work with horses.  He spoke about his Humane Approach to Captive Elephant Training. Andrew now conducts workshops in India and has worked closely with Elephant Experts and their President, Helena Telkanranta.  Helena spoke about her experiences in Nepal in Facilitating changes in public policy in relation to training and management of captive elephants.  She illustrated how changes to behaviour can be introduced with tactful community consultation.  Helena said she loved Christian’s story when she was young, but it was Jane Goodall’s In the Shadow of Man which inspired her to also work in the field of animal studies.

Christine Townend, Andrew Maclean and I also attended a talk by Peter Singleton on the use of whips in horse racing in NSW, Australia. If padded whips are not cruel, why is their use restricted? Andrew pointed out to us that most race horses extend their stride as they battle to the finishing line. The use of the whip actually makes horses tighten up, and their stride in fact shortens. Why not ban the whips and have a completely level playing field?

The ABC has just shown a program with undercover footage showing the use of “live baiting” to “blood” greyhounds.  This has led to a huge public outcry at this very cruel practice, and will now no doubt be part of the debate over the attempt by the government to introduce “ag-gag” laws.

Now based in Australia, Clive Phillips from the University of Queensland gave a very definitive paper on the The Animal Trade, a topic very relevant to Australians with our controversial live cattle exports.

There was a fact filled – and alarming – paper by Chaitanya Koduri of PETA (India) titled Fighting Climate Change With Vegan Foods in Our National Climate Change Policy. Koduri writes “Animal-based products (meat,milk,eggs and leather) are highly resource-intensive, inefficient and polluting.  Their production requires massive amounts of water, land, and energy.  Land is being cleared for farmed animals and the crops to feed them”. Meat is the new coal!

An estimated 51% of worldwide gas emissions are attributed to agriculture.  Many people see going vegan as now essential, and a vegan diet “can reduce the amount of green house gases your diet contributes to climate change by 60%”.

My transition to vegetarianism has been relatively easy (and enjoyable), and the all-vegan food at the conference was delicious!

Asiatic Black Bear aka 'Moon Bear'. Photograph courtesy Animals Asia.

Asiatic Black Bear aka ‘Moon Bear’. Photograph courtesy Animals Asia.

BEARS: It was great to finally meet Jill Robinson of Animals Asia Foundation who has rescued over 400 bears so far from the torture of bear bile farming in China and Vietnam. She has worked and campaigned very effectively against all animal cruelty and is creating sanctuaries with the help of 300 enthusiastic staff. She attracts a high level of celebrity (and other) support, and advocacy and activism were another theme of the conference.

Although I often doubt that photographs of animals in distress or bloody operations are conducive to soliciting support, I think I make an exception with photographs of the bears caged for bile extraction. I think these images can only galvanise necessary action. Incidentally, I was interested to know that the bile (unlike rhino horn used as a supposed aphrodisiac) is actually beneficial for some ailments. The bile can be replicated by equally effective alternatives such as herbs.

In her talk Jill remarked that “all wild animals are unpredictable”. I’m not sure George Adamson would entirely agree.  Of course all humans are unpredictable so why should animals be any different? But George loved lions for their capacity for love and trust – rather steadfast qualities. He created a neutral space around him where lions and humans could co-exist peacefully. I can only remember him saying (or writing) that lions can be “unpredictable” (and most dangerous), during the frustrations of adolescence. This was apparently true of Christian in Africa, although when younger we found him very predictable. He had a very even-nature and was not easily spooked. We tried to anticipate any potential trouble, disguise limitations, and minimise any frustrations. Elephant Experts’ Helena Telkanranta told me “elephants are not unpredictable if you know them”.

Christian the Lion. 1972.

                                 Christian the Lion. 1972.

I showed the 2009 documentary made by Blink Films A Lion Called Christian. You can watch a clip of it here. I’m always a bit shy in the company of very bright academics and wildlife experts, but Christian’s story usually dissolves my reservations. I was also part of the After-Dinner concluding night entertainment – tasked to leave the conference on a high note! This was quite a responsibility out on a cold windy concourse on a wintry Delhi night. I spoke after a singer of Bollywood songs. I was introduced by Christine Townend who is so highly respected for her work for animals over a long period of time in India (Help in Suffering in Jaipur and now Working For Animals who run shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong). I showed some photographs of Christian and told a version of his life with a different emphasis to the documentary many people had seen days before. There was a power break-down – and, shock horror, I had to improvise.  However, I had complete faith in Indian ingenuity and within minutes we were back on track. I was followed by traditional Indian dancers and I was enjoying them until they drew me into their dance. I’m sure I was all over Indian Facebook looking ridiculous.

Diu: harbour shot

                               Diu, southern Gujarat

To visit the Gir National Park to hopefully see some Asiatic lions, I avoided a long train trip and flew via Mumbai into Diu (Jet Airways).  Although smaller and poorer than Goa, Diu shares  a Portuguese history and is also attractive. It was a major port from Africa in the 14-16th centuries, and a little inland, there is still an entirely African community.

Diu – laneways shot

Diu

The beaches in Diu were quite beautiful but the water looked brownish.  Australians are spoiled for beaches and I don’t lie in the sun!  I stayed in the old town on the harbour with moored fishing boats flying colourful flags, marvellous Portuguese-influenced colonial buildings and houses, crumbling mansions, garish new ones, and mysterious small laneways. I asked a driver why there wasn’t one interesting shop (ie antiques, jewellery, textiles etc), and he said people only come to Diu from “dry” Gujarat to drink! There are acres of land covered in stagnant sea water which does not augur well for the future.

Indian Mammals A Field Guide by Vivek Menon (Hachette India)

Indian Mammals A Field Guide by Vivek Menon (Hachette India)

ASIATIC LIONS: Vivek Menon, the charismatic head of the Wildlife Trust of India and renowned wildlife expert and author was alarmed when I said I hadn’t booked a permit online for a safari at the Gir National Park in southern Gujarat. The usually infallible Lonely Planet Guide implied you could just as easily get a permit once there, after an under two hour drive from Diu. This is not the case. After an anxious first day at my unhelpful hotel at Gir (luckily the Australian Open Tennis was on), I finally did secure a permit for a 3pm safari the next day after queuing for 3 hours from 12 midday for one of the only 15 permits allotted in person.

Asiatic Lions

                                          Asiatic Lions

Most visitors are there to see the Asiatic lions that once roamed from Syria to eastern India. By the late 1890s only approximately 50 lions remained. Now there are over 400 in Gir, an overpopulation for animals that range over wide territories.  This is just one of many complexities. Kausik Banerjee gave a paper at the conference on the Recovery and Future of the Asiatic Lion in India.  There are debates about relocating some of the lion population elsewhere.  However, many issues facing the local communities are being resolved – such as cattle loss compensation, the relocation of at risk tribal villages, and creating and expanding wildlife corridors.

I saw 2 lions!  I pretended to be blasé about any sightings – but it was exciting. They were about 20 metres away under a tree and one was stirring in the late afternoon after sleeping through the hottest hours of the day. They were about 3 years old and looked handsome and healthy. They have less mane than African lions. One had a look of intent on his face and stealthily moved out of sight. I hoped he wasn’t going to kill one of those pretty spotted deers.

Then I was extremely lucky when a leopard crossed the path of our vehicle about 10 metres away and wandered quite confidently down towards the river. The leopard was extremely beautiful and her “spots” included very distinctive circular markings.   Apparently she was about 2-3 years old and the guide said had not seen a leopard in his last 30 safaris. Other animals included monkeys, many deer, large horse-like blue bulls, a rare owl, coyotes and the quite fluffy mongoose with crimped looking finely spotted fur.

Bengal tiger

                                           Bengal tiger

TIGERS: It was very heartening to read that the numbers of Bengal tigers are increasing after approaching a very concerning low population estimated at under 1500 in 2006. A subsequent reintroduction program in Panna Tiger Reserve, for example, has seen a 30% increase in numbers to 2226 tigers.

Most of the usual factors are at play here: habitat destruction and competition for resources, human/animal conflict, and poaching, with 20-25 tigers lost each year. Villagers are becoming more actively involved in the conservation process.

TONY THE TIGER: Read the latest update here.  We are asked to “keep roaring” and to keep Tony in the public eye – especially by social media.

WORLD: ISIS still casts a long shadow on the world, and I thought Thomas Friedman’s article on Islam and Islamophobia in The New York Times (read here) was interesting. It seems so little has been done in European countries like France to integrate or provide opportunities for so many potentially disenfranchised  immigrant youths.

I watched Stephen Spielberg’s extremely sobering documentary on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Jews from Auschwitz.

I can understand why Jews are so determined to secure themselves in Israel, but after their own tragic history, I just can’t understand why they privilege themselves above Palestinians?

It was such a relief to not hear one word about our Australian government and PM Abbott while I was away. I was back in time to witness his leadership unravelling, even within his own party.  It is mostly his own fault.  Abbott is disastrously unpopular with the electorate after breaking so many election promises and trying to implement a manifestly unfair budget. I’d enjoy the Schadenfreude if our country wasn’t being so badly governed.

Bourke Parakeet

       Bourke Parakeet

BIRDS: When I booked into my hotel in Mumbai (where I watched most of the last week of the Australian Tennis Open), the staff asked how to pronounce my name. The concierge spoke up confidently “BERK”. I asked him how he knew and he said he bred Bourke’s Parakeets…”same name”.  I replied “it is actually MY name – the birds are named after my great great great grandfather”. (Richard Bourke was Governor of NSW 1831-1837). He showed me photographs of his Bourke Parakeets – now “mutants” come in bright yellow and fluoro pink!

Mumbai staged their 11th Bird Spotting Race.  Like many similar events now staged around the world, teams are sent out to help in the mapping of avian species, and invaluable data on a scale unimaginable just a few years ago is collated for research.

Marine Drive, Mumbai, from my hotel

               Marine Drive, Mumbai, from my hotel

GLOBAL MARCH FOR LIONS: Let’s support lions on March 14th.  In Sydney we are asked to meet at 11am Saturday outside Parliament House, Macquarie Street, to walk to the Sydney Town Hall.  In Melbourne, there is an event  in Federation Square on Friday 13th at 6pm that promises “a historic moment” and “night of celebration”!  See the details below.

Check your local details…let’s join others all over the world and do something to stop farmed lions and canned hunting.

global march for lions