Cheetahs

3 Cheetahs, South Africa, courtesy National Geographic

I’ve just been in Melbourne where I gave a talk about Christian to a most receptive audience at the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria.  I am constantly surprised at the “magic” of Christian’s story.  It has had such an effect on so many people – and seems to bring out the best in everyone.  I hope we can harness all this goodwill into making a difference for wildlife and our environment. It does mystify me on an existential level – what is Christian’s message for us, if there is one?  I was once asked in an interview about this and as I hadn’t really solved it myself I blurted out “I think it is a cry for Africa”.  Many people would probably say it is about loving one another.

In a recent report on TV it was stated that there may be less than 30,000 lions left in the wild, and that lions, like elephants (and much else), may be in an extinction vortex. We have been saying now for several years that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time forty years ago. Lions are being shot, poisoned and speared at an alarming rate primarily because they are in competition with local villagers for diminishing resources and habitats. Apart from us loving them, apart from them being an essential link – like everything in our ecosystem, they are Africa’s number 1 tourist attraction.

Alfred Hitchcock with the MGM lion, 1958. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull from the John Kobal Foundation Archive.

Alfred Hitchcock with the MGM lion, 1958. Photograph by Clarence Sinclair Bull from the John Kobal Foundation Archive.

MIDDLE EAST:  Libya is not unexpectedly floundering – with competing regions, personalities and militias, and an understandably inexperienced leadership of the National Transitional Council that is paralysed by the rivalries.  There are reports of militia violence, looting and torture.  It has been described as “it is everyone against everyone else”.  Syria seems to be descending into civil war, while the world stands by.  It is a humanitarian catastrophe.There have been reports of widespread systematic torture, and the threat of being tried for crimes against humanity does not seem to have inhibited the government. The opposition to the regime is unfortunately divided, and as commented on before, there are so many agendas driving the conflict, both within and outside the country.

Despite the uncertain outcomes of the Arab Spring, and so many lives sacrificed, it is inspiring to see a critical mass of courageous people speaking up.

It makes me wonder – how would I respond in their situation?

JULIAN ASSANGE:  It is ironic that the latest release of confidential emails by WikiLeaks from the private intelligence firm Stratfor indicates that the US Department of Justice has issued a secret sealed indictment against Julian Assange.  The case against him in Sweden has recently been described as very slight, and mostly grandstanding by Swedish prosecutors.  Some of the threats made to him have been appalling – and very frightening.  With the example of Bradley Manning who has been held without trial in the US for over 600 days (and his trial finally scheduled for August), Julian has many reasons to fear extradition to the US.  I’d also be worried about those drones that the US seem to be increasingly using to murder people, with the push of a button from the safety of an office, presumably in Washington. The publication of classified material of foreign powers is apparently not a crime under Australian law, but the Australian Government has not, and probably will not, assist our Australian citizen.

It has been pointed out that “award-winning journalist” Assange’s new TV show The World Tomorrow will air on a state-owned  network in Russia, a country where 40 journalists have been murdered in the past decade.  Raffi Khatchadourian commented on Julian’s contradictory nature in The New Yorker (repeated in the SMH): “He is a charismatic figure precisely because of the way his contradictions – manifest in WikiLeaks from the start – magically seem to hold together: his self absorption tempered by his more abstract but genuinely felt, pursuit of justice…his utopianism hemmed in by a do-what-it-takes view of combat; his search for hidden truths shrouded by his own secrecy and willingness to equivocate, if not lie.”

GREECE: Greece was faced with one of two unattractive options – a European fiscal strait jacket that will please bankers and Germany especially, or leaving the EU, whatever the scary ramifications of that would be. Sadly, neither option seems to address the challenge of growing the Greek economy, and the majority of people face years of real hardship.

Sydney Morning Herald 20 February 2012 Moir Cartoon

Sydney Morning Herald 20 February 2012 Moir Cartoon

AUSTRALIA: We have had the most extraordinarily bitter leadership battle that would have been fascinating if it didn’t threaten to damage the government so badly.  The deposed but still ambitious ex PM  Kevin Rudd is more popular in the polls than the PM Julia Gillard which would not be hard.  It seems Rudd has constantly been undermining her, and subsequently the government, in the process. He seems totally addicted to media cycles, polling, his own importance and people in shopping centres.  David Marr in the SMH wrote that another former Labor leader Mark Latham “once told Rudd to his face that his rise… was due solely to his popularity with people who have never actually met him”. I think the psychological analysis by Michael Duffy in the SMH Feb 27 best sums up how I also feel about Kevin Rudd.  He reduced government to a reality TV program, and one wonders what he actually believes in.  Moir captured in his cartoon (above) the nightmare Rudd has become for his own political party.  After being convincingly beaten in a leadership ballot, Rudd promised his “unconditional support”. Sure.  In fairness I must say that he is extremely intelligent, was a very energetic Foreign Minister, and cleverly outmanoeuvred John Howard in the 2007 election. I also believe he reacted quickly and effectively to the GFC.

GETUP!: GetUp! asked their members in a survey what are the 10 major issues we would like them to campaign for on our behalf in 2012.  The top four concerns were: investment in renewable energy, followed by protecting Australia’s native forests,  stopping harmful coal seam gas mining practices, and the fair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

FACTORY FARMING:  There is an obvious momentum of public opposition to factory farmed animals and chickens.  The organisation Voiceless has done much to bring this issue to public attention in Australia. The live cattle export debate has also brought more support for animal welfare and rights issues – and recently more examples of inhumane treatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs have emerged which has reignited the debate.  There are calls to ban live cattle exports, or for mandatory pre-slaughter stunning on all animals exported. Interestingly, or depressingly, in the first edition of A Lion Called Christian in 1970 we talked about the inhumane treatment of Australian sheep being sent to the Middle East!  There is a petition for banning live cattle exports on change.org, and in the US the ALDF has a petition to US legislators who are being pressured by the corporate agriculture lobby to make documenting and distributing damaging footage of factory farm practices illegal.

Donkey

DONKEYS: I have two friends Jonathan and David who are very concerned about donkeys and other working animals and think I don’t pay them enough attention! The Brooke is a highly respected international welfare organisation dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules.  A recent campaign has been teaching basic animal welfare and care for Ethiopia’s grain market donkeys.  William from Florida informs me the organisation was started in 1930 in Cairo by the wife of a British Army officer in response to the condition of many horses left behind in Egypt after the First World War.  (I imagine many of you would have seen Stephen Spielberg’s film War Horse).  The organisations Pegasus and WSPA have been working for better conditions and more effective laws to protect working horses and donkeys in Israel that are also often cruelly overworked, overladen and neglected.

Koala at Taronga Zoo Sydney

Koala at Taronga Zoo Sydney

AUSTRALIAN WILDLIFE:  Recently our attention has been drawn to the increasingly precarious situation of some of our unique wildlife.  Our koalas are under threat, and it is estimated that as few as 100,000 may remain in the wild, their coastal habitats destroyed by the vast number of Australians that now live along the beautiful eastern coast.  Our Tasmanian Devils have very contagious facial tumours and there is a battle to save the few healthy ones remaining in the wild, and ironically they are safer in zoos at this stage. The Australian Marine Conservation Society works hard to protect our ocean wildlife, and a recent campaign has highlighted how up to 100,000 sharks around the Great Barrier Reef can be legally killed annually for shark fin soup, or fish and chips.

Orangutang

Courtesy of wallpaperweb.org

ORANGUTANGS:  I have friends who have recently visited or drawn my attention to various centres in our region that do great work protecting orangutangs.  These include the Sepilok Orangutang Rehabilitation Centre in Sandakan Borneo and the Camp Leakey Orphan Orangutang Care Centre in Kalimantan.  Apparently the President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yuddhoyono was recently seen in a Jakarta IMAX watching a documentary on the orangutangs of Kalimantan.  Let’s hope he was sufficiently moved to do more to protect the habitats of many animals that are being destroyed, especially by palm oil plantations.

ENERGY:  Despite all the cries of “we’ll be ruined by the impending carbon tax” by our conservative opposition party, and some millionaires and billionaires, there has been surging investment in coal exploration.  Apparently there has been a break-through (after many years) in carbon capture and storage. Let’s hope so, but I remain sceptical.  The newish (conservative) leader of my state of NSW, has lifted a ban on uranium mining. Waste disposal is of course a still very unresolved and contentious issue, with a remote Aboriginal community, Muckaty in northern Australia, being targeted as a nuclear waste dump. Despite the catastrophe of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, in the US the government has approved the building of two nuclear reactors. There are also more worrying reports about mining for gas: double the anticipated green house gases leaking in the US, and in Australia, the release of contaminated water into the environment. On the subject of water, each day each person in an industrialised nation personally consumes about 1,000 gallons (3,785 litres) embedded in the food we eat. Pumping, conveying and treating water is extremely energy intensive, and the energy industry is the largest single water user.

Whitney Houston

WHITNEY HOUSTON: It was when her song I Will Always Love You was added to the YouTube footage of our reunion with Christian that it went viral, so we are very grateful to her – and to Dolly Parton who wrote it.  Many of you have said how much you love the song too, and are saddened by her death.  The footage is unique, but the song beautifully heightens the emotional impact. Mind you, I was reprimanded in a conference for liking it by someone who thought the music interfered with the pure response to an extraordinary animal/human experience.  With Whitney, while every life is sacred, one wonders how someone so precious and talented can be allowed to slip through our fingers. I immediately went to listen to her on Christian’s ALCC website but the clip had been blocked, presumably for copyright reasons.  After much searching however I was very pleased to find one “reunion” video with her song on The View, even if I was called Ace Berg!

Cat on Dog

MAIL: I’m very much appreciating the images and information I am being sent and can share.  Thanks to Dee for the sweet photograph (above), and click here to see more Some Photos Just Don’t Need a Caption.  Thanks also to Heulwen for the beautiful photograph of the three cheetahs in South Africa.

Thankyou to Deva Delanoe who sent me some important links.  Click here to see a report on the number of tigers in private hands in the US – possibly more than twice the number left in the wild. Issues of great concern include inappropriate breeding and declawing. People like the Hollywood star Tippi Hedren are campaigning against private ownership, and I very much hope to visit her at The Shambala Preserve, her big cat sanctuary north of Los Angeles. Some experts have complained that the tigers are losing their “tigerness”.  Christian was a 7th generation “European” lion, and in his case George Adamson was fascinated to see that ultimately Christian’s natural instincts were not impaired. Another link highlights the work for animal welfare in Afghanistan by NOWZAD. It is tough for most people there, so these endeavours on behalf of animals are to be applauded and supported. Deva also sent a link to the Soi Dog Foundation who are trying to prevent the very cruel illegal dog export meat trade in Thailand.  Warning: the photographs on this site are particularly upsetting.

I haven’t personally researched or checked the credentials and records of many of the animal welfare organisations I have blogged about, so we should all take normal precautions before we donate or assist their work.  I am sure however that the overwhelming majority are legitimate, and many are run by quite extraordinary selfless people, deserving of our support and gratitude.

Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island

NORFOLK ISLAND:  I’m about to leave for Norfolk Island off the east coast of Australia for the celebration of Foundation Day on March 6th. My ancestor Philip Gidley King sailed from the new colony of Sydney in early February 1788 to establish a settlement on Norfolk Island, and I am researching some family history.  I’m also hoping to avoid the incessant rains that have caused flooding throughout much of NSW, but have filled most of our dams after many years.

Late February 2010

March 12, 2010

I admit to being obsessed with my two cats – and in our busy and stressed lives we are seeking an emotional closeness with them, and probably building up an unhealthy reliance on them! That’s why I got two – a brother and sister, so I could spread the intensity of my feelings for them over two, and they are company for each other. No doubt one of the factors our reunion clip with Christian was so popular was people identifying with their own pets. Our love of animals, gardening, and bush walking, are all symptomatic of our increased alienation over several centuries from nature, which is having severe psychological effects.

One of the books I have recently read which I found fascinating (it was published in 1995!) was Ecopyschology Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind edited by Roszak, Gomes and Kanner (Sierra Club Books), which in a series of essays discusses our alienation from nature and the effects, and how replacement past times – like consumerism and materialism, is proving empty and unsatisfying. What will be the effect on the young generation of all their sedentary time on the internet, being constantly plugged in, and their incessant communicating? They could act and communicate globally very effectively on causes they believe in – whatever they may be. The recent death of the trainer at Sea World, Orlando by the killer whale, is also a reminder of the dangers of unnatural situations and encounters. We are understandably fascinated by nature, but it is not there for our entertainment. The woman who was attacked last year in the USA by her friend’s chimpanzee was also an unfortunate reminder about the dangers of owning exotic pets, and we were very anxious not to encourage this practice. We came to realise we had unwittingly participated in the trafficking of exotic animals by buying Christian, and welcomed the Endangered Preservation Act in 1973. I know it sounds hypocritical, after we had had such an experience with Christian!

People can adopt and look after animals that need a good home from local animal pounds and shelters. These cats and dogs provide the same unconditional love (alright, there is an element of “cupboard love”!), without the attendant attention or danger. Apparently these places are very overcrowded, and March and April are particularly bad months when people tire of the responsibilities of owning a pet – possibly a Christmas present, or the novelty has worn off. Many of these animals are “put down” which is heart breaking. Rescue one now!

Last year we returned for an interview to Harrod’s department store where we bought Christian. It was a relief that there were actually very few animals for sale, but it is now the most pretentious pet “boutique” and I was appalled by all the very expensive pet accessories – bejeweled collars, toys etc, and I felt the money could be much better spent on supporting animal causes or better food. Best of all is just spending time with your pets, and not treating them like an accessory. 

The most gruesome video I have been sent was the slaughter of Pilot whales in the Faroe Islands off Denmark, a traditional annual blood bath condoned by the community (see “Faroe Islands slaughter” on YouTube), and similar to the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji in Japan, as seen in the Oscar winning film The Cove. There is a campaign against this – http://www.savejapandolphins.org/. While we should join this campaign, it would be hypocritical of Australians as there is more activism in Europe against the slaughter of our kangaroos than there is here in Australia, and each year we transport about 4 million sheep to the Middle East under the most unsatisfactory and cruel conditions.In Australia there is currently a debate about biodiversity, with the Federal Government planning to change focus to protecting “eco-systems” rather than funding individual projects for endangered animals. People such as Professor Tim Flannery are appalled and argue that as we are in an acute “biodiversity crisis” and the protection of single species is essential to prevent entire eco-systems collapsing. Everything has its role to play. Recently, some Yellow Spotted Bell Frogs, presumed extinct, have been located. Up to seven frog species appeared to disappear after a fungus from South Africa entered Australia in the 1970s. 

Last year I spoke at a very interesting and comprehensive conference called Minding Animals 2009 where many very dedicated academics, researchers and experts (including Peter Singer) addressed many fascinating aspects of animals, and their welfare and rights. Many of you may be interested to read some of the papers and planned publications, and follow future events on http://www.mindinganimals.com/.

Terrence and George, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Terence and George, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Tony Fitzjohn with lions, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Tony Fitzjohn with lions, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Tana River, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine.

Tana River, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine.

I recently was in contact with Tony Fitzjohn, Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (“GAWPT”). He has just completed writing a book which I look forward to reading, as he is yet another larger than life personality deeply involved in wildlife conservation. The plans to “rehabilitate” George’s camp at Kora are progressing. The old camp is now again operational, but roads have to be cleared etc. Projects with the nearest villages continue with an emphasis on clean pumped water, health and education. Reading between the lines, I think he would appreciate any financial help any of us can give him. Check his website to see the extent of all of the work GAWPT do at http://www.wildlifenow.com/. Interestingly, I recently met Dr. Margaret Bassendine who visited George Adamson’s camp at Kora in 1977, and a selection of her photographs can be seen on www.stephenoxenbury.com/Maggie/.

We were fortunate last year to meet Lisa Williams who first put the clip on YouTube of our reunion in Africa in 1971. She is an arts student in Los Angeles. Interested in animation, she first saw our footage on one of the many sites for Kimba the white lion, a 1965 animated film which obviously has a huge cult following see www.kimbawlion.com/christian.  

Kimba the White Lion

Kimba the White Lion

Our footage was edited alongside Kimba’s story – the parallels (and even images) were extraordinary – returning to the wild, a bridge between the human and the animal worlds etc. Lisa posted it on YouTube because she thought our footage was unique, but it wasn’t until a few months later that someone else added as a back track Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, and the song added perfectly to the emotion of the moment, and the hits really began gathering momentum, especially after being shown on the Ellen DeGeneres show. We stopped counting at about 60 million hits because at this point the sites with Whitney’s song were then pulled off YouTube – possibly because of copyright issues, and it has been impossible to establish the total number of hits. I joke we resuscitated her career, although her recent performances in Australia have had very bad reviews!  As all this was even before we were to travel to launch and promote the release of the book in the US, the UK and China, appearing on many television shows including Oprah, I think it is safe to say, as a magazine recently stated, the reunion footage has been seen by at least 100 million people.