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.

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.

 

Photograph by Hannes Lochner (South Africa). Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

Photograph by Hannes Lochner (South Africa). Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013.

WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR: I always look forward to the final selection of photographs in the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, now open at the Australian Museum, Sydney.  The competition is open to all nationalities and different age groups and categories.  These photographs are the 2013 finalists and tour internationally.  The exhibition always reminds me what a beautiful but fragile world we live in, and not to take it for granted.

GLOBAL MARCHES FOR LION: Many thousands of people around the world in 62 cities marched in support of lions and against trophy hunting and “canned” lion breeding and hunting in South Africa.

Johannesburg

Protesters in Johannesburg. Photograph by Simon McDonnell

CAMPAIGN AGAINST CANNED HUNTING (CACH):  The Marches were the idea of South African Christine Jordaan who had been inspired – or stirred into action – by becoming aware of the work of long time conservationists Chris Mercer and Bev Pervan of CACH, the Campaign against Canned Hunting.  Chris was interviewed recently by Phillip Adams on Radio National and you can watch Chris speaking more about the issue here.

With great cruelty, lionesses are forced to have too many litters, and the cubs are taken from them immediately to be hand-raised and to build a trust in humans.  The cubs are then available for cub petting by tourists etc.  When old enough, they are often drugged, and while anticipating food, they are shot instead.  Hunters from the US (55%) and the EU (40%) pay a lot of money for this.  I find it just impossible to imagine what sort of pleasure this gives, or what sort of people they are.

I was heartened to see that so many people turned out in South Africa, but I’m sure that anyone benefiting from this ghastly trade, and breeding the lions, will be formidable opposition.

For a few years I have been saying that there are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time.  It’s much worse! According to Chris Mercer there are approximately 20,000 lions left in Africa, and there has been an 80-90% decline over last 15 years.  Like elephants and some other animals, this is an extinction vortex.

Ace speaking at the March in Sydney

Ace speaking at the March in Sydney. Photograph by Aidan Basnett

The Sydney March seemed to be organised by several young women and I applaud their efforts and dedication to the cause. One of the organisers, Alison Lee Rubie, told me she has spent time with Kevin Richardson and his lions in South Africa, and that she really admired the work he was doing and it was an exceptional experience.  You can follow Alison’s updates via her Facebook page Lobby for Lions.

I spoke briefly at the March and I think this is going to be a growing protest that many of us will want to participate in, including many of the organisations concerned about animals, and lions in particular.

I contacted the South African High Commission in Canberra to try and determine the S.A. Government position on canned lion hunting.  I have had no response to date and I did warn them that this could grow into a very large protest – or even a boycott by tourists of South Africa, and that there were other African countries to visit and see wildlife.

I’m sure President Zuma has many pressing problems to address – like the poverty so many people still live in.  However, paying back the $25 million of taxpayer’s money spent on his lavish country estate is not one of them, as “they did this without telling me”.

I am delighted that Botswana intends to ban canned lion hunting and banned both trophy hunting and the export of wildlife (excluding pets) in January this year.  Many people have told me that Botswana is their favourite African destination.

FOR THE DIARY AND PLANNING: WORLD LION DAY on 10 August.

Whale

Whale

WHALES: Congratulations to all of those people who have worked for so many years to see the International Court of Justice stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.  The Court ruled that in this case Japanese whaling is a “commercial” exercise dressed up as a “scientific” exercise.  Unfortunately, Japan can still kill whales in the Northern Pacific, and several other countries will continue to slaughter whales needlessly.

AUSTRALIA FOR DOLPHINS:  The argument that hunting for whales and dolphins is traditional is actually only true for very few people.  The Japanese were encouraged to eat whale meat after the deprivations of the Second World War, and most of the Japanese are not too concerned about this issue.  I very much admire Sarah Lucas and her father and their work for Australia for Dolphins, especially protesting at the gruesome annual slaughter and capture of dolphins in Tajii, Japan. Visit their official website here and watch the 60 Minutes report  on their trip to Tajii.  We can help by donating and by becoming members of AFD.

Twin Hope by Diana Rebman in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

“Twin Hope” by Diana Rebman, in Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition

JANE GOODALL:  I do know my gorillas from my chimpanzees!  The indefatigible Jane Goodall, now 80, will be touring Australia from May 31 – June 8.  I can still remember her haunting chimpanzee call echoing through the Sydney Opera House on a previous visit.  Her Roots and Shoots program for school children is the most marvellous way of interesting and involving children in projects to care for our environment.

Captured: The Animal within Culture

Captured: The Animal within Culture

CAPTURED: I spoke briefly at the launch of CAPTURED The Animal within Culture which includes one of the most extensive interviews I have given.  I was interviewed by the editor, Melissa Boyde, a distinguished academic, and Chairperson of the Australian Animal Studies Group.  Melissa felt that the key themes in Captured are “encapsulated in Christian’s story: the implications of the physical and cultural capture of animals”.  I found the contributions very interesting and thought-provoking, especially:  the Ethiopian giraffe that walked 7000 kilometres from Marseilles to Paris in 1826 as a gift for the King Charles X;  “cultural imagining” associated with albatrosses;  the songs of whales;  the flourishing trade of exotic animals in Victorian England; and the ideas associated with the cultural representation of animals and our connectedness to animals.  I think the extent of the work being done in academic and creative circles on animal studies and human/animal relationships is so encouraging and informative – although Peter Singer did write Animal Liberation in 1975!

Unfortunately the book is quite expensive. It would be great if some of you could buy it, read it, and then possibly donate it to your local library?

COLONIAL ART: There is a superb exhibition in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, entitled Artist Colony: Drawing Sydney’s Nature.  These artworks are primarily painted in the first decade after the 1788 settlement.  Most of the works are drawn from the State Library/Mitchell Library collection, but many were newly acquired in 2011. At this time of exploration, many European collectors were finding the exotic discoveries from our region both “fascinating and disorientating”, and were hungry for specimens and these watercolour images.  Most of the artists – some still unidentified, were very good.

Banksian Cockatoo, 1790s

Banksian Cockatoo, 1790s

AUSTRALIA: Although our concerns in Australia are very minor in comparison to people in Syria, Egypt, Iraq or Ukraine for example, I am in danger of being what P J O’Rourke described as “the perpetually outraged”!  With the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating categorically that “everywhere and everything is being impacted by Climate Change”, it is frustrating living under a government that in 2014 does not seem to believe 97% of scientists about climate change, or that urgent action is required NOW.  All our recent and more frequent extreme weather events in Australia are just because we have always been “a land of droughts and flooding rains”, according to our PM.

I was ashamed to hear that the Australian Government, who is hosting the G20 Summit of world leaders here in November, has tried – unsuccessfully, to remove climate change and global warming from the agenda!

Capture

Cartoon by Cathy Wilcox. Sourced from The Sun Herald.

MP Scott Ludlam’s Welcome to West Australia Tony Abbott has gone viral and  sums up how many of us feel about him.  Ludlam polled well in the recent W.A. election and perhaps the Greens, the conscience of the nation (if sometimes naive and a little misguided), are on the way back.  We need them.

I should just let Shawn Micallef’s hilarious show Mad as Hell on the ABC ridicule the government with the ample material they supply.

After promising to be a “transparent” and “no surprises” government, here are some examples:  trying to revoke legislation to remove the requirement for financial advisers to act in a client’s “best interests”;  our professed Christian Minister for Immigration has 66 “spin doctors” to prevent any information emerging about our inhumane detention policies or details of the riot that killed detainee Reza Berati on Manus Island in PNG;  repealing race hate laws, and in the name of free speech, allowing us “to be bigots”;  and back to the future, without even informing his own party and to widespread derision, PM Abbott reverting to granting Imperial Honours after 25 years.

New Holland Crane, 1790s

New Holland Crane, 1790s

G-Gs: Outgoing Governor-General Quentin Bryce will primarily be remembered by me for her attention-seeking bright outfits, has been made a Dame, and incoming G-G Peter Cosgrove has been knighted.  I’m sure he is a nice enough blokey Australian, but as a Major General I dread any more jingoism, especially with the anniversary of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign next year.  With so many young Australian soldiers’ lives sacrificed on the shores of Turkey in 1915 on behalf of the British, I just can’t understand why this is meant to define us as a nation?

Wildlife photographer of the year finalist.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

ENVIRONMENT:  There was a succinct article by Nick Feik in the new thesaturdaypaper.com who wrote that “from a new government that at times appeared otherwise unable even to tie its own shoelaces”…”the brute efficiency of its program to damage environmental interests has been breathtaking”.  Casualties include:  the Climate Commission; funding to the Environmental Defenders Office;  the Australian Renewable Energy Agency;  the Biodiversity Fund;  the Climate Change Authority; and an attempt to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Environmental approvals have been “streamlined” and as I have discussed previously,  the Great Barrier Reef and areas of the Tasmanian forests are at risk.  Apparently too much of our National Parks are “tied up”, and “commercial opportunities” are being considered, while timber workers are “the ultimate conservationists”. Most cynically, a climate sceptic has been appointed to review the Renewable Energy Target. Unfortunately many of these actions will be irreversible, and immune to legal challenges.

According to a Canadian Dr. Kevin Taft who recently visited Australia, this behaviour is similar to what happened with the conservative government in Canada who has also stripped away as many environmental protections as possible.  Taft reminded us how completely we are hostage to the fossil fuel industry, and in Canada they even created their own political party The Wildrose Party – cute?

Douglas Seifert / wildlife photographer of the year finalist

Douglas Seifert / Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

MINING: It is hard to assess or predict just how central coal and other fossil fuels will be to our energy needs in the future. According to BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie, 70% of the world’s energy will still be supplied by them until 2030 – but he would say that wouldn’t he!

Other people, with less of a vested interest, give coal another 10 years when it will become a “stranded asset”.  Japan is reopening their nuclear reactors, even though the Fukushima disaster has contaminated workers, food, and the surrounding land and ocean. China, with shocking pollution levels creating social unease, will apparently start to go easier on the use of coal – and use nuclear reactors, hydro and a variety of renewable energies.

 

Warkworth mine pit aerial. Source Sydney Morning Herald

Warkworth mine pit. Source Sydney Morning Herald

Isn’t this the most horrifying photograph?  Is this the face of the future?  This coal mine is in the Hunter Valley which is one of the most fertile and beautiful parts of NSW, and used to be a most attractive place to live and visit.   Communities and people who grow our food and have horse studs, vineyards etc are being driven out by these mines and coal seam gas sites. Rio Tinto has just lost a court battle to extend this already huge Warkworth open-cut mine, but undeterred, has resubmitted its application!  People in the nearby township of Bulga are fighting for their survival.

82 people have recently been arrested for protesting against the construction of another coal mine and the clearing of part of the Leard State Forest in north-western NSW.  “Activist journalist” Margo Kingston was also arrested – see her No Fibs website here, and the protesters have been accused of using social media to intimidate police!

What is good is that we ordinary citizens are fighting back: the community of Bulga;  the Lock the Gate Alliance of landowners and others who are especially concerned about the destruction and poisoning of water aquifers in prime food producing areas;  the most prominent people in racing are protesting against the Drayton South mine proposal; and court actions have been instigated, for example, against the criminal dumping of sludge into the Great Barrier Reef.

Hugh Jackman and other celebrities supported Yoko Ono’s protest against shale gas fracking in the US, and I’m hoping to see Hugh standing up for similar environmental causes here.

Do sign this Australians for Climate Action Petition to the government over their inaction on climate change.

wildlife photographer of the year finalist

Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist

RENEWABLE ENERGY: I listened to a very interesting discussion (Science Show on Radio National) about renewable energies. Australia has “internationally competitive” Research – but “bugger all” Development.  Much of the discussion was too scientific for me to fully understand but I’ve always been cynical about  sequestration and carbon capture and storage, and there are no real breakthroughs yet.  But there is apparently deserved optimism about renewable energy from sources that include solar cells, voltaic cells, algae, human waste, and nuclear fusion.

VOICELESS: I participated in a very effective initiative against farmed food – a Meat Free Week supported by voiceless. I know I have discussed vegetarianism before, with some of you mischievously asking me how I was going….  The week without any “meat” was quite easy and I realised my diet is quite vegetarian.  I’m notoriously inept in the kitchen, but it made me think more creatively (and intelligently) about food, and I think I found the week quite liberating rather than limiting.  With advice from friends and my naturapath I ate a greater variety of food.  Once the week was over I decided it was a pity to not continue. It has been hypocritical of me to try to save and assist some animals, and eat others!  So I’m now officially a lacto-ovo vegetarian (which excludes meat and fish, but includes eggs and dairy products).

Hélène from Canada sent me this poignant and upsetting video about caged hens released from their imprisonment – made by Animals Australia.  Watch it and you may never eat chicken or eggs again!  I am only going to eat eggs when I can be assured of their origins – either “organic” or ideally, when I see the conditions for myself.

Ironically I still have to buy meat for my cats as I dread to think what additives are contained in tinned pet food.

Arriving at MONA

Arriving at MONA, Hobart, Tasmania

AUSTRALIAN ART WORLD:  We have had two very regrettable scandals in the Australian art world lately.  Transfield Holdings, founding sponsors of the Biennale of Sydney (but now only providing 6.1% of the budget), has an interest in Transfield Services which was recently contracted by the government to run several off-shore detention centres.  Unfortunately for them, this was highlighted by a violent  recent riot on Manus Island, PNG, that resulted in the death of  Iranian detainee Reza Berati.  Consequently, several invited artists decided to boycott the Biennale.

To my disbelief, such is the influence of big business on our lives, there was an almost universal public outcry against these artists, even initially by the Biennale Board and others in the art world. While philanthropy is to be encouraged, I think we are entitled to know the source of the money.  Many patrons do have a real love of art and make very generous contributions, but in return, the art world provides them with business opportunities, respectability, and a social cachet some would never normally have.  Led by social media, more support did come for the artists’ justifiable right to make a stand, and I hope people were made to think about our inhumane asylum seeker policies.

For the record: the sponsor with the interest in detention centres (Transfield’s Luca Belgiorno-Nettis) resigned from the Biennale Board, and called the artists “morally reprehensible”!  Malcolm Turnbull, an MP rapidly losing any political capital he may have had, said the artists had shown “vicious ingratitude”, while Leo Schofield said arts funding is “not the artists’ business” and they were “exhibiting self importance that they haven’t earned”.

While the arts in general undoubtedly enrich our lives and often provide pure pleasure,  many artists over time have also sought to illuminate, educate, lead, and question.  Alain de Botton recently said “Most great artists have had a mission”.  Some Aboriginal artists I have either worked with or observed over the years have been able to compete internationally as superb artists, and the art of many Aboriginal artists often seems to have what I can only describe as the “weight” of  thousands of years of traditions and beliefs, a deep understanding and attachment to land, or strongly felt political convictions.  In comparison, I can find some contemporary non-indigenous art rather vacuous or too contrived. It is concerning that SMH art critic John McDonald can say about the current Biennale that “very few gems emerge from this quagmire of mediocrity”.

I can remember when artists were usually rather hopeless at promoting themselves, but now many of the successful ones have become assiduous networkers and self-promoters.  This is also true of supposedly introspective and reclusive writers who now seem to have to spend half the year talking at literary festivals.

MONA

Museum of Old and New Art

A more concerning scandal is that it has emerged that the Art Gallery of NSW and the National Gallery of Australia (and other international institutions) have spent millions of dollars buying stolen Indian antiquities from the now disgraced Indian dealer Subhash Kapoor.  The failure by the relevant directors and curators to diligently check the provenance of these items has tarnished their reputations.  Both these institutions have even been tardy withdrawing the items from view, or promising to return them to India.  We have been reminded that these are fundamentally sacred objects that are worshipped and greatly missed in their places of origin,  not just art exhibits for our enjoyment.

Anselm Kieffer at MONA

Anselm Kiefer at MONA

MONA: On a brighter note, an individual  has given us the most wonderful gift with the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania. David Walsh has a brilliant mind and has made a fortune as a professional gambler!  MONA has been carved into a cliff face above the Derwent River.  The current exhibition curated from Walsh’s extensive collection is The Red Queen, and includes  an eclectic combination from Egyptian hieroglyphics to Anselm Keifer, Tracey Moffatt and Fiona Hall.  Many objects, sculptures and artworks are exhibited in this antithesis of the white cube – an exciting building that is quite maze-like and where the exhibits are theatrically lit and shown. It has become a “travel destination” – and Hobart, and Tasmania are lovely to visit.

The White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney is another example of generous philanthropy, where the Neilson family exhibit their huge collection of contemporary Chinese art.

MAIL: Many of you were very supportive of the GLOBAL MARCH FOR LIONS, so thank you for getting the word out and let’s keep the momentum up.  I’ll keep you informed and please keep me informed.

Meanwhile of course, Tony the Tiger remains imprisoned in his cage in America, which makes me feel depressed and that I have failed him personally.  Is there any news?

I do read everything sent to me and view your profiles, even if I don’t always respond.  Many of you are interested in such fascinating subjects, and your sites contain so many good images.  It is very heartening that many of  us share such a love of our animals and our fellow humans, and a concern for the world we live in…..

Near Batemans Bay, NSW

Near Batemans Bay, NSW

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Wildlife Photographer of the Year - BBC Publishing

On my return from LA, I rushed to see this exhibition on show at the Australian Museum in Sydney as it closes on the 26th April.  The exhibition, now in its 45th year,  is “owned” by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine, and is designed to promote a wider awareness of wildlife conservation, and to “encourage interpretations of the natural world through art”. There is huge international participation and interest, with many categories and various age groups.

Eyes in the Oasis - Lee Slabber

Eyes in the Oasis - Photographer Lee Slabber

As the exhibition consists of the winning, runner-up and specially commended photographs, the standard is extremely high. I had read in the media that the Overall Winner was disqualified and withdrawn, (although the image is in the accompanying handsome publications) as the wolf jumping over the farmer’s fence was possibly a trained animal rather than a wild one.

The exhibition space was very dark, and with all photographs back lit, they really stood out. I felt the world was still a pristine and beautiful place, and although many images were about survival or full of drama, it was life-affirming. From close-ups of ants and locusts, to a wide variety of animals and birds, plants and landscapes. I felt inspired, refreshed, and calmed – all at once. While not the best photograph, there was a cat frightening off a much bigger fox, and of course big cats featured prominently, including a well known tiger Machali in India’s Ranthambore National Park, that has supposedly contributed $10 million to the local economy, which I hope secures her safety.

Flight of the Locust - Photographer Chris Van Rooyen

Flight of the Locust - Photographer Chris Van Rooyen

Look out for the exhibition (or Google the images) as it travels to over 60 cities around the world,  or if you are a nature photographer, enter yourself  next  year!