Ace Bourke with Christian, 1972

BIRTHDAY: It is now 50 years since Christian was born in a zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon in the UK on 12 August 1969!!!!
I appreciate so many of you still being interested in Christian’s story, and there seems to be renewed interest in him again at the moment.

I have never been able to accurately articulate or understand exactly why Christian’s story has had such an appeal…for so long. Oprah Winfrey asked me this when we appeared on her program, and I went on and on! There are quite a few factors. He was gorgeous, lovable, charismatic and photogenic. He loved us and demonstrated that a human-animal relationship like this was possible. He had a friendly and outgoing nature, unlike his sister who was with him in Harrods Department Store in London where we first saw him. He drove his own destiny – he charmed his way to the department store and charmed us, and then later Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna and George Adamson of Born Free fame. He was “rescued” from captivity and, miraculously, taken to Kenya where he was set free and lived a natural life, for a few years at the very least. He was “rehabilitated” by the wonderful George Adamson who created a pride around him. His story reminds us of a time when life was a little more natural and unregulated, and adventures like this were possible. Not that I am recommending anyone do it now! We were extremely fortunate.

His continuing popularity is also due to the fact that his life was so well documented: in two initial documentaries; a later one, plus featuring in various others; several books; and Derek Cattani’s photographs. The available footage led to our reunion with him in Africa becoming an internet phenomenon. Watch it again here.

We have actually had very little criticism for our actions, although with the unpleasant practice of Canned Hunting in Africa – the petting, handling and patting of cubs in particular is definitely not to be encouraged. Some say the ease of Christian’s rehabilitation supports the argument – from the hunting lobby – that the catastrophic decline in numbers can be reversed, by “rewilding”, the way Christian was in Africa. But there are several major factors responsible for the decline, especially over-population and diminishing habitats.

NEW BOOK ON CHRISTIAN: If I had had the opportunity, I would have added some of the above comments, and some analytical and reflective depth to the recent book Christian the Lion: The Illustrated Legacy by John Rendall and Christian’s photographer, Derek Cattani. There are some previously unpublished photographs of Christian which gave me the most pleasure.

Having received so many often fascinating and moving emails over the years, I think your own experiences with animals, your endeavours on their behalf, and feelings about Christian, are also part of Christian’s “legacy”. Many of them are recorded in my earlier blogs and on our website alioncalledchristian.com.au, although I must apologise for not keeping it as up to date as I should.

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Christine Townend, her husband Jeremy and hard-working vets and staff run 2 animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India. She has been my mentor in the fields of animal welfare, animal rights and conservation. I have often blogged about her – and I am on the Committee of Working For Animals. The shelters primarily cater for dogs and cats, and the programs she has initiated with dogs have eliminated rabies from the communities, although this is ongoing.

Christine is revered for her work in India, and this year she received an Order of Australia Medal for “service to animal welfare”. She of course modestly commented “I’m glad animals have been acknowledged”.

INDIA: I have been invited to speak at many conferences relating to animal rights and welfare, but I especially like going to India. I have met the most wonderful people from all over the world, often academic leaders in their fields. Christian has inspired many of them – some when they were young, so I feel they are also part of Christian’s legacy.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, 2016. Photograph by Ace Bourke.

TIGERS: India provided a highlight I will never forget: seeing tigers close up in the wild at Ranthambore, Rajasthan in 2016. Creating sanctuaries in national parks, making it a crime to kill them, and prosecuting poachers, has seen an increase in tiger numbers from 2226 in 2014, to 2967 in 2018. 80% of the world’s tigers live in India. I felt a little guilty becoming so enamoured of tigers, but I had, however, visited Indian lions in Gir, Gujarat previously, and blogged about them at the time.

We celebrated International Tiger Day on 29 July 2019, and World Lion Day on 10 August 2019.

HARRODS DOCUMENTARY: A few months ago friends alerted me to the fact that Christian was in the advertisements for the documentary Inside Harrods: The World’s Most Famous Department Store. Our story was given considerable time and I had no idea Christian was such an important part of the Harrods history. It is an uncomfortable feeling when you don’t have any say over the use of your shared story or image. Again, however, it was enjoyable to see good footage of Christian, and after watching, I decided that 50 years on, it is probably not a good idea to appear up against footage of oneself when one was young!

Disney’s The Lion King movie

MOVIE: The recently released The Lion King movie (Disney) is proving very successful – mixed reviews not-with-standing, taking $US185 million on the opening weekend in the USA. I have only seen the advertisements and the lions look beautiful. Sony own the rights to Christian’s story but seem to have no intention of ever making a film. Looking at the success of The Lion King, a film about Christian and the many aspects and lessons illustrated in his story, could also have been, and should have been, a part of his legacy.

AUSTRALIA: David Attenborough recently spoke before a British Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change – and singled out Australia and the USA for a lack of action. He said the deterioration of our Great Barrier Reef was a “vivid” example. Our conservative government was unexpectedly re-elected with virtually only one policy, “tax cuts”. We are still arguing if climate change is real and we have no energy policy and consequently unnecessarily high electricity costs. The contested Adani coal mine may still go ahead, and the International Monetary Fund recently estimated that global fossil fuel subsidies have grown to around $US5.2 trillion a year. According to Nature magazine recently, global temperatures rose faster in the final decades of the C20th than at any other time in the past 2000 years. Earlier temperature variations were influenced by volcanic activity, and human-caused climate change was now “overwhelming” natural variability.

ANIMALS: A recent UN Report states that a million species are at risk of extinction. These are rates that are unprecedented in human history and are caused by human expansion and the exploitation of habitats. Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world, and seemingly inadequate recovery plans. We have among the world’s worst deforestation record, and even one of our most iconic animals, the koala, is at risk.

New government legislation is more interested in prosecuting animal activists, than protecting animals or our environment.

I have tried to discuss and blog about these issues for years and despair at the lack of leadership or action. This is why I don’t really want to blog and comment these days, and I strongly object to the fact that scientists and experts are ignored, and creative, imaginative, innovative and progressive ideas are disparaged. The extremely dangerous President of the USA has succeeded with his lies in making it very hard to discern fact from fiction (over 10,000 false or misleading claims while in office so far), while Boris Johnson also has a reputation for lying.

BOOKS: I loved Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, a novel based on his tough childhood in the suburbs of Brisbane. I have now read everything by Helen Garner, one of Australia’s best writers. I was amused by Less by Andrew Sean Greer.

I am reading This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrants Manifesto by Suketu Mehta. This examines how colonial powers ruthlessly exploited the resources of various countries and their people, drew arbitrary boundaries, and particularly at the moment, have an undeserved “fear” of immigrants. When asked “Why are you here?” immigrants can justly respond, “We are here because you were there”.

I was very impressed with The Colonial Fantasy: Why White Australia Can’t Solve Black Problems by Sarah Maddison. It summarises our appalling mistreatment since 1778 of the Aboriginal population who have lived in Australia for at least 60,000 years. Again, “their dispossession underwrote the development of the nation” (a quote from the 1992 Mabo Judgement). Some of you kindly ask what I am working on, and this book has partly inspired me to write. The Aborigines have never been asked to advise on their own issues, and there is a current contested debate about Aborigines having an advisory Voice to Parliament. This was part of the Uluru Statement of the Heart by Aboriginal people in 2017 which offered an intelligent, reasonable and modest way forward towards “reconciliation”, although some argue reconciliation is for white people to feel better about themselves. The Statement was summarily dismissed by the government.

As many of you know I have been privileged to be a curator of Aboriginal art and have known or worked with some of the very best artists. I am also descended from several colonial Governors who impacted on Indigenous lives. I’m trying to write about my relationship with all of this, to clarify my feelings and thoughts for myself, and my efforts may be worth publishing one day.

PERSONAL: On a lighter note, my cat is wonderful although I still miss her brother who we lost several years ago, and I am looking forward to my first trip to Morocco. I hope you are having happy and fulfilling lives with your families, friends and animals, and let’s wish for some unexpected new leadership which will make our lives and the world a better and more sustainable place for the future.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

Christian the Lion. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Happy Birthday Christian!

I love celebrating this day and thinking about Christian and his life. I am looking forward to hearing from some of you today as I know many of you feel the same!

I love this photograph of Christian and I think it was one of the first taken by our friend Derek Cattani possibly in January 1970.  Christian was about 5 months old.

In London recently I enjoyed reminiscing with friends like Derek who were very close to Christian. We all agreed he was the most wonderful animal with the friendliest and most engaging nature, and he deserved his story to turn out so well. He faced a very uncertain future when he was for sale in Harrods department store in London (in late 1969), but he miraculously returned to Kenya in 1970, to George Adamson of Born Free fame.

George Adamson described Christian as surprisingly easy to rehabilitate into his natural life – after 5 generations in Europe.  Christian survived his first very vulnerable years and grew into a huge lion.  He was last seen in 1973 going off in the direction of Meru National Park where there was more game and possible respite from the wild lions that had made life difficult for him since he had arrived at George’s camp at Kora in Kenya.

One of the many lessons we learned from our experience with Christian was that while some see us as “saving” Christian – and we did have the best (if naive) intentions, we were unwittingly participating in and encouraging the trade in exotic animals. Harrods Zoo and the rather ghastly pet accessories shop that replaced it no longer exist I was pleased to see on my recent visit.

Our visit and reunion with Christian in Kenya one year later in 1971 unexpectedly became an internet phenomenon in 2008, and a new global audience of over 100 million people became aware of Christian’s story.  (See here for TadManly2’s original reunion clip on YouTube which he re-posted.  He was the person who added Whitney Houston singing I Will Always Love You which helped the clip become so popular).

Many of you would have celebrated World Lion Day just 2 days ago. In this time of global political and social disruption, it is hard for animals to be heard and we must double our efforts on their behalf. Congratulations to Four Paws animal welfare charity for facilitating the recent removal to Turkey of 3 lions, 2 tigers 2 hyenas and 2 Asian black bears from a zoo in Aleppo, Syria. Local zookeepers have bravely tried their best to keep as many animals as possible alive during a terrible 3 years of war that has forced so many of the population to flee.

Christian in his favourite spot in Sophistocat. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

In London I saw Jennifer Mary Taylor who was a co-owner of Sophistocat where Christian lived and where we worked. Over the years many people visited her antique furniture shop to talk about Christian, even when she relocated. She has helped keep the flame alive.

It was also very good to see Christian’s friend Unity again after so many years.  She is an actress (in Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits for example) and had had a lioness in her apartment in Rome. She materialised very soon after we brought Christian home. They adored each other and she visited him nearly every day. She is quite small, and he could be boisterous and had sharp teeth and claws, so she often wore a coat for protection when she played with him. Sometimes I would hear her say…”You are too rough with me today I’m going to leave”. Christian would respond with contrite grunting noises.

I asked her why she had had such a good relationship with him. “I talked to him. We talked to each other”.

Christian and Unity in Dorking. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Not many lions would allow themselves to play ‘wheelbarrows” but Christian had a great sense of fun and companionship.

In the subsequent years Unity has managed to find other exotic animals to meet and get to know, but Christian remains a favourite.

After the pleasure of knowing Christian, I sound a hypocrite advocating for people to not have contact with exotic animals, or keep them as pets.  However, people can get just as much pleasure and love from their dogs and cats –and looking after a lion, and the safety of all involved, was an awesome and scary responsibility.

MAIL: I’m so pleased that people continue to send stories into Christian’s website www.christianthelion.com.au. Joe recently wrote that when he was young he visited a house in the English countryside with “a lion in their tennis court”. “As years went by I thought that I had made it up because it seemed so unlikely”. Then a few years ago he saw Christian’s documentary and realised that it was true. His father was a chimney sweep, and can you believe, he is now the chimney sweep for Virginia McKenna at the same house where he saw Christian all those years ago!  As most of you know, Virginia McKenna  and Bill Travers played Joy and George Adamson in Born Free, and they were our introduction to George Adamson.

CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine’s memoir A Life for Animals was recently launched by Peter Singer in Melbourne. This was appropriate because Christine started Animal Liberation in Australia after reading Singer’s book in 1976, and then Animals Australia with Peter Singer in 1980. He wrote the Foreword to her book. Christine subsequently spent many years at Help in Suffering an animal shelter in Jaipur and is revered in India for her work for the welfare (and rights) of animals. She writes very insightfully (and modestly) about her 100% dedication and commitment to animals, her feelings about them, and her time in India.

A Life for Animals can be ordered here .

With help and support Christine and Jeremy Townend founded animal shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong (KAS) in India. She runs them from Australia with the help of excellent and dedicated staff. See the Working For Animals website for more background information and the invaluable work of the shelters.  I am on the Committee and hope to be attending the AGM with Christine up in those beautiful mountains next October.

Michael Kirby, esteemed ex High Court Judge, launches Christine’s book A Life for Animals on the 25th August at Gleebooks, Glebe, Sydney. See details here.

DONALEA PATMAN: Congratulations to Donalea who has been awarded an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia). She was instrumental in prohibiting the importation of lion trophies and animal parts into Australia – which was followed by a number of other countries. She is currently working on a campaign No Domestic Trade against the selling of the surprising amount of ivory and animal body parts in Australia. You can support and find more information about this campaign here.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

TIGERS: Tigers had their International Tiger Day on the 29th July, and these beautiful animals, like most wildlife, need our support more than ever.  I can still feel the excitement at seeing this tiger in the wild last year in India.
Tigers in India: There have been at least 67 unexplained deaths of tigers so far this year. While there are several reasons for their deaths, primarily it is the illegal trade in tiger body parts to China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Cambodia. Tiger populations had been increasing, but there are still only approximately 2,226 in India, representing 60% of the world’s population of 3890.

Tony the Tiger. Photograph sourced from change.org.

Tony the Tiger: See here for the latest news on Tony who is now 17 and not in good health. Tony has many supporters and the ADLF in the USA do their best in court case after court case to have Tony removed from the Truckstop in Louisiana to a better environment. The owner seems to just keep stalling with appeal after appeal, and somehow got “specifically exempted” from the 2005 Louisiana State law banning the private ownership of big cats. For Tony to be relocated to a reputable sanctuary please sign this petition here.

Kato in Symbio Wildlife Park. Photograph by Ace Bourke.

Kato the Tiger:  Like many of you, I have found the lack of progress for Tony the Tiger very depressing. I was reluctant to go to my local zoo to meet the tiger that I heard was there. I finally met Kato last week. He looked beautiful of course, but was listless. He is 15 years old and like Tony is half Bengal and Sumatran. He could live to 20. He had quite a large green space…but nothing to do. I pointed this out to a staff member who replied that as tigers are “solitary” this was OK. In the afternoons Kato goes back to no doubt a much smaller space behind the scenes, and is rotated with a brother and sister. She has been placed on contraception and these Sumatran young adults apparently get on well, although I would think in the wild they would have separated by now.

ZOOS: No matter how much more space animals and birds are given in zoos, or how attractively designed and landscaped, to me most wildlife in zoos seem resigned, depressed or anxious to escape. Zoos in the last few decades have had to deal with changing community attitudes to animal rights and welfare, and have had to emphasise and develop their serious and successful research, educational and conservation efforts. Kato’s zoo looked well maintained with many young staff. After going straight to Kato the tiger I, with others, gawked in wonderment at birds, cheetahs, kangaroos, snakes etc, and even farmyard animals seem exotic these days. I have to admit that people, especially children, were just fascinated. They are inheriting a world at a tipping point for wildlife and of species extinction. Will they be better educated and anymore effective than we have been on behalf of animals?

Despite the enjoyment animals provide, I don’t think they can be used for our entertainment at their expense.  Our relationships should be mutually enjoyable and beneficial.  We have our companion animals, we can watch many excellent wildlife documentaries, and these days many people can travel at least once to see the wildlife they are interested in.

I recently received a thoughtful email about issues to consider when donating to animal causes. Of course some support the work of zoos and some do not. Most animal shelters do a good and necessary job of looking after and rehousing animals in an urban setting. Some people only want to donate to a specific animal or project while others do not like donating to “administration” or boy’s toys.

I think conservancies are a very good idea where buying up and often fencing tracts of lands protects the wildlife.  Re-establishing traditional path ways and safe corridors, for elephants in India for example, is also proving very effective.

Peter Singer, a generous donor to animal causes, has a website listing the 2017 best charities working against global poverty.  He identifies outstanding charities “that will make sense to both your head and your heart”.

Love Story 1972 by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932 – 2002). Courtesy National Gallery of Australia.

ABORIGINES: Aboriginal artefacts and pigments excavated at a rock shelter in the Northern Territory are 65,000 years old. This has recently been verified by radiocarbon dating and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). Australian Aborigines are the world’s longest continuous living people and culture. Isn’t this amazing? They have survived invasion, colonisation, and mass dispossession.  They continue to endure marginalisation and discrimination when they should be respected and celebrated. Aboriginal art, for example, was described by Robert Hughes, the late art critic for Time magazine as “the last great art movement of the twentieth century”.

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.

Bengal tiger

Bengal tiger. Courtesy National Geographic.

FEDERATION OF INDIAN ANIMAL PROTECTION ORGANISATIONS: I am about to leave for India to speak at the INDIA for ANIMALS conference in Jaipur on September 12th.   The conference is organised by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO).  I will be talking about Christian the Lion of course, but I will be wearing my Working for Animals hat. I am on the committee of WFA which runs two animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, and are co-sponsors of the conference.

WFA is also supporting the elephant training camps to be held in Kerala (October 11-13) and Assam (October 15-17) with Australian vet Dr.Ian MacLean, encouraging a more humane treatment of elephants. There seems to be a growing movement against tourists riding them etc…

I always love visiting India and I will report back!  Life in India can be challenging in many respects for humans and animals, but both seem to be intimately woven together in the rich tapestry of India.

TextaQueen Courtesy of sullivan+strumpf, Sydney

TextaQueen Courtesy of sullivan+strumpf, Sydney

TIGERS: Habitats for wild animals are being destroyed by the competition for resources and growing populations all over the world. There may be as few as 1500 Bengal tigers left in the wild in India. Unfortunately the government of the Maharashtra State has just given permission to clear 96,300 acres of critical tiger habitat – threatening their existence. You can sign the petition here.

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk. Courtesy National Geographic.

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk. Courtesy National Geographic.

LIONS: I was asked to appear on the Sunrise program on Channel 7 which was acknowledging the 25th Anniversary of George Adamson’s death. It turned into a bit of a Christian love fest and everyone at the channel was very into protecting animals and I had the chance to talk about the evils of Canned Hunting. You can watch the interview here.

George Adamson with Boy(left) and Christian wading in the Tana River at Kora.

George Adamson with Boy(left) and Christian
wading in the Tana River at Kora.

I presume many of my fellow lion addicts have seen the marvellous images on the fatherofthelions.org website. I was especially interested in some of the photographs donated by Virginia McKenna. Photographs include images from the filming of Born Free, Joy and George Adamson, and photographs of the well established camp at Kora, Kenya.

Andrew sent this short clip of a most enthusiastic leap by a lion into someone’s arms!

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Francois sent this link to photographs of “Awkwardly Sitting Cats”. As cats are usually so elegant I do not entirely approve, but I have found them amusing and this cat does look very comfortable observing the world go by.

CACH: I do encourage you to read this comprehensive and reasonable article (sent to me by the indefatigable MoonieBlues) An Analysis of the lion breeding industry in South Africa by Anton Crone here.  The article has helped me understand the complexities of the situation and the vested interests we (and the lions) are up against.

As part of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting Australians may consider emailing our Minister for the Environment  Greg Hunt to encourage him to initiate a ban on the importation of hunting trophies. His email is greg.hunt.mp@environment.gov.au.

You could all consider approaching the relevant politicians in your own countries, as banning the importation of hunting trophies and animal body parts from Africa is one of the most effective measures to inhibit the farming, hunting and killing of wild animals.

I will also be mentioning in my email to the Minister the 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoils which were to be dumped – against all scientific and environmental advice – into the Great Barrier Reef. There is now a growing movement against this (assisted by an informative Four Corners program on the ABC), and there is now talk of “on land” dumping of these spoils that contain high levels of acid sulphate.

I will also refer to the Renewable Energy Target, which despite an election promise, the government is itching to abolish. A well-known climate-change denier and advocate for the fossil fuel industry was asked to do a review!  There is considerable public support for renewable energy but the government is sabotaging investment – and jobs – in the renewable energy industry.  With the scandalously retrograde axing of the carbon tax, carbon emissions from the country’s main electricity grid have risen by the largest amount in nearly eight years.

Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photograph by Scott Portelli.

Atlantic spotted dolphins. Photograph by Scott Portelli.

DOLPHINS: The incorrigible Japanese are beginning their annual slaughter and capture of dolphins, porpoises and small whales (see here) at the now notorious “cove” in Taiji, Japan.  Up to 20,000 cetaceans are killed each year in Japanese waters, and the Japanese are submitting a “revised program” to hunt minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean in 2015.

Gazan Zoo

Gazan Zoo

GAZA: While we concentrate on the appalling statistics of injuries and death in the thoroughly trashed Gaza  (2143 dead Gazans and 70 Israelis), do see this article (which comes with a warning about “Graphic Pictures”) about the destruction at the Gaza Zoo. In hostilities it is often overlooked how animals are also collateral damage. I don’t know how either side could claim “victory”. There is undoubtedly a world backlash against the Israelis for their disproportionate heavy-handedness leading to the deaths of civilians and children.  Criticism cannot just be dismissed as “anti-Semitism”.  It is estimated it will cost $8.4 billion to rebuild Gaza.  The only power plant was destroyed, 17,000 homes were razed and 106,000 residents are displaced, and an estimated 500,000 children are unable to go to school.  

Now Israel intends to “confiscate” a further 400 hectares of the West Bank!

While I am not a supporter of Hamas, their chilling rhetoric is matched by what the ultra-right Jewish settlers on illegal West Bank settlements say about the Palestinians. They, equally, want to eliminate the Palestinians – and not just drive them from their own land.

WORLD: I did want to end this blog on a more positive note, but what with the alarmingly inadequate global response to Ebola, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and horrific beheadings etc in the Middle East, it is difficult. Australia has rushed to support the USA against the Islamic State even before being asked, seemingly oblivious to the lessons of our last disastrous (and unnecessary) 2003 incursion into Iraq as part of the “coalition of the willing”. We are giving “humanitarian aid” to the Kurds at this stage which somehow includes weapons. The situation is so complex and potentially catastrophic in Iraq and Syria it is not surprising that Obama does not have a clear strategy. Australia inadvertently appears to have taken sides with the Shiites against the majority of Muslims who are Sunnis.  Our mostly moderate Muslim Australians are tired of being scapegoats.  Our PM refers to “Team Australia” and has shown little insight into why some young Australians do feel disenchanted and marginalised here and have become radicalised, even taking the truly drastic step of fighting for the Islamic State.

Our PM obviously thinks his foreign affairs activities will be a diversion from the most unfair and worst received budget many Australians can remember.  One has to question his judgement however at taking sides unnecessarily which includes Japan against China and Ukraine against Russia.  He has just visited India to sell them our uranium!

Palau

Palau

PALAU: There was an interesting story on Foreign Correspondent on this beautiful Pacific island. It is both a good and bad story. The bad is that it is being over-fished – Bluefin tuna down to 4% of previous numbers, and Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna are also threatened. The good story is that the government wants to ban commercial fishing (with foreign companies taking 94% of the profits out of the country), and wants to develop an “eco –tourism” industry. They have created a shark sanctuary and many tourists are coming to swim with sharks!  While I won’t be one of them, I applaud this initiative as the way of the future. No more hunting  or man-handling of wildlife, or unsustainable practices – just the joy of observing nature on equal terms, and supporting positive contributions to protect our unique, irreplaceable and beautiful fellow creatures.

WORLD ANIMAL DAY OCTOBER 4th:  This day is a “special opportunity for anyone who loves animals..to acknowledge the diverse roles that animals play in our lives…”  I am aware of activities in Sydney and Melbourne and will blog with more details soon.  I do know that Alison Lee Rubie of Lobby for Lions is hosting a Sydney March for Elephants, Rhinos and Lions on the 4th October, meeting at 11am beside Sydney Town Hall.  A March will be followed by a picnic in The Domain. 

MAIL: Thanks to Jane, Deb, MoonieBlues, Aidan and Tania, Andrew, Francois and all who have commented or emailed about recent blogs!