Tuesday, 26 May 2009

WHAT GOES AROUND…

-Ruth Padel vs. Derek Walcott and Me
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts_and_culture/8067432.stm

A few years ago, a nice young British college graduate who was volunteering at our Laohu Valley Reserve, asked me if I knew someone named Ruth Padel. That name rang a bell, but I simply could not place her. Then the young chap told me that this Padel person had written about me in her book, and showed me the book he was reading... Oh Yes, of course! The memories came back. My Goodness, she has written the book! I had totally forgotten about her and the book she was planning to write.

I told the nice young chap enthusiastically that I had not only met her, but had invited her home and cooked her a Chinese dinner, and that my husband and I talked to her extensively about our project, after she had contacted me out of the blue. I wanted to help her since she was writing a book about tigers, and I was delighted to be of service to her, also out of respect for Darwin, who appeared to be Padel’s great-great-grandfather, having been born a staunch Darwinian myself in China. I happily offered to help her making contacts in China, should she need, for her book research.

After that dinner at our apartment, I no longer heard from Padel, except one occasional message to ask my help in making contact for her in China. I wondered for some time what had become of her book but firmly believed she was no longer writing it, since I was convinced she would have let me know about it. And I certainly would buy a copy in support of her and the tigers.

Now, seeing Padel’s book in the hands of this volunteer, I was quite excited and asked him if I could have a quick read of the section about me. The young chap appeared reluctant but hesitantly said “yes”, adding somewhat embarrassingly that the book was not very positive about me. My heart dropped. What could I have possibly said or done to be written about negatively by Ms. Padel? All I had given her was kindness and generosity in support of her work, for the sake of tigers. I told the young volunteer that I really would not mind criticism, particularly constructive ones. And I am also used to malicious personal attacks on me, by the likes of Judy Mills of Conservation International, for example, in a Wall Street Journal article a few years ago. I am strong enough to handle whatever nonsense possibly written about me in Padel’s book.

The young chap reluctantly handed the book “Tigers in Red Weather” to me, adding that he had been in our project for the past few weeks and he loved it, and that he strongly believed what we were doing is not only fantastic, but the right thing to do for the South China Tigers. I was grateful for him, since what I subsequently read in Padel’s book made me seethe with anger.

Padel has not only misrepresented facts about our project, but attacked me with such sarcasm as if she held grudges against me personally. For example, she said in her book: “Li Quan’s ideas were inspired by captive predators trained to hunt to camera”. This could not be further from truth and at minimum was twisting of my words by Padel. She knew what I was trying to do was inspired by what China was already doing at Meihuashan Chinese Tiger Rehabilitation project. In fact, she asked my assistance to make arrangements to visit Meihuashan after I had told her about it. All I attempted was trying to do the same in a more professional manner in a country with more conservation expertise and more wildlife resources to give the South China Tigers a head start in their rewilding training.

Another example, she wrote: “Save China’s Tigers scheme seems glamorous. There is money and publicity in it”. I wonder where Ms. Padel had seen money and publicity? My husband and I spent millions of our personal savings on the project, without a single cent of return, all because we believe that saving the cultural symbol of China - the King of Beasts, is not only good for restoring the eco-systems, but also conducive to saving the traditional cultural values of China. To date, unlike many big NGOs, we have not spent a cent on hiring PR, either in-house or external, and we gained good publicity through our actions and dedication to our goal. Yet Padel saw money and publicity in her eyes.

She wrote that I “seemed to have ignored the world’s top scientific advice. She may release a few tigers in a closed reserve but this will have nothing to do with conservation and will never lead to a viable wild population. It seemed a terrible waste of enormous tiger funds”. Wait a minute, didn’t I tell you, Ms. Padel, we can not save the Chinese tiger as a whole, if we don’t save the first few to start with? Didn’t we tell you, the tiger funds came from our savings, not from other donor agencies since the big NGOs had already pronounced the South China Tiger dead or not worth saving? Didn’t I tell you the reason we are attempting this innovative conservation project is because the big NGO’s are doing nothing to save the South Chinese tiger except criticise the efforts of those who are? Didn’t I tell you we did not want to give our money to these big NGOs as we see little action from them in saving the tigers and see huge expenses on marketing, administration and PR?

She wrote that “Li Quan also wants to change the name of the South China Tiger to Zhonggauo Hu. Zhonggauo means ‘Middle Kingdom’, the formal name for China: that name would make it simply ‘Chinese Tiger’. Excluding China’s other tigers, the real wild tigers of China today.” And that “I had seen with Wang and Cao how effective that plan would be. (The Chinese tiger - of course!) Her English press releases have subtly switched from ‘South Chinese Tigers’ to ‘Chinese Tigers (also named the South China Tiger)’. I don’t want to be nit picking, but Zhonggauo should be spelled Zhongguo. Secondly, I don’t blame Ms. Padel for failing to know that Zhongguo is also Zhongguo in informal term, since it is Chinese for China. Third, but not last, despite her extensive research, it is sad to see that Ms. Padel still has not learned that the term of the “Chinese Tiger” is not my invention, but has been used by the conservation community to distinguish it from other tigers, such as the Indian (Bengal) Tiger.

She also called our goal to release rewilded tigers back to China’s natural environment during the time of the 2008 Olympic Games and my effort to get the tiger adopted as its Mascot “a sick joke”. Never mind how much this sounded like what Ms. Judy Mills said in the Wall Street Journal Article, branding our effort “a circus side show”. It also goes to show how little she really cared about conservation, since in my opinion, anyone who wants to do something for conservation (never mind those who are spending huge amount of their own savings to do so) and any effort by any person to help the planet should be encouraged, particularly when there are only a small percentage of people who are taking actions to protect nature, and when the species are disappearing at a far greater rate than at any other time in history.

I bought Ruth Padel’s book upon returning to London. I looked at it from time to time. I wanted to keep on reminding myself that our project had not been easy and will continue to face challenges, particularly political ones like this. I will have to grind my teeth, bear the humiliation and continue fighting for the tigers and prove the nay-sayers wrong, as I cant afford to engage in a costly legal battle to get Padel’s publisher to withdraw her book from the shelf despite her misrepresentations of our project.

All these old memories resurfaced today, when I saw the news on BBC “Oxford poet 'sorry' over vote row”. Guess things do come back around?!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Old Young Man & His Rhinos (Trilogy 2)
















I visited the second Old Young Man I am going to talk about at his farm in Howick (SA) recently. He is also my idol, that is, if ever I do have celebrity worship. Dr. Ian Player is a controversial figure, who was instrumental in saving the white rhino from extinction in South Africa by selling them to open parks around the world in 1970s. By establishing gene pools outside of the country this ensured that even if the rhinos suffered due to political instabilities of the country at that time, the animal could be reintroduced when the country becomes stable again. Almost all the white rhinos in the world are descendents of the rhinos that he brought out of KwaZulu Natal's game reserves. Ian also led the long political battle to get some additional land added to the Umfolozi Game Reserve in order to save the rhino.



Two years ago we celebrated his 80's birthday in London. Two years on, he is still fighting tirelessly for conservation of the wild, despite that his left eye has lost sight, and his left leg has given in. A search of his name on google yields many results so I won't go into details about all the remarkable work he has done throughout his life, such as his pivotal role in making St. Lucia wetlands the first wilderness areas to be zoned on the African continent; establishing the Wilderness Leadership School and Wilderness Foundation, etc.

What I would like to say about him, is that he is a man of many talents and iron wills. For example, he was credited for having pioneered the great Dusi Canoe Marathon in December 1951. Although eight men participated, only Ian finished the 140kilometer journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in a time of six days, despite having being bitten by a night adder during the race. The canoe that he used to complete the race, in this fierce water where Umgeni River meets the Umsundusi River, was made from wood and canvas and weighted roughly 70 pounds. It also held all the supplies he needed to complete the race.

He is a wonderful writer with six books to his credit, such as "Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul". I have learned a great deal about conservation in South Africa, and about his great Zulu friend - Magqubu Ntombela.

He is an eloquent speaker, full of humor and wisdom. He is a generous soul, lending a hand to newcomers to conservation such as myself.

I feel inspired by him, particularly when I face challenges and difficulties. I know how he would encourage me and what he would say to me: "Tiger, go for it! You are a fearless tiger!"

During recent visit, he said to me and my friend & advisor Dr. Hector Magome: "Do you know when you feel old? When people give their seat to you. Traditionally it is men who give seats to women and children. I now know I am old".

But Ian, I would like to say to you, "You are an old Young Man, and a great one! You continue to inspire people around the world to become conservationists. And we will see you around for a long time to come!"

-Li Quan at Laohu Valley Reserve
Photos Credits: (top left) Dr. Ian Player (top right) Wilderness Foundation UK