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Animal Guide: Kangaroo

Claire Orrell

Totemica_Australian_Animal_Kangaroo

Kangaroo says: life supports you in every way

One of the best-known Australian animals is the kangaroo. Maybe because of their wonderful, hopping step, perhaps their place on the national emblem and airline or simply because they are a very unique animal.

The kangaroo is the largest marsupial on the planet and if you’ve ever come across a mob, you’ll know that they can be very big and muscly indeed. They graze on plant matter, can survive on minimal water and travel up to 40mph.

Red Kangaroos breed all year round but, amazingly, can delay the birth of their new baby until their previous joey is old enough to leave the pouch or until the environmental conditions are favourable. This ensures that their children are always born into a period of abundance where food is plentiful and they have a greater chance of survival. In this way the female kangaroo is almost always pregnant and fertile. The kangaroo reminds us that we are supported and nourished by life.

Totemica_Kangaroo_Distribution

Habitat and Distribution

Red Kangaroos are found throughout the semi-arid and arid regions of mainland Australia. Their conservation status is 'Least Concern'.

Animal Guide: Dingo

Claire Orrell

Totemica_Australian_Animal_Dingo

Dingo says: take a risk

Dingoes came to Australia many years ago from Asia. The oldest found archeological remains date back around 3,500 years, but they may have been here a lot longer.(i) Some reports state that dingoes are their own species, meaning that they are not descended from dogs or wolves,(ii) however, conflicting statements suggest their origins can be traced back to a south Asian variety of wolf.(iii)

Dingoes are built for hunting, are very adaptable and howl rather than bark. Feeding on mainly wallaby and kangaroo as well as other small animals, they tend to hunt at sunrise and sunset when their prey are the most active. 

They are intelligent, playful and curious and have been valued by Aboriginal people as hunting aides, spiritual and physical protectors and companions. Dingoes are sometimes considered part of society and in particular areas they are thought to be reincarnated ancestor spirits. The significance of the dingo endures as dances, songs and tales based on this creature continue to be performed in ceremony.(iv)

Dingo reminds us to take risks, to be adaptable and to keep our eyes and ears peeled for opportunities that may present themselves.

Totemica_Dingo_Distribution

Habitat and Distribution

You can find dingoes across most of Australia, but not in Tasmania. Dingoes are threatened by habitat loss, cross-breeding with wild domestic dogs and persecution. It is rare to find a pure dingo as 90% of the wild dogs in Australia are cross-bred.(v) 

The dingo has been listed as 'Vulnerable' with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.(vi) They are native animals under Federal law but are still considered a pest by some and sadly people don’t discriminate between a real dingo and a wild dog.


(i) Australian Museum, australianmuseum.net.au/dingo
(ii) Australian National Geographic, www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/wildlife/2014/04/dingo-declared-a-separate-species
(iii) Australian Museum, australianmuseum.net.au/dingo
(iv) AMRRIC, amrric.org/news/dingoes-and-dogs-indigenous-culture
(v) Dingo Conservation, www.dingoconservation.org.au/index.html
(vi) Australian Museum, australianmuseum.net.au/dingo


Animal Guide: Echidna

Claire Orrell

Totemica_Australian_Animal_Echidna

Echidna says: It’s ok to ask for help 

Echidnas are the oldest surviving mammal alive today and have relatives in New Guinea.(i) They mainly eat ants and termites, using their snout to sniff out the insects or detect their electrical impulses. The echidnas strong claws help them to dig for prey and their long, sticky tongue catches it so they can gobble them up.

Echidnas are very independent, solitary animals that travel long distances looking for food. They are covered in sharp quills that they use for defence and bury themselves into the ground, only exposing their spines, when they sense danger.

Only during mating season do echidnas come together and the resulting babies, called puggles, stay with their mother for around 8-10 months. Sometimes when we are busy and on a mission, we forget that we don’t need to do everything alone. We are part of something larger and there may be others who can help us on our path. 

Totemica_Echidna_Distribution

Habitat and Distribution

Echidnas live all over Australia in a wide range of habitats, but are rarely seen.


(i) Wildcare, wildcare.org.au/species-information/echidnas/


Animal Guide: Quoll

Claire Orrell

Totemica_Australian_Animal_Quoll

Quoll says: there's magic in the moonlight

Quoll are a species of carnivorous marsupial about the size of a cat (on average). There are four species of quoll, all with distinctive spotted bodies, lively eyes and bright pink noses.

Mainly active at night, quoll spend much of their time hunting alone for insects and small animals in the moonlight. The quoll reminds us that not everything worth knowing is in plain sight– there is much to learn and discover in the shadows of night.

Totemica_Quoll_Distribution

Habitat and Distribution

Once common, quoll numbers are now greatly reduced due to habitat loss and predators such as dogs, cats and foxes. The quoll above is an Eastern Quoll, and is considered extinct on mainland Australia but is luckily still widespread in Tasmania where it is protected.(i) 

The Spotted-Tailed Quoll is also found in Tasmania and sometimes on the east coast of mainland Australia. The Northern Quoll is now mainly found in parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland,(ii) and The Western Quoll has only patchy distribution in some forests in south-west Western Australia.(iii)


References
(i) Parks and Wildlife Tasmania, www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=4774
(ii) Australian Wildlife, www.australianwildlife.org/wildlife/northern-quoll.aspx
(iii) Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation, www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/images/documents/plants-animals/animals/animal_profiles/chuditch_2012.pdf


Animal Guide: Bilby

Claire Orrell

Totemica_Australian_Animal_Bilby

Bilby says: I turn darkness into light

If you’re lucky enough to come across a bilby in the wild you’ll notice that it’s a very shy and nervous creature with beautiful long pink ears.

The bilby lives in areas where it can hide amongst the grass to keep safe from predators before vanishing into its burrow. They forage for food such as termites, spiders and seeds, under the cover of darkness.

The bilby reminds us not to let our fears get the better of us and that a shift in our mindset can lift the heaviness of worry.

Totemica_Bilby_Distribution

Habitat and Distribution

Over the last 100 years, bilby numbers have rapidly declined due to increased competition for food, from livestock and the introduction of rabbits, and non-native predators like cats and foxes.

Bilbies used to be found across more than 70% of mainland Australia(i) but are now only seen in the desert regions of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.(ii)

Bilbies are listed as ‘Endangered’ in Queensland and ‘Vulnerable’ nationally.(iii)


References
(i) Save the Bilby Fund
(ii) Australian Wildlife, www.australianwildlife.net.au/pdf/bilby/AWS_Project_Bilby.pdf
(iii) Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection www.ehp.qld.gov.au/wildlife/threatened-species/endangered/endangered-animals/bilby.html


Animal Guide: Wombat

Claire Orrell

Totemica_Australian_Animal_Wombat

Wombat says: trust yourself

The solid, round body of a wombat is hard to miss if you come across one on your travels. Wombats are champion burrowers, digging large complex tunnels into the soil with their powerful paws and cutting through blockages with big, strong front teeth. 

They usually give birth to only one young at a time, which lives for 8–9 months in the pouch. Cleverly, a wombat's pouch faces backwards to avoid getting filled with dirt as they dig.

Wombat’s bottoms are very tough and they use them to fearlessly block their burrows from attackers and protect themselves and their young. They can also crush an adversary against the roof of the tunnel if necessary.

Totemica_Wombat_Distribution

Habitat and Distribution

There are three species of Wombat, the Hairy-Nosed Wombat, the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat and the Bare-Nosed Wombat.

All wombat species face conservation threats, but the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat is critically endangered. Their numbers declined after settlers introduced grazing animals and rabbits which compete with the wombats for grass. Today there are only 200 left.(i)


References
(i) The Wombat Foundation, www.wombatfoundation.com.au


Animal Guide: Tasmanian Devil

Claire Orrell

Totemica_Australian_Animal_TasmanianDevil

Tasmanian Devil says: you’re stronger than you think

Tasmanian Devils come out to play at night, roaming their turf and scavenging for food. Their loud screeching and rowdy group feeding has lent them their name, and a fierce reputation. Powerful jaws and teeth allow them to eat every part of their prey leaving nothing behind. They aren’t picky when it comes to their meals, eating whatever meat they find.

Tasmanian Devils are the world's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and have been through many trials during their long history. Their strength, adaptability and resourcefulness has surely helped them. Tasmanian Devils reminds us that, under pressure, we have more strength and endurance than we might realise.

Totemica_TasmanianDevil_Distribution

Habitat and Distribution

Although once found on mainland Australia, for the last approx. 400 years they have been solely found in Tasmania. When European settlers arrived in Tasmania the devils were treated as pests, being poisoned and trapped, until in 1941 a law was passed to protect them. 

They can be found all over Tasmania and enjoy living in areas with good hiding places to disappear into during daylight hours.

Unfortunately the devil's status has been upgraded to 'Endangered'. Their greatest threat today, is the fatal Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) which has considerably reduced their numbers.(i)


Reference
(i) Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania, www.parks.tas.gov.au/?base=387


Animal Guide: Koala

Claire Orrell

Totemica_Australian_Animal_Koala_Asleep

Koala Says: listen to your dreams

Koalas spend nearly all their time way up in the branches of their beloved eucalyptus tree home, eating leaves and sleeping precariously far from the ground. Koalas can snooze up to 18 hours a day, think of all the dream realms they could go in this time! It is believed that koalas can gather knowledge and answers whilst in this state, which they can bring back to help us in this reality.(i)

Totemica_Australian_Animal_Koala_Awake

 Koala Says: I’ll protect you

Young koalas stay cosy and protected in mums safe pouch. Joeys spend 6 months cuddled up, feeding on milk, before leaving the pouch and being introduced to eucalyptus leaves. In this way koalas also embody the characteristics of nurturing and security. 

Like other native Australian animals, Koalas feature in many Aboriginal myths and legends. Several tribes saw the koala as a wise animal, seeking its help: 

The Native Bear, Kur-bo-roo, is the sage counselor of the Aborigines in all their difficulties. When bent on a dangerous expedition, the men will seek help from this clumsy creature, but in what way his opinions are made known is nowhere recorded. He is revered if not held sacred.(ii)

Habitat and Distribution

Koalas live in eucalypt forests and eat only a certain species of tree. The koala can be found from northern Queensland to southern Victoria and in some areas of South Australia, although, they are less common in New South Wales than they once were. 

Sadly, today, the koala’s precious trees are under threat from human settlement and habitat loss. They are listed as a 'Vulnerable Species' and need our help keep their homes.(iii)


References
(i) Alexander King, Scott. Animal Dreaming. Blue Angel Publishing, 2007. p.53
(ii) Smyth, R. Brough. The Aborigines of Victoria, 1878.
(iii) The Australian Museum, http://australianmuseum.net.au/koala


THAR DESERT, INDIA: How I spent two days atop a camel and what I learned along the way…

Claire Orrell

Camels weaving their way through the foliage of the Thar Desert © Claire Orrell 2015

Camels weaving their way through the foliage of the Thar Desert © Claire Orrell 2015

A camel in all his finery, love the blankets. © Claire Orrell 2015

A camel in all his finery, love the blankets. © Claire Orrell 2015

A bit of light exercise! © Claire Orrell 2015

A bit of light exercise! © Claire Orrell 2015

A resting, smiley camel in the Thar Desert © Claire Orrell 2015

A resting, smiley camel in the Thar Desert © Claire Orrell 2015

A yummy dinner being prepared © Claire Orrell 2015

A yummy dinner being prepared © Claire Orrell 2015

I wasn't a natural on a pachyderm I can tell you, (in fact I was terrified!), but when the guide put one of his boy-helpers on the camel with me I started to relax and enjoy the journey. The scenery in the Thar Desert (Rajasthan, India) was magnificent. I'm always surprised that a giant expanse of sand, which at first thought might sound monotonous, is actually so full of life and variation, especially as the sun moves through the sky, changing the light and shade. Camping out under the stars that night was heart-breakingly beautiful. If my bum hadn't been so sore I think I could have stayed out there a lot longer!

The thing that struck me the most (apart from the Camels' amazing finery and decoration) was the obvious love that the guides had for the animals.

'According to myth, the camel was created by Lord Shiva at the behest of his consort Parvati. Parvati shaped a strange five-legged animal from clay and asked Shiva to blow life into it. At first Shiva refused, saying that the misshapen animal will not fare well in the world, but later gave in. He folded the animal's fifth leg over its back giving it a hump, and commanded it to get up, uth . That is how the animal got its name. The camel then needed someone to look after it, so Shiva rolled off a bit of skin and dust from his arm and made out of this the first Raika. Historically, the Raika of Rajasthan have had a unique and enduring relationship with camels. Their entire existence revolves around looking after the needs of these animals which, in turn, provide them with sustenance, wealth and companionship…'

— Camel Karma : Twenty Years Among India's Camel Nomads, Ilse Kohler-Rollefson

 

ISTANBUL, TURKEY: Secret Beauty

Claire Orrell

Harem — to me, the word gives off an air of mystery and a touch of the exquisitely exotic followed by the heavy scent of eroticism and an aftertaste of dread. Originally meaning forbidden in Arabic, the Harem was an off-limits area only available to the Sultan and his sons. 

Having read this book set in the Imperial Harem of the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, I was excited to visit this intriguing place first hand.

One of the most famous harems, it existed during the Ottoman Empire and was made up of wives, female relatives, concubines and the eunuchs who supervised. Head of the harem was the Valide Sultan (Queen Mother) who held a lot of power over the relationships between her son and the women and sometimes got involved in political issues.

Beautiful women were captured as slaves, gifted or brought in from around the empire and it's surrounds to become concubines. There were up to 1,000 women in the Harem and once inside, they couldn't leave. They were educated in academic subjects, singing, dancing, music and the skills needed to become a concubine and pleasure the sultan. 

The women that were chosen to lie with the Sultan could climb in status to become a Favourite, a Fortunate or a Wife and if they were lucky, bear his children. The ultimate aim — to become the mother of the next Sultan, the subsequent Valide Sultan. You can only imagine the competition, backstabbing (literally) and scandals that must have gone on.

You enter the Harem through a small gate in the main palace into a maze of enclosed corridors, walled courtyards and dazzlingly decorated chambers. Some of the most stunning areas are the twin kiosks, the chambers of the Crown Prince. These are also known as the gilded cage as the Prince lived here in seclusion, sometimes for many years.

The decoration in the Harem is breathtaking but I'm sure such beauty faded quickly for those  trapped inside.

I hope you enjoy my photos… I got a bit carried away with the tiles :)

The Courtyard of the Eunuchs  © Claire Orrell 2015

The Courtyard of the Eunuchs  © Claire Orrell 2015

The Imperial Hall © Claire Orrell 2015

The Imperial Hall © Claire Orrell 2015

© Claire Orrell 2015

© Claire Orrell 2015

Twin Kiosk / Apartments of the Crown Prince © Claire Orrell 2015

Twin Kiosk / Apartments of the Crown Prince © Claire Orrell 2015

Harem2.jpg
© Claire Orrell 2015

© Claire Orrell 2015

© Claire Orrell 2015

© Claire Orrell 2015

© Claire Orrell 2015

© Claire Orrell 2015

Decorative doorway © Claire Orrell 2015

Decorative doorway © Claire Orrell 2015

View across the Bosphorus © Claire Orrell 2015

View across the Bosphorus © Claire Orrell 2015

ANGKOR WAT, CAMBODIA: Citadel of Women

Claire Orrell

Visiting the temple complex of Angkor was a humbling and breathtaking experience. The entire site sprawls over 400km2 and is home to over 100 temples built between 802 and 1220 AD by the Khmer people.

Packed into a dusty tuktuk with an enthusiastic driver I was lucky enough to visit around 6 of these magnificent crumbling monuments over a couple of days.

The first temple I visited was the beautiful Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women), originally called Tribhuvanamaheśvara (Great Lord of the Threefold World), dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Created on a much smaller scale than many of the other temples at Angkor, it is intricately carved from a dusky orange-pink sandstone. The amazingly well preserved decorative walls and lintels display scenes from Mahabhārata, demi-goddess (devatas) and monsters. Walking through the temple in the early morning sunlight was a moving experience, I hope you get a small taste of this from my photographs!

I'm not entirely sure what's happening on this carving but perhaps it is Kala (a monster that represents time) trying to get the better of our Shiva — not likely! © Claire Orrell 2014

I'm not entirely sure what's happening on this carving but perhaps it is Kala (a monster that represents time) trying to get the better of our Shiva — not likely! © Claire Orrell 2014

View of Banteay Srei through the encroaching jungle. © Claire Orrell 2014.

View of Banteay Srei through the encroaching jungle. © Claire Orrell 2014.

Carving depicting a scene from the Ramayan: Sugrīva lures Vali out of the city by challenging him to a fight. On the right you can see Ram about to shoot and kill Vali with an arrow. © Claire Orrell 2014.

Carving depicting a scene from the Ramayan: Sugrīva lures Vali out of the city by challenging him to a fight.
On the right you can see Ram about to shoot and kill Vali with an arrow. © Claire Orrell 2014.

Banteay Srei details, © Claire Orrell 2014

Banteay Srei details, © Claire Orrell 2014

Carving showing a scene from the Mahabarata: the burning of Khāṇḍava Forest over which Indra was a protecting deity, by Arjuna and Vasudeva Krishna. © Claire Orrell 2014.

Carving showing a scene from the Mahabarata: the burning of Khāṇḍava Forest over which Indra was a protecting deity, by Arjuna and Vasudeva Krishna. © Claire Orrell 2014.

Doorway with kala, a monster that symbolises time, in Banteay Srei, © Claire Orrell 2014

Doorway with kala, a monster that symbolises time, in Banteay Srei, © Claire Orrell 2014

The Pleiades

Claire Orrell

I'd heard mention of the Pleiades before and the name always sounded alluring and magical. The cluster of stars, also known as the Seven Sisters and located in the constellation of Taurus, has had a special significance for many cultures dating back thousands of years. 

Most recently I read about the Pleiades in the book Awaken the Inner Shaman by Dr. José Luis Stevens. Here is a passage showing his thoughts on the significance of the Pleiades:

From the Dogon of West Africa to the Australian Aboriginals, the Maoris of New Zealand, the Hawaiians of the Pacific, the Incas of South America and the Mayas in Central America, all believe that humans were seeded from a planet orbiting the sun in the Pleiades… Scientists have been amazed that the Dogon people, living without plumbing or electricity, have calculated the exact dimensions to the Pleiades. When asked how they do it, their response is simply to say that they go to these places all the time.
— Awaken the Inner Shaman by Dr. José Luis Stevens

KAGBENI, NEPAL: Where the spiritual and mundane collide

Claire Orrell

Kagbeni (Upper Mustang, Nepal) was the farthest North I went on my trek around Annapurna and one of the most intriguing places I visited. Situated in a place of stunning natural beauty on the confluence of the Gandhaki and Kali Gandaki Rivers, the village's mud houses and dark alleyways are a joy to explore. Lingering evidence of the animist beliefs that existed pre Tibetan Buddhism can be found as well as the terrifying Buddhist creatures that decorate the Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery (established 1429).

Animism is often found amongst the beliefs of the world's indigenous people. Animists believe that the spiritual and mundane worlds are one and that humans as well as animals, plants and other natural phenomena such as rivers and mountains have souls or spirits.

Check out the Nepali film Kagbeni for a creepy take on the region.

View over Kagbeni. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014

View over Kagbeni. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014

Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014

Kag Chode Thupten Samphel Ling monastery. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014

Creatures in the monastery. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014

Creatures in the monastery. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014

A Kagbeni Street complete with prayer wheels, flags and mountains beyond. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014

A Kagbeni Street complete with prayer wheels, flags and mountains beyond. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014

An animist totem above a door in Kagbeni. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014

An animist totem above a door in Kagbeni. Photograph © Claire Orrell 2014