THE COWS OF SAI KUNG
“Oh cows….to the unlovely you bring beauty…you make our homestead joyful with pleasant lowing.” Rig Veda (4.28.1;6)
This statement was written hundreds of years ago in ancient India, but if you have ever seen the local cattle wandering along the waterfront in Sai Kung, you will know that those words are still true today. At the sight of a small herd, out come the mobile phones and cameras as people gather near these gentle creatures, especially if there are new born calves among them. “Ho dat yi.”
It is one of the joys of living in Sai Kung to occasionally come across a small group of cows by the roadside. Many of us have interrupted our walk home to gently escort a bull off the road or to help a calf find the gap in a fence to get to its calling mother. We have all been stuck in a bus while the driver patiently waits for straggling young calves to safely cross the street to join the adults.
At these times our world of ipads and smart phones and the next appointment falls away, and we have to be patient for a lovely moment. This is an important lesson that the cows of Sai Kung teach us- slow down.
Carol Biddell, from the group Sai Kung Buffalo Watch, told GoVeg that the cattle population in the Sai Kung and Lantau areas are descended from farm cows and buffalos. She said that in recent decades they have become as big a part of Sai Kung as the other animals of the area, such as birds, snakes, deer and turtles. However, being large animals and not being natural to the environment does cause problems. From time to time cattle numbers become too high and they can gather close to roads and villages, causing a danger to traffic and to themselves. Ms Biddell said that Sai Kung Buffalo Watch volunteers spend weekends getting treatment for injured cattle and also applying powder to protect the cows from “fly strike” (when flies lay eggs in an animal).
Currently there are some 800 cows in the Sai Kung area. Ms Biddell says that Sai Kung Buffalo Watch supports the efforts of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to control cattle numbers through a program of sterilization and relocation. Recently, for example, some of the Sai Kung cows were moved to Lantau for their own safety.
However, it is surely not just a matter of controlling cattle numbers. Our attitude to driving in the Sai Kung area is also a problem.
It seems that we cannot tame this strange beast, the car. We build more and more roads. When we get behind the wheel we weave between lanes to get to our destination as quickly as we can. We toot our horn or swear under our breath at the person who holds us up by driving too slowly or by failing to respond immediately to a green light.
The car needs to meet the cow and become a gentler, stronger beast, not so easily disturbed. When we enter the Sai Kung area we should know that cows may be on the roads and we need to be more like them and slow down, especially nearing a bend. Is that really too hard for us? When walking we slow down all the time, for the older person, for the person who is lost, or when the crowd is too big to move fast. So why is it so hard to slow down in a car?
Is our love affair with the car really so self centred that it cannot allow us to love anything else?
When you enter Sai Kung you are entering a slower place, a place of gentle rippling water, paddle boats and slow dining. You are entering a place where there is time for a child to draw in the sand and look for shells and where an adult can take three hours to hike over a hill to join friends for dim sum. You are entering a place where large gentle creatures live their lovely lugubrious lives among us.
It is not a choice between cars and cows. It is a choice to control cow numbers but also to control our car use, to not let speed and power close our hearts to the slow and vulnerable.
Mahatma Gandhi said the following words:
“Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world.”
When we decide to give up some of our power for the benefit of another, weaker being, isn’t when we are most powerful?
Sai Kung Buffalo Watch volunteers do this week in and week out.