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Jean Leung: Buffalo Whisperer

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When crossing the Pui O wetlands, you’ll often see a tiny figure, basket in hand, calling out to the water buffalo. Jean Leung, Pui O’s own buffalo whisperer, has been tending to the herd for over 11 years, watching out for the sick or injured and providing food for those that cannot get enough to eat by themselves.

Over time a bond of trust has developed and so the buffalo make a beeline in Jean’s direction as soon as they hear her call. They are always keen to inspect the contents of today’s basket – apple and orange are favourites, closely followed by pear, guava and pomelo. Like many Pui O villagers, Jean loves to have the buffalo as part of her daily life but their existence has long been under threat due to the landfilling, construction and waste dumping that continues unabated in the wetlands. This loss of the buffalo’s protected habitat is a sign that something is wrong in Hong Kong and the balance between making money and conserving nature has tipped inexorably to the former.

Buffalo grazing in Lo Wai

Jean, a native of Cheung Chau, first came to Pui O 31 years ago. After a long career in property management she was looking forward to retirement, dreaming of country walks, painting and putting her feet up. Then, one day, something happened that would change her life forever – the arrival of Ngau Ngau.

“Ngau Ngau took shelter in my garden in September 2009 and would not move,” Jean recalls. “His leg was badly swollen and the hip joint misshapen. Vets said there could be several fractures and that Ngau Ngau might not make it.” Determined to give Ngau Ngau the best possible chance, Jean gave him a home. Over time he began to stand and shuffle gently on the spot, clear signs that the treatment was working and his massive hip and thigh were beginning to knit back together.

As to how Ngau Ngau sustained his injuries nobody is entirely sure. That he had been fighting, in a vain attempt to retain control of the Shap Long herd, was confirmed by other injuries on his body but vets advised it would be rare for a leg or hip to be broken in such encounters. “Maybe Ngau Ngau was hit by a van or car,” Jean says. “We’ll never know for sure.”

Ngau Ngau’s rehabilitation took over seven months but finally he was fit enough to return to his herd on Shap Long Hill – a bittersweet day for Jean. On his journey home, however, he was challenged by the new dominant male and forced to retreat to Lo Wai. There, since he was not seeking to be herd leader, Ngau Ngau found a new home but, troubled by his leg, he couldn’t put in the yards needed to find adequate grazing. Fortunately, Jean had been watching out for Ngau Ngau and this is when she started bringing
him a daily basket of fruit.

So began Jean’s journey as a whisperer, getting to know what makes the buffalo tick, how they communicate and what their lives entail. Reporting by Martin Lerigo and photos by Duey Tam


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