Villagers race to save Bali cows from volcanic oblivion
Bali's gently lowing cows, prised for their hardiness and doe-like temperament, won't become victims of the tropical island's menacing Mount Agung volcano if villager Wayan Sudarma has any say in it.
A proud owner of 21 cows, Sudarma has been venturing daily into the no-go zone around the Indonesian volcano on a mission to rescue at least some of the estimated 20,000 cattle still grazing on its potentially lethal slopes.
Experts say that is highly risky. Fast-moving hot clouds of ash, gas and rock fragments that explosive volcanoes such as Agung can expel would kill in seconds.
But Sudarma, who drives a past-its-prime truck into the so-called red zone to pick up cows when contacted by other villagers, said he isn't afraid.
"These are the only valuable belongings that are left in this situation," he said as some of the rescued light-brown beasts lounged behind him, chewing their cud and mooing contentedly.
"That's why we have to save them, so they can sustain our lives as farmers and remain our pride."
Authorities set the volcano's alert status to the highest danger level on September 22, and warnings that it could erupt anytime have sparked an exodus of more than 140,000 people.
Left behind, disaster officials estimate, were about 20,000 cattle. Another 10,000 were sold or taken with communities as they left during the panicked evacuations that followed the order to evacuate a radius around the volcano that extends to 12 kilometres (seven miles) in places.
Local government officials say they hope the shelter Sudarma is bringing cattle to will save villagers from big economic losses. Those that sold their cattle in a rush had to let them go for too little, they say.
Predominantly Hindu Bali is known for beaches, surf, artistic culture, and a lush, green interior that lures millions of visitors a year. And while tourism is an economic mainstay, farming is still crucial for many.
Bali cows are particularly valued by villagers because they have high disease resistance, grow well on low-quality fodder, and are temperamentally suited to close-quarters living with people and ploughing.