Our bus weaves down South Lantau Road, the artery which stretches for over 8 kilometers along the southern edge of Lantau Island. There’s a bend in the road, and then out of nowhere a herd of some 20 cows springs into view. Five of them lie on the main road, totally unconcerned that they’re blocking one of the two lanes. Unfazed, the driver slows down and steers his wheels around the cattle. Villager Chan Chau-wing, born and bred in the villages of South Lantau, says that’s just how things roll in the area. Cattle herds spend summer nights on traffic roads, since the concrete is actually much cooler than the grass patches up on the mountain. Most local drivers have learned where the cows’ favorite spots are and know to take care. But not all. In the morning hours of June 5, locals found eight cows dead or dying on the section near Upper Cheung Sha beach off the South Lantau Road, after a hit-and-run. “It chilled my bones,” Chan says. “They’re part of Lantau too.” The mere scale of the incident sparked anger and debate on the worsening living conditions of Lantau’s cattle. But this is nothing new. It’s just taken eight lives for the rest of Hong Kong to take notice. What Are We Lacking? According to government figures, there are 280 cattle and a smattering of water buffalo on Lantau. The government’s cattle management team, set up in 2011, claims it has been regulating the cow population by neutering male cattle and conducting a “detailed survey” of the cattle’s distribution and behavior. But chairwoman of the Lantau Buffalo Association (LBA) Ho Loy, who has campaigned for better cattle management for eight years, says it’s not enough. Because cows are still dying, more every year, from poisioning, old age—and car crashes. The island needs rules to regulate its human residents—not the cows. Currently, road accidents are the number one reason that Lantau cattle die—and that includes natural causes. Although there are no statistics available before 2012—the LBA only took up recording cattle deaths last year and the government doesn’t keep a record—the figures are already startling. Roughly 11 cows were killed in car accidents in 2012. To date this year, excluding the eight cows killed in the hit-and-run, there have been nine car-crash-related deaths already. It’s not enough to be a statistic, but it is enough to be worrying. The cows should not be obstructing traffic roads then, you may argue. But Mark Mak, animal rights activist and president of the Hong Kong Non-Profit-Making Veterinary Clinic, says cows have been crossing and sleeping on roads for more than 20 years. What’s changed is the increased population, and with it the increased traffic. More road accidents are happening because more people are moving to the area, and Ho says new drivers do not know the roads well enough to go slower, in case of any cattle surprises. Michael Ho is an agent at Findley Leung Properties, which specializes mostly in South Lantau houses. He says the island’s population has nearly doubled in the last four years, as more people move in—particularly from Discovery Bay, where prices have surged. The presence of illegal car-racing groups is also making the roads more dangerous. They sneak in during the night and early morning, when cows are usually on or near main roads. “The Tong Fuk and Cheung Sha section of the South Lantau Road is flat with a lot of bends, with almost no cars after dark since it’s a restricted zone,” says the LBA’s Ho, who’s lived in the area for more than eight years. “We used to hear engine sounds at night, but not so much now after the accident.” Mak says the most effective way to protect the cows is to install more speed cameras and surveillance cameras, which could document any accidents. To be fair, we did see at least four speed cameras and two CCTV cameras along South Lantau Road, but none in the sections that residents say are most frequented by speeding cars. The government seemed to agree, at first. After a June 16 meeting following the deaths of the eight cattle, the police promised to look into setting up more speed cameras and traffic-slowing measures. But on July 3, Secretary for Food and Heath Ko Wing-man told Legco that speed cameras would not be installed after all. Instead, he said, the eight “beware of cattle” road signs should do. The signs have been up for years already. Tougher Bovine Regulation? Now traffic control’s been ruled out, what’s next? The Food and Health Bureau is proposing a relocation of cows to designated grazing areas. Fences and cattle grids might also be installed to keep the cows within the site and off the main roads. Legislator Wong Kwok-hing, who sits on the committee, explains: “The problem is that we have cows wandering to main roads, posing a threat to both themselves and to drivers. What’s the use of installing traffic-control measures? The cows don’t see them.” Marco Tam, who’s called South Lantau his home for more than five years, thinks it’s a good idea. “I’ve got cow poop in front of my house, and they block the road.” The LBA’s Ho says it goes against the cattle’s natural nomadic behavior. But more importantly the proposal, along with all existing policies, aims at controlling stray cows. This speaks to a bigger problem: the mentality that cows should make way for the island’s human residents. “The government goes: let’s desex the cows. Let’s put them somewhere. Keep them off the roads,” Ho says. “We shouldn’t look at them as intruders, because it’s we who are stepping on their grounds.” Making Cattle Welcome Thomas Feld, a resident of South Lantau for nine years, is visibly angry when he talks about how people should live with cows. “This is the cows’ place. Of course they should be allowed to roam wherever they want. If they piss you off, you should move away.” The LBA, together with Friends of Mui Wo Cattle, is working to build a shelter so that stray cows can choose to sleep there at night. There will only be water, fresh grass and a shelter from rain to get them off main roads. No fences or cattle grids. Ho acknowledges that it’s not enough. Road safety will be a problem so long as policies do not address people as the cause of the problem. But is it at all possible for us to see the cattle as equals—or at least to compromise? South Lantau’s Shui Hau village offers a glimpse of hope that yes, it’s possible. In front of most houses sits a big bucket of water. It seems odd at first, until you realize the water is for the cows, a friendly gesture to welcome the gentle giants into the village. Villagers scoop up cow manure and recycle it into fertilizer with the help of the LBA. The cows, in turn, have learned to make peace with man. Go up to the big guys all you want; it will surprise you how tame they are. They’re just happy to get along.