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How Hong Kong’s ‘buffalo whisperer’ went from screaming and crazy to happy caring for animals

How Hong Kong’s ‘buffalo whisperer’ went from screaming and crazy to happy caring for animals
How Hong Kong’s ‘buffalo whisperer’ went from screaming and crazy to happy caring for animals

My sister saw a ghost in this house, but I’ve never seen one.

Jean Leung is known as the buffalo whisperer “because the buffaloes understand what I say”. Photo: Jean Leung

Glass law

The relationship with my parents was not good because they were very poor, had many children and had to work hard. They were always arguing.

I went to Cheung Chau Government School. When my older sister was 14, she started working in a factory, sewing underwear. I didn’t want to be a factory girl, so I studied enough to be able to stay in school.

My father learned to make and install windows and became known as “Glass Leung”. When the people of Lantau built a new house, they would call my father to install the windows.

My older brother started working with my father. During the holidays, we children helped dad carry the glass to the construction site. Once we got there, we played in the waterfalls, picked papayas and guavas from the trees and swam in the sea.

Fighting Girl

In 1960, Mui Wo was run by a mafia gang that controlled all of Lantau. They did a lot of things to scare the farmers.

I was the boss and five or six boys followed me. If I ever did something wrong and the teacher wanted to give me a cane, one of the boys would offer to take the punishment.

Jean Leung

The leader of the gang was very old. He sat next to a tree and as people passed him, they greeted him out of respect by calling him “Grandpa Number Nine.” When I was a kid and passed it on to my dad, I refused to do that. People couldn’t believe I dared to do that, they thought I was crazy.

When I was angry, I could be really mad. I became known as the “fighting girl” because I fought boys.

Suckers for punishment

We didn’t have a telephone at that time. I used to write messages from customers and forward them to my father. We had a good relationship.

I was tall. At nine years old, I looked like a 12-year-old and maybe I was a little pretty, too.

When I was in primary school, I was the boss and I was followed by five or six boys. If I ever did something wrong and the teacher wanted to give me a cane, one of the boys would offer to take the punishment.

Meeting with Thomas

I graduated from high school in 1971. My mother pushed me to get a job. I didn’t want to work in a factory, so I got a job at the Wing On department store.

Leung feeds a buffalo. Photo: Martin Lerigo

That’s when a friend explained to me that job offers were advertised in the classified section of the newspaper. I loved drawing, so I applied for a job as a designer at a company in the Man Yee Building in Central.

I earned HK$150 a month and gave HK$100 to my mother, which left me with only HK$50 for my ferry ticket, lunch and clothes.

My boss didn’t like us to eat in the office, so I ate lunch in an office downstairs. That’s where I met Thomas, who ran an architecture firm. He was 15 years older than me. He asked me to work for his company and offered to pay me more.

Thomas yelled at everyone, but he was very nice to me. He was married and had children. His wife wanted to move to Canada, but he didn’t and they argued a lot. Thomas separated from his wife and she and the children moved to Canada.

See red

In 1975 I went to Canada with Thomas and ran a store on Main Street in Vancouver for a while, selling baby clothes and other items. It was quiet and there weren’t many customers. Thomas would drive me to and from the store and he would go see his kids in between.

I called him Ngau Ngau, I treated his wound every day and brought him leaves, grass and bananas. He really liked oranges and apples

Jean Leung on the injured buffalo that changed his life

I didn’t like Canada. One day I crossed the road when the pedestrian light was red. An old man pulled me back with the hook of his umbrella and scolded me. This made me angry.

After a little over a year, I received money from my aunt in Toronto and bought a ticket to Hong Kong. A week later, Thomas returned to Hong Kong.

handyman

I saved some money and bought an apartment in Mui Wo for HK$270,000. I made a 10 percent down payment and Thomas paid the mortgage.

In 1982, the real estate market fell and Thomas’ business did not do as well. I went to work for Tong Kee Engineering as a contractor. I controlled the construction cost budget.

After five years, I really understood the job. I did a lot of work: I supervised the contractors, I drew up the plans and determined the materials we needed, I traveled to Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island to choose the tiles of mosaic, I took care of the insurance and I managed the payroll.

Budding tycoon

In 1988, I received an offer to help someone build a house in Cheung Fu Street, South Lantau Road. I was very happy about this Lunar New Year.

A buffalo at Shui Hau Wan, southern Lantau. Leung gives them food and sprays medicine on their wounds. Photo: Eugene Lee

Thomas encouraged me to learn about land law and I obtained my real estate license in 1996. We rebuilt and repaired houses on this site, earning a salary and a bonus. With this money, I built five houses in Shap Long, a village on Lantau Island, on land that Thomas negotiated from the government.

Over time, I bought shares in more houses. I used all my money, even the money I earned under my bed, and I sold all the land I had bought very cheaply and used it to build houses.

Until death do us part

When I retired, I lived with Thomas in a big house in Chi Ma Wan, Lantau, and we had 13 dogs.

In 2009, a buffalo with a broken leg entered my garden. I didn’t want to call the AFCD (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation) because they would have put him down, so, with the help of a veterinarian friend, I took care of him.

I called him Ngau Ngau, I treated his wound every day and brought him leaves, grass and bananas. He really liked oranges and apples, so I went to the market at the end of the day and collected the leftover spoiled fruit.

I told Ngau Ngau that I would take care of him forever. After a year his leg healed and he left my garden and went to the nearby Pui O wetlands.

Some people call me the “buffalo whisperer” because the buffalo understand what I say. If I tell a buffalo to go to a certain place at a certain time to feed it, it will be there

Jean Leung

Back then, locals would beat buffaloes if they came near their farms or gardens, so I painted his horns yellow to let everyone know he was my boy. I kept my promise to Ngau Ngau. I took care of him and gave him 30 pounds of food every day until he died last year.

Taking care of the herd

Thomas told me: “Only take care of one (buffalo), you’re not Superwoman.” But when I went to feed the Ngau Ngau in the wetlands, I saw other buffalo that were injured.

I saw a baby calf die during birth and no one cared, it made me so sad. I started treating the injured buffaloes, giving them food and spraying medicine on their wounds.

Thomas became very ill a few years ago. He spent a year and four months in the Hong Kong Sanatorium. It cost him 5 million Hong Kong dollars and he was still very ill, so he went to Canada two years ago to receive medical treatment.

Dare dream

Buffaloes live in the wetlands of Lantau, but wetlands become smaller and smaller. A lot of them are desexed, so there aren’t many babies. By my estimate, there are currently around 118 in Lantau.

Some people like buffalo and some people don’t. If you don’t like them, it doesn’t matter, but don’t hurt them.

Leung says she dreams of a bright future for the buffaloes. Photo: Dickson Lee

Taking care of these animals takes up a lot of my time but I have support to take care of them, people help me buy food and medicine.

I dream of a bright future for the buffalo – a future where they can increase their numbers, having more wetlands to graze on and public funds to ensure they are well maintained. But I’m a small woman, I can’t do everything.

I can’t give them a good future, I can only help them enjoy life now.

Buffalo Whisperer

Many of the buffaloes have known me since they were young and they really like me. Male buffaloes especially like me because I treat their wounds after a fight.

Some people call me the “buffalo whisperer” because the buffalo understand what I say. If I tell a buffalo to go to a certain place at a certain time to feed it, it will be there.

Before the buffalo, I only followed Thomas. I yelled at the contractors, I took care of my dogs and I might have looked like a crazy person, but when I started taking care of the buffaloes, I felt really happy.

I get so much joy from helping them when they are sick or injured. People tell me the buffalo are lucky to have me, but I say I’m lucky to have the buffalo.