'Of course we are afraid' - Brave Bali villagers risk it all to save cows despite threatening volcano

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Associated Press

Bali's cows, prized 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.

Hot clouds of ash, gas and rock fragments the volcano can expel would kill in seconds.
Source: Associated Press

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 thousands of cattle still grazing its potentially lethal slopes.

Experts say that is highly risky.

Fast moving incandescently hot clouds of ash, gas and rock fragments that explosive stratovolcanoes 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.

"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 it could erupt anytime have sparked an exodus of more than 140,000 people.

Left behind, disaster officials estimate, were about 20,000 head of 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 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.

Veterinarian Wayan Gunawan, who has also been going into the danger zone to help with cow evacuations, said the shelter will also stop his district's cattle population from collapsing.

The vet admits to some trepidation about getting close to the cloud shrouded cone-shaped volcano.

"Of course we are afraid," said Gunawan.

"But this is our duty. Our duty is to help the farmers with their cattle so they won't lose too much."

Scientists say Bali cows, found on several islands in Indonesia, are valuable genetically because they're a unique combination of bovine species that could be transplanted to other tropical regions.

The shelter, one of several set up, can hold up to 700 cows and currently has a little over 200 bovine residents.

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