Stranded cows in Kaikoura Earthquake

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Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Kaikoura, stunning aerial images have surfaced of torn up roads and landslides. Yet while reports of daredevil skaters making the most of new territory have appeared in the news, there have also been some less-than-willing adrenalin seekers. I am referring to the cows that ended up stranded on quake islands.

Landslides in this area turned paddocks into a sea of shifting earth and grass. Amidst the chaos of sliding earth and unstable terra firma, we now have surfing cows. As strange as it is, it seems that the animals who call these paddocks their homes had no option but to surf the wild and rolling soils.

Just how many animal casualties there are we do not know, but one photo of two stranded cows and a calf proved that some managed to stand strong. They dug their hooves into the earth of a grassy quake island some 2.5 metres high. And the aerial image of this incredulous scenario has gone viral.

Although the cows have now been rescued from their tenuous position, this fascinating image sparked global interest in their plight. Many commentators expressed interest that these cows be saved.

Animal rights group Peta Australia even issued a statement requesting that the cows are now allowed to retire at a sanctuary for life after their ordeal. Retirement might seem a little premature, however, as these animals are not likely to be very old. No animal survives for long in the farming industry.

Which brings me to a very slippery point. Even though I sincerely wish for a burger-free future for these cows, I can’t help but marvel at the selective compassion this photo has generated. As Ashely Fruno, associate director of campaigns at Peta remarked, “whether used for their milk or their flesh, in the end all cows are crammed onto trucks and transported to abattoirs where their throats are slit and they are skinned and gutted”.

Of course Fruno is right. It is the rather inconvenient truth of animal agriculture that to eat meat an animal must die. Across the world, day in and out, sunrise and sunset, millions upon millions of cows (just like the three on the quake island) are born and raised just to be killed at a fraction of their natural lifespan. They are stranded in paddocks or feedlots with fences, unable to get out, facing a future that ends on someone’s plate.

The animals who somehow make an extraordinary splash into our human consciousness by getting into the media often have us cheering for them. Such is the case of the cow who jumped overboard from a live export ship in Freemantle this week. Sunrise shared footage of this incident declaring that the cow ‘deserved’ to live after such a heroic dash for freedom. Currently this cow is still at large having successfully evaded rangers.

But not all cows are so lucky. Stories of animals escaping slaughterhouse trucks only to be gunned down by police leave us deflated. The poor bull in Eggenfelden Germany earlier this year who got shot in a supermarket after escaping an overturned truck must have known nothing but terror. And who can forget the cow who was shot by police in August 2015 after running loose down a street in Whangarei.

We empathise and we care. Most of us don’t want to see animals suffer unnecessarily. And so we don’t want to see the three cows die slowly on a quake island. Their lives have become sensationalised – they now have our attention.

I’d like to suggest we hold onto that empathy, give animals our full attention for every day, every sunrise and sunset, and not just the odd one that filters into our consciousness. The modern animal agriculture system is brutal in many respects. If we want to be truly humane to animals it is time to rethink about what we subject animals too during everyday life.

Keep animals off your plate and in your hearts. For it shouldn’t take an earthquake to jolt us awake enough to perceive an animal’s sentience.

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