A water buffalo stands at the entrance to one of Hong Kong’s iconic tourist sites, the Big Buddha on Lantau Island, keeping still as a couple walk up to it and pose for pictures. On the other side of the island, a woman pours fried rice, peanuts and pork in front of a brown cow, saying she fears it might starve to death if she does not feed it.
These scenes, recently broadcast on a local television programme, have triggered a debate over a long-standing problem in Hong Kong – feral cattle roaming the streets. The presence of these animals in the city is a result of rapid development, which has blurred the lines between the countryside and urban areas, leading various species of wildlife, including water buffaloes, to wander into human territory.
The bovines were once widely used by local farmers to plough paddy fields, up until the 1970s, when they were abandoned due to the decline of agricultural activities. Nowadays, the animals pose a public nuisance and can cause traffic accidents in urban areas despite the government’s cross-district relocation scheme, which aims to prevent them from entering residential areas.
Ho, of the Lantau Buffalo Association, said the relocation plan was ineffective. The scheme showed the government had failed to recognise that unlike any other stray animals, feral cattle knew their way home and would try to use familiar road networks to return to town centres, the NGO head said.
In 2014, the AFCD moved 29 stray cattle from Sai Kung to the Shek Pik Reservoir area on Lantau. Another 21 were relocated from Lantau to Sai Kung. The idea was that rehoming the cows would prevent them roaming into urban areas and causing a nuisance to residents or drivers. But reality says otherwise.
In May 2016, a brown cow in Sai Kung was euthanised after it was hit by a taxi, breaking one of its legs. Four months later, a pregnant brown cow was hit by a taxi in the same district. Daxon, of the Tai O Community Cattle Group, said: “We monitor the cows of South Lantau every day. If an injury or health issue is found or reported, for example if a cow needs its horns trimmed, we contact the AFCD.”
Daxon added that excessive hay feeding of these cows discourages them from their natural ability to forage for grass and leaves, adding to the problem of them relying on the community for food.
When asked about Billy, Daxon emphasised the bull was “let down by the community and that he should never have been kept in Pui O with the buffaloes”. The tragedy could have been prevented if he had been kept from being fed by tourists and away from rubbish bins.