Lantau’s bovine population is again making headlines following new moves to banish the herd to the uninhabited Soko Islands.
Fed-up with cattle related issues on what is Hong Kong’s largest island, rural chiefs and the Islands District Committee are lobbying government to remove Lantau’s cattle and buffalo herds.
This is despite earlier this year the government issuing the Sustainable Lantau Blueprint which calls for the conservation of rural Lantau’s cultural heritage and more specifically for the protection of Pui O wetland, which is the home to the local water buffalo herd.
At a recent Islands District Council meeting it was argued that the cows pose a danger to the public and to traffic on Lantau’s permit-only roads. Some sectors of the community are also reportedly angered by the animals trashing farmland and gardens.
But according to opponents of the herds’ removal, accidents caused by speeding traffic is much more of a problem than cattle on the roads.
“Sure there has been the odd incident (in 2013 a tourist was gored on Silvermine beach by a buffalo),” said Merrin Pearse, chairman of Living Islands Movement (livingislands.org.hk). “But I would counter that by saying what about the other wildlife? There are attacks on people involving feral dogs practically every month. So I would say while these incidents are certainly considerations, they are not issues.”
There are currently around five cattle and three buffalo herds roaming freely on Lantau. Historically, attempts to manage the population have been partially successful.
But the removal of the herd to the Soko Islands, which lie approximately 12 kilometres south of Lantau, presents its own issues for the animals which can weigh up to a tonne. “You’d need specially designed boats to carry them, regular monitoring by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which of course currently doesn’t exist out there,” said Pearse. “The islands are largely uninhabited, there’s limited water supply available and no wetland to support the cattle.”
In 2007, 16 buffalo and cattle died during transportation away from Lantau and in 2013 a cattle-swapping experiment between South Lantau and Sai Kung led to the death of two cows.
“We are opposed to any kind of forced removal of cattle,” said Lantau Buffalo Association in an online statement (facebook.com/LantauBuffalo). “It separates them from their traditional foraging trails and is psychologically stressful.”
A petition has now been set up. “With the government’s strong intentions to ‘develop’ Lantau Island, the cows and buffaloes to them are undoubtedly obstacles to be removed before any construction commence,” it states. “These cows and buffaloes are actually facing a grim future and disappearance from Lantau Island, unless appropriate conservation measures be taken.”
“It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again, with all that’s going on in Hong Kong, is a herd of cows really the biggest issue these people have to deal with?” said Pearse. “They are an important and much loved part of Lantau life. I would challenge any visitor who’s been up to see the Buddha and hasn’t come away with a picture of a cow.”
The online petition can be found at supporthk.org and is open for signatories until Dec 25.