Lantau's feral cows escape death sentence

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2006, 12:00am

Reprieve decided before outcry by Mui Wo residents against planned cull, says agriculture department

A cull of feral cows on Lantau has been called off at the last minute after outraged residents bombarded government officials with pleas for the animals' lives to be spared.

Dozens of Mui Wo residents sent e-mails after learning of plans to round up and cull cattle in Mui Wo following complaints they were ruining garden plots and causing a hazard to road users.

The mostly expatriate residents say the cows are popular with children and tourists and an important part of the local eco-system, keeping flora under control and helping maintain the wetland ecology.

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) officials confirmed yesterday a planned round-up had been cancelled but insisted the decision was taken before residents began their campaign to save the cows.

Mui Wo is home to a herd of only about 10 cows after a cull of about 24 last year brought an outcry from residents who described the killings as 'random' and demanded to be consulted over future round-ups.

Bob Bunker, chairman of the Lantau-based Living Islands Movement, said he organised the e-mail campaign after learning from AFCD officials late last week of an operation to round up the Mui Wo herd due to take place yesterday.

Mr Bunker said: 'We are not bleeding-heart animal lovers. There does need to be culling at times. When you have too many young adolescent males you have to cull some of them otherwise you get all kinds of fights breaking out.

'But you have got to study the herd and know what is what. The AFCD just come in and grab anything with horns.'

He accused the AFCD of 'responding to frivolous complaints' with the planned round-up. 'They were told someone had fallen off a bike because of a cow and were told, 'You have to kill them'.

'Does that mean we should have a cull of children in the village if one of them runs out in front of my bike? People like having the cows around. It is nonsense to say they are dangerous on the roads. If you hit a cow when you are driving, you are driving too fast. Police actually like having them around because they say they are like mobile speed bumps.'

Mr Bunker said a survey of more than 300 residents found that 98 per cent wanted to keep the feral cows. 'Some people say they make a mess and cause a smell,' he said. 'I say if you don't like rural smells, don't live in the countryside.'

There are an estimated 60 cows and 70 buffaloes on Lantau Island and a total of around 800 feral cows and buffaloes in Hong Kong as a whole, a legacy of the territory's agricultural past.

A spokesman for the AFCD confirmed that officials had been preparing for the cull.

However, he said: 'We did not detect a large number of cattle causing nuisance during our investigation. Therefore ... we have no plans to conduct a massive cattle-catching operation at this stage and will discuss the issues with the parties concerned before conducting such an operation.'