New taskforce to examine problem of Lantau's cattle

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 August, 2006, 12:00am

The Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department will establish a taskforce next month to seek a long-term solution to rein in Lantau's feral cattle.

It will comprise district councillors, legislators, NGOs, residents and government officials who will try to find alternatives to the current practice - a combination of laissez-faire and mass culls.

The announcement comes after villagers from Mui Wo complained last month of hygiene and safety issues arising from their bovine visitors and an e-mail campaign instigated by local green groups to prevent a repeat of last year's slaughter of about 24 cows.

Green groups say the animals are popular with children and tourists, and play an important role in the local ecosystem.

But villagers say they are at the end of their tether, accusing the cows of raiding farms, creating traffic hazards and posing a danger to children.

'We don't want to kill the cows,' said Mui Wo Rural Committee member Tsang Wan-fu. 'We also find them quite endearing. But they eat our crops, especially tung choi. Most farmers are part-time and can't afford to build big, expensive fences to keep them out.

'They lock horns in narrow alleys and charge all over the place. It's like we are in the middle of a Spanish bull run. They block roads, knock people off bicycles, leave their faeces everywhere.'

Mr Tsang said lack of grazing in the hills used to drive the herd's migration to Mui Wo every winter but in the past two years the cows had become permanent residents. 'The cows are not healthy. They go to barbecue areas begging for pork chops and chicken wings or picking them out of rubbish bins. That can't be good - cows are not supposed to eat meat. We have all heard of mad cow disease.'

The Living Islands Movement's feral cattle specialist, Sally Bunker, said the conservationists understood the residents' concerns.

'We realise the locals do not want the cows in Mui Wo. We have to talk openly with them and find a way to compromise.'

Mrs Bunker said the cows had initially come to town after a fire outside Discovery Bay had destroyed much of their grazing ground on the hills, but last year's cull had made matters worse because the herd leaders were killed.

'Now they have no leader to take them back up to the hills.'

She proposes the cows be relocated to a grassy hill near Shek Pik Reservoir, where they could be fenced in.

Last year there were an estimated 230 stray cattle on south Lantau and about 1,100 across the whole of the New Territories, a legacy of Hong Kong's agricultural past.

Billy Hau Chi-hang, a professor in the ecology and biodiversity department at the University of Hong Kong, said the cows had no conservation value, citing studies that suggest they may facilitate the spread of alien species, including the pervasive mile-a-minute weed. 'From an animal welfare point of view, sterilisation would be a more acceptable method of containing their population than culling.'