You can make a difference

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 August, 2006, 12:00am

Young people in Hong Kong will play a key role in deciding the destiny of the city's environment and developing awareness about conservation, says wildlife expert Brady Barr.

Hong Kong has a wide variety of habitats which contribute to the diversity of local fauna, especially birds and insects. However, green groups say wild mammals are declining in number because of the degradation or loss of habitats caused by urbanisation.

'I think young people can make a big impact,' says the American, who presents Crocodile Chronicles, a television show on National Geographic Channel.

'I once worked in Puerto Rico where there was a problem with locals stealing crocodile eggs. The numbers dwindled.

'We decided to give talks at schools and set up projects where children took care of young crocs and released them into the wild. After two years there was no more poaching because young people valued their existence.'

Dr Barr says the same thing can be done here with other animals.

'Young people can be a powerful tool in conservation. Once they learn about an animal, they like to share what they know,' he says. 'In Hong Kong, it could be the Cascade frog. Hands-on experience in school through a project can make a big impact.'

Dr Barr is a herpetologist - he studies reptiles and amphibians. He visited Hong Kong last week at the end of an Asian tour to promote conservation.

'There are endemic species in Hong Kong which are vulnerable to extinction, although they are not endangered,' he says.

'There are a lot of snakes here - and almost 100 reptile species. Some of the snakes are dangerous, and need extra protection. There is beautiful fauna, and a lot of cultural pride about the wildlife here.'

The Texan says he was inspired as a child by documentaries and visits to the zoo. He hopes the 61-hectare Wetland Park near Tin Shui Wai, in the New Territories, will help nurture a new generation of nature lovers.

'The Wetland Park is spectacular. It's not too gimmicky. It's cutting edge, a really wonderful place for the public to learn about nature, and it's right next to a huge metropolis,' Dr Barr says. 'People can look out of their windows and see a nature reserve, which is amazing.'

But the environment may not be the top priority for Hongkongers, he says.

'People are definitely conservation-minded here, but there is a struggle between the needs of people and the needs of animals. The number of people in Asia makes it hard to strike a balance,' Dr Barr says.

'In other countries, it's more a struggle for survival. If they don't hunt the endangered animals, their families might starve. In China, it's a matter of the need for resources, which creates pollution.'

The saga of the Yuen Long saltwater croc Pui Pui

shows Hong Kong people do have a fascination with wildlife, he adds.

'She kept eluding everyone, and became kind of mythical. I was surprised at the amount of publicity it got,' Dr Barr says. 'I was happy local people caught her in the end, and not a foreigner. She is a source of pride.'

Everyone has a responsibility to look after the environment and think about the future, he says.

'No-one wants to hear that it is all doom and gloom, but it is true that the planet is changing. I've seen it first-hand on my travels,' Dr Barr says.

'The eco-system, the water, the air, it's all changing. Is it good or bad? Only time will tell. We do need to be careful of the long-term ramifications of our behaviour.'