Wings clipped by red tape

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2007, 12:00am

Hong Kong does not have an official bird. We should have, and it ought to be the ubiquitous black kite that soars so effortlessly in our skies. It is an efficient hunter and effective scavenger, a raptor of grace and beauty. With an average wingspan of 1.7 metres, the kite rides the thermals above hills and bays in its ceaseless hunt for food. Sometimes it lets out a piercing shriek. The most common hunting bird in Hong Kong, it glides through urban skyscrapers and over the rural ranges.

The kite's strong beak, grasping talons and the power of its wings make it a formidable creature, yet it is so common a sight, it is usually taken for granted.

The Sai Kung Association wants to educate people about this bird of prey. It hopes to get schools to sign up for informal, fun lectures where students can learn about the birds that wheel above their schools and homes. It also wants the public to understand the kite. But plans for the first Hong Kong Black Kite Festival, originally scheduled for last month, have been frustrated because of government red tape. Permission to hold informative talks on the Sai Kung waterfront were rejected by the killjoys at the Lands Department.

'Naturally, we are disappointed,' said Sai Kung Association chairwoman Prudence Lui Lai-kuen. 'We have had to reschedule for March. Hopefully we will, by then, be able to get permission.'

The association had invited schools to weekend seminars to learn about the black kites, to help foster knowledge about ecology and conservation. The seminars were to be held next weekend on the waterfront near Sai Kung pier.

In conjunction with the Eco-education and Resource Centre, the Sai Kung group plans to provide nature experts to stage displays in schools, with lectures in either Cantonese or English. These include veteran ecologists James Wong Ming and Stanley Chan Kam-wai, who have for many years been photographing and documenting Sai Kung's wildlife treasures. 'These lectures include many photos showing kites in their habitat, flying and feeding,' said Mr Wong. 'We can do these in classrooms or get teachers to bring students to sites like the waterfront.'

This free programme hinged on holding the festival on the waterfront in December, when the local kite population is swollen each year by migrating birds from the mainland. Organisers had hoped to set up a display of illustrated panels on the waterfront, with lecturers pointing out kites and explaining their habits.

But they did not reckon on the tortuous procedures needed to get permission. Judy Love Eastham, an association member and publisher of Explore Sai Kung magazine, said trying to stage the festival was a frustrating exercise because of cumbersome government systems.

'It took many days for departments to look at the application and decide that it was not their responsibility,' she said. 'Numerous departments have to approve the plea. Then the Lands Department ruled that only registered charitable bodies can book locations under its jurisdiction.'

It seems a huge pity that such a desirable event has to go through such tediously relentless procedures to educate the public about an icon of our city. The Lands Department needs to wake up. It is supposed to be a servant of the people, not a bossy master.

Kevin Sinclair is a Hong Kong reporter who lives in the New Territories