Closure unfair, says Mai Po boss

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2007, 12:00am

WWF Hong Kong has accused the government of treating the Mai Po nature reserve unfairly.

The criticism came after it temporarily closed the reserve two weeks ago - the third time in three years - following the discovery of a dead wild bird infected with H5N1 outside the reserve.

Reserve manager Lew Young said that apart from the closure of the Bird Garden in Mong Kok for 18 days in June, other places where birds had been found carrying the deadly virus in the past few years had not been ordered to close.

Dr Young said the government had applied the policy inconsistently and was reluctant to close areas where any interests were at stake.

'Mai Po has become a soft target. The government seems to think it can be closed any time, and that no compensation for us would be OK,' he said. The reserve is managed by WWF Hong Kong.

'The little egrets will not protest against the closure of Mai Po. By contrast, if the government closes the Bird Garden, the stall owners will protest outside the Legislative Council the next day,' he said.

A sick grey heron, which caused the latest closure of Mai Po, was found near the MTR Lok Ma Chau spur line.

The government introduced a guideline last year requiring Mai Po to be closed if an infected dead bird with the H5 virus is found within 3km of the reserve. The rule also applies to the outdoor section of the Hong Kong Wetland Park and walk-in aviaries managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the rule was in line with the standard set by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

But Dr Young said that such an international standard was mainly used for poultry farms, which had a much higher density of birds compared with any nature reserve.

He said Mai Po had had to postpone 38 school tours and 39 public tours because of the closure.