A dog's life for stray cattle in Year of the Ox

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 January, 2009, 12:00am

With the Year of the Ox about to begin, you might think cows roaming the countryside will have it easy.

But for the 1,000-plus cows in Hong Kong, a life 'retired' from the hard work of farming continues to be a daily struggle - dodging speeding cars and sidestepping sharp-edged rubbish.

There are about 900 cows and 125 buffaloes here, most of them roaming in the west and north of the New Territories - Tsuen Wan, Tai Po and Sai Kung - and Lantau Island, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

On Lantau Island, construction waste abandoned by roadsides has become a minefield for wandering cows.

The Lantau Buffalo Association said an increasing number of cows have been injured by rubbish that includes concrete, broken metal bars, plastic sheets, wooden panels and nails.

'Such cases occur every month,' said Ho Loy, director of the animal-protection group. 'Cows easily cut their hoofs and skin when rummaging for food in places covered with such waste.'

The danger will continue into the new lunar year, with many houses on the island still being renovated, Ms Ho said.

Cows on the island are now protected, in an agreement the group reached with the government after years of lobbying.

The government had in the past culled animals that had damaged property or been a nuisance to households. Now it refers people's complaints to the association, which then works with residents to resolve the problem. The group plans to sterilise all male cattle and buffalo over four years old by mid year in an effort to keep their numbers stable.

'These animals have a right to exist in Hong Kong,' Ms Ho said.

'They can be our good friends as long as we help them find a way to get along with people and the environment.'

In Yuen Long, another cattle-lover has a challenge on her hands. Francesea Au Yeung Chui-yee, who runs a rescue farm for wandering cattle, has had trouble finding a new home for her 108 cows and buffaloes, most of which were saved from the slaughterhouse.

Since 2007, her cattle have suffered knife injuries and her water supply cut from time to time, she said. The perpetrators wanted the cattle moved, she said.

Ms Au Yeung has applied to the Lands Department for a new location for her farm, but has been rejected several times because residents near suggested new sites have objected to the cows' smell.

Meanwhile, more than 20 pieces of art featuring oxen were unveiled at an exhibition of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Art Museum yesterday.

The artworks, including paintings and stone carvings, date back to the Han dynasty (206BC to AD9). The exhibition will run until March 29 but is closed from this Sunday to next Wednesday.