Advocates win reprieve for Mui Wo buffaloes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 April, 2011, 12:00am


A community organisation on Lantau has obtained a stay of execution for the last three buffalos in Mui Wo.

The move to cull the animals follows an incident last weekend in which a man was seriously injured by a buffalo on Silvermine Beach. Officials from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department put down three buffalos in Mui Wo on Tuesday, alarming the volunteer Lantau Buffalo Association.

The group has set up a hotline for complaints about buffaloes.

On Thursday, members' worries grew after officials were seen taking photos of the Mui Wo buffalos, the association's director, Ho Loy, said.

The association sent a letter to the department's senior veterinary officer, Dr Howard Wong Kai-hay, seeking relocation of the survivors. That letter, and e-mails from supporters, led to officials agreeing not to cull the buffalos on Friday as planned.

The official government policy has been to 'first and foremost ensure public safety when dealing with stray cattle or buffaloes but we must also ensure animal welfare'. Steps taken in the past include a pilot trap-neuter-return scheme that aims to limit the population of stray buffaloes while decreasing the chances of the animals becoming aggressive.

The association and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals help the department with this scheme. However, Ho believes greater respect for the 'gentle beasts' is needed to avoid further incidents.

'The buffaloes are not aggressive unless provoked,' she said. 'This is what happened last Saturday. I was told by witnesses that earlier in the day tourists were hassling the buffaloes. This led to the animal lashing out at an innocent victim later.'

The small group of buffaloes had lived in Mui Wo for about a year, the first to return since a larger herd was wiped out in 2007 in what buffalo supporters said at the time was a botched attempt by the AFCD to relocate the animals. That event led to residents forming the association.

For some residents the buffaloes represent the bucolic ideal that brought them to Lantau in the first place. 'They are a connection with Lantau's historical past,' said Russell Green, who lives in Mui Wo. 'In today's urbanised society it's good to have children grow up with them and other animals around.'

An association member said last night the group hoped to meet AFCD and SPCA officials later this week.