Lantau buffaloes too big for latest capture

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 May, 2011, 12:00am


The last remaining water buffalo on Lantau Island walked free yesterday after conservation officials abandoned the latest attempt to capture and relocate the feral beasts.

With the buffaloes' supporters keeping a watchful eye on the exercise, officers from the Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) gathered at the Luk Tei Tong marshland at 9.30 am to round up the animals and take them to a government farm in the northern New Territories.

After a botched relocation exercise in April 2007, which killed 16 of the 17 animals captured that day, some of the residents of Lantau's Mui Wo village are sceptical about the merits of removing their buffalo.

'Given the AFCD's methods, relocation is almost a certain death sentence,' said Diane Stormont, one of Mui Wo's buffalo supporters. 'They simply do not have the expertise or the equipment to move them.'

According to Stormont and other onlookers who videotaped yesterday's attempted capture, the AFCD tranquilised two of the buffaloes. One collapsed while the other wandered away from the AFCD's truck into the marshland, where it, too, collapsed.

Officials then spent the next two hours trying to drag the fallen buffalo across the thick shrubbery, using rope attached to a piece of plywood placed underneath the animal.

'The other buffalo started to 'bloat out' and we became very worried about it,' Stormont said. 'After it was left sedated for two hours, we feared it would die.'

Rupert Griffiths, the SPCA's welfare research and development manager, who helped the AFCD with the attempted relocation, confirmed the relocation did not go as planned.

'When you sedate large animals like buffaloes, gas builds up in their stomachs that causes them to bloat,' he said. 'The process today took longer than expected, so the ACFD vet decided it was too risky to keep them sedated and injected them with the reversal chemical, as [bloating] can lead to death in the long term.'

The capture was then halted, out of concern for the animals' welfare.

Despite yesterday's failure, the AFCD says it will try again to relocate the three water buffalo, remnants of a herd that once numbered more than 200 animals across Lantau.

'Our goal is to remove these three buffaloes from Lantau, neuter them and relocate them to a suitable location,' the department said in a statement. Eventually, it is hoped to move them to the wetlands of Mai Po, with the co-operation of the WWF.

The AFCD said that, when dealing with the approximately 280 stray cattle and the three water buffalo on Lantau, its main concern was public safety.

The fate of Mui Wo's buffaloes has long divided the village - some residents want them to stay, others want them relocated. The debate intensified in March when a buffalo attacked and injured a man on Silvermine Beach. The AFCD reacted quickly, killing of three of what was by then a six-strong herd.

Lantau Buffalo Association director Ho Loy said: 'Why can't they stay here? It is no harm for them to stay. We have enough space. But we also will ensure animal welfare is an integrated part of our stray animal management strategy.'

Had yesterday's attempt been successful, the animals would have had a hard time on the farm the AFCD planned to put them, Ho said.

'It has no natural water source,' Ho said, 'so it is not suitable for wetland animals, who need water.'