Leave the Lantau buffaloes alone

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 May, 2011, 12:00am


Article 40 of the Basic Law protects the traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories. No doubt, the drafters of our constitution had human beings in mind. But the water buffaloes of Lantau Island are as traditional and indigenous an inhabitant as there can be. Authorities have decided the last three animals in a Mui Wo village, of a herd that once numbered in the hundreds, have to go. Sensibly, they want to move them to pastures new, but so far their efforts have proved unsuccessful and have risked harming the animals.

Lantau residents are divided about the creatures. Some find them a nuisance, blocking traffic, destroying flowerbeds and leaving their dung in inconvenient places. A man was attacked by one last month and despite the rarity of the occurrence, three of the animals were destroyed. But the buffaloes also have staunch supporters, a loyal band of residents who believe that they should be left alone to be one with nature. Like the 250 feral cattle that also inhabit the island, they are a picturesque addition to the landscape.

There is no disputing their credentials to be indigenous inhabitants. Water buffaloes have for centuries been synonymous with agriculture. But farming is unfortunately no longer considered viable and they were set free long ago. However, as they have increasingly come into contact with people, even those who should understand the placid beasts appear not to. Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department officers accidentally killed 16 of 17 of them in 2007 in a botched relocation venture. Efforts on Tuesday to move the remaining three to the northern New Territories were called off after tranquilliser dosages again appeared to be wrong. Another attempt has been promised.

If moving the animals to another part of Hong Kong cannot be done humanely and effectively, they should be allowed to stay where they are. Surely other means can be found to ensure they can live in harmony with their human neighbours.