From a boar at the airport to monkeys in the park, a host of large mammals roam free in Hong Kong

Some 57 species of land mammal live inside the city’s borders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 9:18am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 7:43pm

A possible tiger sighting in a Hong Kong country park on Tuesday was in the end concluded to be a leopard cat after an extensive search of the area by authorities yielded nothing. 

Zoologists identified the animal as a species of wild cat, but said it was impossible to spot a tiger in Hong Kong because the region’s only sub-species, the south China tiger, was believed to be extinct.

A couple had reported what they saw to local police while out hiking in Ma On Shan Country Park. But they were later shown pictures and agreed that what they saw was probably a leopard cat.

The south China tiger once roamed freely across southern China. There were about 4,000 in the wild in the 1950s, according to global conservation body WWF. But the animals were hunted to extinction as they were considered dangerous man-eaters, according to the government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).

Today, despite Hong Kong’s dense urban landscape and population, 57 species of land mammal live inside the city’s borders. Here are some of the most common:

Wild monkeys

Visitors to Kam Shan Country Park in northern Kowloon are likely to see wild monkeys asking for food. Known as Monkey Hill, the park is occupied by the rhesus macaque – introduced to the area in the 1910s – and long-tailed macaque, introduced in the 1950s. The original stock of wild monkeys that made the place their home are believed to have been wiped out. Those that currently occupy the area are all descendants of monkeys released into the wild later to control the spread of a local poisonous plant, according to the AFCD. These 2,000 or so monkeys are increasingly straying into urban areas such as Mong Kok in search of food. People feeding them has encouraged such behaviour.

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Water buffaloes

You are likely to spot a water buffalo on Lantau Island or the Sai Kung peninsula. They were brought to Hong Kong in the 1900s to plough fields to cultivate rice. But as farming declined rapidly in the 1970s and 80s as Hong Kong shifted towards manufacturing, the animals were no longer needed by their owners and found themselves having to fend for themselves. The latest survey by the AFCD’s cattle management team showed there were about 120 feral buffaloes in Hong Kong in 2013. About two-thirds lived on Lantau.

Wild boars

Forests, residential buildings, beaches and even the airport – wild boars have been spotted in all these places, frequently making headlines. The Eurasian wild pig, as it is formally known, is the largest native land mammal in Hong Kong. An adult can weigh up to 200kg and grow to two metres long. 

In December 2016 a 50kg wild boar was escorted by police officers out of Hong Kong International Airport. Last month a wild boar was seen running across the beach at Deep Water Bay as people enjoyed the sunshine.

Police subdue wild boar at Hong Kong airport restricted area

Threatened species

Unfortunately, some of Hong Kong’s wild animals are at threat of extinction. The Chinese pangolin is hunted illegally and used in traditional Chinese medicine for its meat and scales, which are in high demand on the mainland. The animal can be found in the Himalayan foothills, South Asia and Southeast Asia as well as in southern China, including Hong Kong. But the ant-eating creature has seen its numbers fall dramatically in the past decade, and now they are rarely spotted in the city. The last sighting was in June last year.

Thriving species

Perhaps surprisingly, the most prevalent mammal is the bat. There are 27 species of the small, nocturnal, flying animal, but you won’t bump into them frequently since they come out at night.

What is being done to protect wild animals?

Hong Kong has legislation to protect most wild animals. Hunting, feeding or destroying nests or eggs are prohibited by the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance. The city also has its country park system to encourage local biodiversity alongside public recreation. However, Dr Gary Ades, head of the Fauna Conservation Department and manager of the wild animal rescue centre at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, said new buildings near the habitats of wild animals should provide green corridors of trees or shrubs. Animal-friendly fences should also be considered so deer and boars do not get trapped in the fencing, Ades said.