OSTRICHES could soon be breeding in the New Territories as businessmen rush to cash in on the booming trade in the world's largest bird. Agricultural and Fisheries Department officials are studying two applications to open ostrich farms and the Environmental Protection Department has fielded an inquiry for a farm at Lau Fau Shan near Yuen Long. Senior veterinary surgeon Dr Barry Bousfield said ostrich farming was becoming a booming business worldwide. 'The meat is very healthy,' Dr Bousfield said. 'It has a beefy taste and is low in cholesterol. It's also a very prolific bird. It can produce up to 30 eggs a year . . . for 25 to 30 years.' The department has received more than half a dozen inquiries about farming the flightless birds. 'There are some very big farms in China. They have 4,000 to 5,000 birds already, but are aiming for millions in the next few years. Hong Kong money is very much in it,' Dr Bousfield said. 'Ostriches were originally farmed for their feathers for fashion. 'The money at the moment is in the actual value of the bird. One bird is worth US$10,000 to US$20,000 (HK$78,000 to HK$156,000). But as the industry matures it will be in slaughtering for meat and leather.' One applicant in Hong Kong is a key investor in a major ostrich farm in Jiangmen. Agriculture chiefs said they had provisionally approved the site and were awaiting the applicant's response. The farm will probably act as a holding area for birds being imported from other countries for export to China. 'Given the Hong Kong land situation, they will be rather small farms,' a spokesman said. 'I cannot see them holding more than 10-12 birds.' Ostriches are creatures of the desert but have proven so resilient that some farmers are breeding them in Canada. But Ocean Park aviary curator Stephen Wong Pak-siu had doubts about how the birds would take to Hong Kong's humidity. Dampness could cause arthritis and the birds were susceptible to potentially fatal fungal infections, he said. 'They don't like humidity. If the eggs come into contact with dirty water . . . bacteria spores can enter through the shell,' Mr Wong said. He warned against importing adult birds, which could be injured during shipping. 'The crates need to be very well designed with a very soft carpet, otherwise they can break their legs,' Mr Wong said. 'If they are nervous they may use their beaks to peck at the sides and hurt their heads; if they lose their balance they will spread their wings, which can also break.'