Feral cattle get HK$20,000 GPS collars

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am


GPS tracking systems are to be fitted to some of Hong Kong's buffalo and cattle in a scheme that is costing millions of dollars.

Hi-tech collars fitted to cattle in Sai Kung and buffalos on Lantau will feed information on the animals' movements to computers via satellite.

The project is designed to find the best way to manage the feral cattle. However, one lawmaker described it as wasteful.

Each collar costs around HK$20,000 and they will be attached to about 20 cattle and buffalo, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).

In addition, a dedicated team headed by a specialist vet is to be established to look after the medical health of the feral cattle and buffalo and carry out desexing.

The AFCD said the project would cost around HK$2 million to set up and run for the first year in both Sai Kung and Lantau, then about HK$1 million a year afterwards in operational costs.

The feral animals have become an increasing source of concern because of their growing numbers and their habit of roaming freely in urban areas and roads, particularly in Sai Kung.

A statement from the AFCD justified the cost, saying it needed to devise a multi-pronged approach in managing the cattle, taking into account the varied views of the public. 'We noted public views on stray cattle are divided. There are members of the community who consider the cattle a nuisance and demand the AFCD catch and remove them regularly,' said a spokesman.

'However, there is an equally vocal group who object to the capture and disposal of the cattle and request the AFCD resort to other population control measures.

'Taking into consideration the above issues, we consider that there is a need to devise a balanced, multi-pronged approach which aims to achieve zero or negative growth in the number of stray cattle, in order to minimise public nuisance and public danger inherently caused by stray cattle, while at the same time safeguarding the cattle's welfare.'

The AFCD estimates there are about 1,200 feral cattle in Hong Kong, with about 200 in Sai Kung - descendants of cattle left when residents of the New Territories abandoned their farms and rural life decades ago.

According to Dr Howard Wong Kai-hay, the AFCD's principal veterinary officer, there has been growing concern over the cattle following a series of traffic accidents earlier this year, with 20 complaints lodged with the department since August.

To tackle the issue, the AFCD, in co-operation with Sai Kung Buffalo Watch, have been rounding up the cattle and relocating them to Sai Kung Country Park, he said. Previously, the policy was to send nuisance cattle to the slaughterhouse.

Wong said they had taken advice from the conservation department which ran similar tracking operations with wild boar. It is hoped the tracking will provide crucial information on how to manage the population more effectively and determine whether the relocation programme is effective.

'At the moment we don't have any real information. All we have is anecdotal evidence to say there are more of them. We are doing our best to minimise the nuisance but without the data we can only do so much,' he said. 'We have already started a cattle survey with a consultant in Hong Kong and recently went up in a helicopter to look for herds.

'To come up with a proper management plan, you really need to know the make-up of the each population; how many bulls a herd has; how many females; what age they are and what the breeding rate is. We hope to track them for a minimum of one calendar year to take into account seasonal variations in their movements.

'But once this survey is over we can look at different pockets of the population and work out how many bulls we need to neuter so we can prevent the population from increasing. It is a more responsible way to manage them. We hope the public appreciate our efforts. We don't want to see Hong Kong devoid of animals. We believe the cows in Sai Kung and Lantau are a part of Hong Kong.'

A spokesman for Sai Kung Buffalo Watch said last night: 'Sai Kung Buffalo Watch is appreciative of all the work and support of AFCD to address the welfare of Hong Kong's feral cattle. We are fully in support of their current programme to monitor and control the population of the cattle situation in a humane and proactive approach.'

People Power legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip said that it was wasteful to spend so much money to study the herds and their movements and asked why it could not have been done by a non-governmental organisation.

'They need HK$2 million to start the scheme. I really don't know why it takes so much money. Why do they need GPS? Cow movements are in fact very limited and many villagers are quite familiar with how they move,' he said.

But lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who used to live in Sai Kung, said the scheme would allow cows and humans to live more harmoniously.


The number of buffalo and cattle that died in an attempt to relocate them in 2007