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Hong Kong rescue services

‘Tiger’ sighting by couple in Hong Kong country park sparks search

But the scared pair, rescued off Ma On Shan Country Trail, later identified what they saw as a leopard cat from police photos  

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 12:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 8:14pm

A sighting of what appeared to be a tiger in a Hong Kong country park sparked an intense search for the wild animal by local authorities on Tuesday morning, but the couple who called police later identified what they saw as a leopard cat.

The man, 32, and woman, 39, were heading towards a hilltop called Tiu Shau Ngam on the Ma On Shan Country Trail when they spotted the animal on a slope. 

The man then made a 999 emergency call at about 9am saying the animal looked like a tiger. 

“The male informant told police that it appeared for a while and left,” a police spokesman said. “They were scared.”

About 45 minutes later, the pair were found by emergency rescuers and escorted downhill, while more than 15 police and fire personnel searched the area. 

“The couple were safe and uninjured,” the spokesman said, adding that they had not been attacked.

“They claimed the animal was yellow in colour and measured about 3 feet by 2 feet. They were worried, so they called police.”

The pair were taken to Ma On Shan police station but after they complained of feeling unwell, were brought to Prince of Wales Hospital for a check-up.

Sha Tin district commander Josephine Mak Lau Wai-mun said the couple were given photos of different feline animals and they identified the animal they spotted as a leopard cat.

But officers who searched the walking trail and its nearby slopes did not spot any leopard cat and neither did four hikers who were also in the area, Mak said.

At noon, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the trail had been reopened after search efforts turned up no trace of the animal.

A lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, Dr. Billy Hau Chi-hang, said the leopard cat the couple saw was likely an adult, as the felines are similar in size to domestic cats.

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“They are common in Hong Kong and can be found in forests … they won’t attack people. Leopard cats are very shy and will avoid humans,” Hau said.

Hau added that it was “impossible” for the animal to be a tiger, as the only subspecies in the region, the South China Tiger, was believed to be extinct.

The South China Tiger once roamed freely across southern China, with about 4,000 of its kind in the wild in the 1950s. But global conservation body WWF on its website said the subspecies was considered “functionally extinct”, as it had not been sighted in the wild for more than 25 years. 

The police spokesman said there had been no actual tiger sightings in Hong Kong since infrared surveillance cameras were set up in the city’s country parks in 2002.

A report of a suspected tiger in Sha Lo Tung in Pat Sin Leng Country Park in 2013 led to a search and also yielded nothing.

But about 100 years ago on March 9, 1915, a South China Tiger attacked and killed three people, as reported by the Post

Villagers made a report at Sheung Shui police station after the tiger mauled a child to death. Two expatriate policemen went to Lung Yeuk Tau where the animal was sighted but one ended up being attacked by it. He later succumbed to his injuries. 

Heavily-armed officers then went in for the kill and the tiger was shot dead, but not before it took down a constable.

The stuffed head of the “Sheung Shui Tiger” is now on display at the police museum in Coombe Road, The Peak.