City Weekend

Hong Kong’s barking deer still dying in catchwater drain which activists exposed two years ago

Protected animals getting trapped in concrete nullah on Lantau Island despite calls for action

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 2:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 April, 2017, 2:16pm

Hong Kong’s barking deer are still dying and being injured in the same concrete-lined catchwater drain that the South China Morning Post revealed was harming the animals two years ago.

The concrete structure between Tong Fuk and Shek Pik on Lantau Island remains a major hazard for the creatures, which have been climbing down into the nullah to drink water before realising they are trapped.

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Four deer have fallen in over the past month, despite animal welfare campaigners having spoken to the government about the issue in 2015. Activists said at least two of those deer died from their injuries or starvation, while the others were seriously injured, often to their hooves or horns, meaning they eventually had to be euthanised after being captured.

Campaigners are furious that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has ignored their calls to build exits for the deer within the Water Supplies Department’s (WSD) catchment.

Jacqui Green, founder of animal rights charity Protection of Animals Lantau South, said three deer had been trapped in the catchwater within just 12 days.

“These gentle, graceful but extremely shy and sensitive creatures are a protected species in Hong Kong,” she said. “Almost two years have elapsed [since the group highlighted the problem] and these animals are still dying. It is very disappointing, and also deeply distressing for those of us actively involved with the protection of the deer, to realise just how little has been achieved by the WSD and the AFCD since our initial meeting in May 2015. These are protected animals and essentially all we are asking for is a serious commitment towards this aim.”

Kathleen Daxon, spokeswoman for Tai O Community Cattle Group, said it was getting harder to monitor how many deer were dying or being hurt in the catchwater.

“We have no way to know how many animals have died in there,” she said. “We are more than just frustrated. [Government officials] did not even do the upgrades they committed to.”

Daxon also expressed concern about the way government officials handle the deer during rescue missions.

“Our videos show how brutally they handle them,” she said. “In one case, they should have just left the animal to die there from the way they were handling it.”

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Barking deer, known for their distinctive canine yelp, are a protected species in Hong Kong but, because of their nocturnal feeding habits, environmentalists have found it difficult to estimate their numbers.

In 2015, the AFCD said the government had put railings along the catchwater drain area to prevent animals falling in, but said the access ladders installed at the site were not intended to help the animals escape.

Workers at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden near Tai Po advised the government to put an adequately textured painted surface over the concrete, which would help animals to climb back out if they fell in. The farm has also suggested screwing small foothold blocks on the surface of the catchwater, or installing ramps. Some of the injured deer are being cared for at Kadoorie Farm until they are strong enough to be released back into the wild.

Paul Crow, a senior conservation officer there, said the deer which were taken to recover at the farm had been through “extreme stress” and most died after developing the muscle condition capture myopathy, which stems from the stress of being caught.

“This is an unfortunate situation that appears to have worsened in recent months and the exact reason for this is unclear,” Crow said. “The issue will not go away so there is an opportunity here to be innovative and develop solutions which can be applied widely in Hong Kong .”


Barking deer

This spring, the deer are increasingly getting trapped in a water catchment on Lantau and injuring themselves or even dying. The animals, a protected species in Hong Kong, have also been known to be easily startled by passing cars, panicking and accidentally ramming their heads through iron railings along roadsides, trapping themselves.


As the urbanisation of Hong Kong continues, snakes are regularly being found around the city’s homes and businesses. People are generally shaken by snake encounters, and most Hongkongers cannot tell the difference between venomous and non-venomous species. Some professional snake catchers work with the police to capture snakes. Many of the animals are taken to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden near Tai Po, which has provided space to contain up to 9,000 snakes since 1999. The reptiles are temporarily cared for before being released back into the wild, close to where they were originally discovered.

Wild boar

These pigs have been playing a cat-and-mouse game with police of late, often evading capture for hours after being spotted around the city. Wildlife experts have said that there may be an increasing trend of boars entering urban areas because development projects in country parks have affected their natural habitats, forcing them out. In May 2015, onlookers watched a circus unfold as a dozen police and animal control officers struggled to subdue and capture one pig wandering around in a store at Paradise Mall in Heng Fa Chuen, Chai Wan.


At least five of Hong Kong’s 27 bat species have adapted to the urban environment, Kadoorie Farm’s Dr Gary Ades said. The dog-faced fruit bat has been found roosting in the Chinese fan palm, which are often planted in urban areas. The bats chew the leaves to create a tent-like structure to nest. The Japanese pipistrelle bat gets cosy in small crevices in walls and buildings, and sometimes even manages to find its way into air conditioners.

Civet cats

The arboreal animals are sometimes observed looking for fruit on trees in urban parks. The trees provide a sustainable source of food, so some cats make them their long-term home.