By: Karl Woodbury
Expats living in Hong Kong find themselves occasionally yearning for the green, green grass of home, dotted with grazing cows. For many of us living in Sai Kung, we can enjoy that right on our doorstep – and I do mean doorstep. It’s not unusual to be on the morning school run, tiptoeing around piles of dung to catch the bus. Then the bus journey itself is often punctuated with the sound of screeching brakes to avoid those that have strayed from the herd casually ambling across the road. Even quirkier is the school run back home. On entering our quiet village, the car park is usually full – of cars and, of course, cows, just hanging out and savouring the concrete beneath their hooves.
These cows get absolutely everywhere. Some prefer to clamber up small concrete walls to feast on flower beds beside noisy minibus depots or somehow eke out the last weeds between cracked paving stones. On a recent family outing to Tap Mun Chau (Grass Island), a short ferry ride from Wong Shek Pier, the stunning scenery was made even more so by the sight of cows grazing precariously on a steep hill that dropped dramatically to the rocky coastline below.
There is, however, a more serious side to this. When farming in Sai Kung died out in the 1970s, the livestock was simply abandoned. As more and more land was swallowed up for property development, the cows were evicted from their home. There are currently around 1,300 feral cows in Hong Kong, of which about 500 are in Sai Kung and neighbouring Ma On Shan. With the winding roads and inevitable dangerous driving that goes with it, the animals are often in danger.
The Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) last year launched a relocation and sterilisation programme and, by tagging the cows’ ears, keep track of their numbers. Up to 40 have been relocated to quieter areas of the country park. Yet local conservationists have been highly sceptical, claiming that some of these animals are later destroyed – an accusation the AFCD strongly denies.
Sai Kung Buffalo Watch (SKBW) was set up by some residents to monitor the AFCD’s programme. Volunteers from SKBW are often called out to gather up a herd blocking the road and coax them back to their natural habitat. These much loved animals are also supported by Friends of Sai Kung (FSK) who, as well as organising village neighbourhood watch schemes, keep a close eye on the herds and, through close contact with members across the area, are often the first on the scene if a cow is stuck somewhere or in any distress.
What is unquestionably true is that these herds greatly contribute to the richness of our daily lives and it is no secret that many visitors come here as much to see them as they do for the picturesque hiking trails and Sai Kung town’s famous seafood restaurants. With the help of these dedicated groups, the AFCD and residents in general, these majestic beings can remain our neighbours for many years to come. Just watch your step…