Some cool creatures call Hong Kong home, including 50 mammal species, 200 types of freshwater fish, and 200 amphibians and reptiles. In the Year of the Ox, we reckon the cow populations of Lantau and Sai Kung will get plenty of attention, so here’s a glimpse at some other animals we share this place with.
#1 Half of HK’s mammals are …
… bats. Yep, you mightn’t want to hear this, but 50 percent of all of our mammal species are upside-down sleepers. There are more than two dozen species in HK, from the Wrinkle-lipped Freetailed Bat to the Black-bearded Tomb Bat. Most are found in water tunnels, abandoned mines and country parks. They might be a bit creepy, but bats play an important role in the environment, from pollinating plants to controlling crop-eating insects.
Trivia: In Chinese culture, bats are considered a symbol of happiness and luck; the word for them, fú, is pronounced the same way as the word for good fortune.
#2 Pigzilla on the Peak
Wild boar sightings have increased dramatically in recent years; the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department spent almost 40 percent more last year in dealing with the boar population than the previous year. A video of a big wild boar (and we mean big – these things can weigh up to 300kg!) standing on its hind legs and ruffling through a Hong Kong rubbish bin went viral in 2018. The footage, dubbed “Pigzilla on the Peak”, was probably one catalyst for a HK$1 million pilot programme introduced in 2019 for new rubbish bins designed to stop pigs tipping them over.
#3 Romer’s reawakening
It was a sad day for everyone (well, for biologists and science nerds, at least!) when the Romer’s tree frog, endemic to Hong Kong, was declared extinct in 1953 – especially as it had only been discovered a year earlier, by John D Romer, in a cave on Lamma Island. Yet the frog would live to leap another day. In 1984, after a 30-year hiatus, the species was found again. Though endangered, they’re still around, and at 2cm are Hong Kong’s smallest amphibians.
Trivia: 200 Romer’s frogs were rescued in 1992 from the construction site of the new international airport at Chek Lap Kok.
#4 Poor old pangolin
With its unique appearance – shaped like an anteater, with a coat of scales and hair – and a habit of curling into a ball when threatened, there’s much to admire about the Chinese pangolin, which exists in tiny numbers in Hong Kong. (There are usually only one or two sightings a year.)
Unfortunately, the creature is admired too much, and for the wrong reasons. Pangolins are now critically endangered because of poaching – they’re taken for the supposed health benefits of their scales. In fact, this is the most trafficked animal in the world. Figures suggest that trade slowed in 2020, possibly because pangolins for a short time were linked to the transmission of coronavirus to humans.
#5 Critters named for the city
Let’s get sciencey for a second. A “binomial” is a two-word name for a living thing, consisting of its genus – the first word – and its species – the second word. The second word often includes a placename, or a latinised version of one; in Hong Kong, this is hongkongensis. And there are truckloads of creatures that take this name – from a slimy mould called Hoilungia hongkongensis to a Sai Kung stick insect called Neohirasea hongkongensis. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re only found in Hong Kong; but often they were found here first.
#6 Porcupines following rules
The cute Malayan porcupine is common enough in Hong Kong, though you rarely get a chance to see these ultra-shy animals. That wasn’t the case for a Fo Tan resident in December 2020, who captured a night-time video of a porcupine couple shuffling side by side up a village road. As one wag noted in the forum where the two-minute video was posted, at least they were following the COVID restriction of group gatherings of two…
Trivia: Malayan porcupines do generally hang out with a lifetime partner, and they can live to around 27 years.
#7 Monkey Mountain
In the hills north of Kowloon, you’ll find Kam Shan Country Park, whose huge macaque population has earnt it the nickname Monkey Mountain, or Monkey Hill. The rhesus macaques and long-tailed macaques found here are thought to number around 1,800 – out of a total HK population of only 2,100!
Careful if you get approached by the monkeys on a visit (and you will get approached). Try to avoid eye contact, don’t rustle any plastic in your pockets or bag, and, if they do that weird flappy-lip thing, walk away slowly!
Visit our living in Hong Kong section for a whole series of features on Hong Kong flora and fauna, from birds and insects to trees, flowers and more.
This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.