Background Information on AFCD's Policy for Handling Stray Cattle
In the past, cattle and buffalo were widely used by local farmers as draught animals to plough paddy fields. With rapid economic development in the past few decades, the agricultural industry in the territory underwent a great deal of change. There was no more rice growing in the territory after the 1970s and as a result, these animals were no longer needed. Many of the stray cattle and buffalo in the rural areas of Hong Kong are the offspring of those animals abandoned by farmers with the decline of agricultural activities in past decades. These animals survived and produced offspring, which have become stray cattle and buffalo in the territory.
There are two main types of stray bovines: water buffalo （水牛) and brown cattle（黃牛）. Water buffalo favour wetlands and dwell mainly in lowland areas. On the other hand, brown cattle are widely distributed and like grazing in hilly areas as well as meadows.
The main issues which cause complaints about stray cattle and buffalo are their excrement and that they occasionally cause disturbance to the traffic when they wander onto public roads. Cattle and buffalo may also eat farmers’ crops. There have also been incidents with these animals wandering onto public roads and contributing to traffic accidents. Besides, concerns about animal welfare and public safety must also be taken into account when the administration is devising a strategy to control the cattle and buffalo population.
Upon receipt of any complaint involving stray cattle or buffalo, the Department will send officers to investigate the situation. If the cattle or buffalo are found to have an owner, we will advise the owner/responsible person to keep the cattle or buffalo under proper control and prevent them from wandering or causing damage. If no owner can be identified or no one claims to be the owner, and the animals appear to be lost or causing damage, AFCD staff may arrange to remove the animals, but in many cases arrangements with local organisations and residents are put in place to handle the cattle and buffalo population in a different manner (see below and the Q&A section).
For stray cattle or buffalo that are reported to be sick or injured, our animal management team will try to locate the animal. Our officers will assess whether the animal can be treated on site or needs to be caught and returned to an animal management centre for treatment. Occasionally, injury or sickness may be so severe or untreatable that euthanasia by a Veterinary Officer might be required on the spot in the interests of the welfare of the animal.
The Department recognises that the cattle and buffalo are part of the heritage of rural Hong Kong, and that it brings pleasure to visitors and locals alike to see these animals in a natural environment. In order to strike a balance between these views and the nuisance sometimes caused by these animals in urban or residential areas, the Department has set up a dedicated team (the Cattle Management Team) with the aim of long-term management of the cattle and buffalo to ensure that they co-exist with local residents in harmony. To achieve this goal, multiple approaches will be adopted and implemented in phases.
First of all, the first part of a detailed survey has been conducted on the distribution and numbers of cattle and buffalo in the territory. This has provided useful information for targeting our efforts appropriately and also provided a baseline against which the various approaches can be measured and evaluated. In the second part of the survey, GPS collars will be used on cattle to accurately track their movements so that we can see the distances travelled, routes used and areas inhabited.
Secondly, population control is one of the main ways in which we hope to achieve a stable cattle and buffalo population. Castration (neutering of male animals) has already been underway. Our NGO partners such as SPCA have been instrumental in helping with this. Recently some of our Veterinary Officers have been trained in a technique to sterilise female cattle as well, and this has already been used in many cows in the territory. We are also exploring the use of an injectable form of sterilisation which will enable us to treat animals even in remote parts of the territory, without the need for surgery. The trial with the injection is underway.
Thirdly, in certain areas, we have been using “herdsmen” to help minimise the disturbance caused on roads and to residents. The “herdsmen” are our NGO partners with special interest in the cattle, and they help to move cattle off the roads and away from problem areas when requested.
Fourthly, relocation of cattle from problem areas to land deeper inside country parks and rural areas has been done. This is usually performed in combination with sterilisation to limit population growth at the new locations.
Some areas have special considerations where perhaps it is difficult initially to find a common ground between different viewpoints on what should be done regarding stray cattle and buffalo. In this situation, we will talk and listen to local people, NGOs, District Councils and Rural Committees, etc. so as to seek an acceptable consensus on the most appropriate action to be taken. This might be a combination of the methods mentioned above, or even location specific solutions such as fencing or cattle grids (a type of barrier which is installed in the road bed to prevent cattle from crossing but which still allows the passage of vehicles). Please refer to our “Q & A” section for more information.
AFCD Cattle Management Team