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 local agricultural industry has undergone a great deal of change. There was no more rice growing in Hong Kong after the 1970s and as a result, these animals were no longer needed and abandoned by farmers. The abandoned cattle and buffalo survive and continue to produce offspring, which have become stray cattle and buffalo in the territory.
There are two main types of stray bovines: brown cattle and water buffalo. Brown cattle are widely distributed and like grazing in hilly areas as well as meadows, while water buffalo favour wetlands and dwell mainly in lowland areas.
From time to time, AFCD receives cattle-related nuisance reports from the community. These include environmental nuisance from their excrement, disturbance to the traffic when they wander on roads which may possibly cause accidents, crops damage in farms, etc. Upon receipt of any complaint involving stray cattle or buffalo, the Department will send officers to attend the scene and carry out investigation. If the cattle or buffalo are found to have an owner, we will advise the owner/keeper 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, AFCD staff may arrange to remove the animals.
For cattle or buffalo that are reported to be sick or injured, AFCD’s animal management team will first try to locate the animal concerned. Officers will assess whether the animal can be treated on site or needs to be captured to the animal management centre for treatment. At times when the injury or sickness is too severe or untreatable, euthanasia by a Veterinary Officer will be required in the interests of animal welfare.
The Department recognises that the cattle and buffalo are part of the heritage of rural Hong Kong, and that they bring pleasure to visitors and locals alike to watch these animals living 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) in late 2011 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 have been adopted and implemented in phases.
A detailed survey was conducted in 2013 on the distribution and population of cattle and buffalo in the territory, together with data gathered from GPS collars fitted on a number of cattle for movement tracking, it has provided useful baseline data for later evaluation. The result from the survey revealed that there were about 1 110 heads of cattle and 120 heads of buffalo distributed across Lantau Island, Sai Kung / Ma On Shan, central and northeast parts of the New Territories.
Population control is the most important measure to stablilise the cattle and buffalo population. It is mainly achieved by the “Capture-Sterilisation-Relocation” programme. Under the programme, AFCD proactively captures stray cattle to the operation centres. Assessment will be conducted by Veterinary Officers. Only cattle in good and healthy condition will undergo surgical sterilisation. Sterilised cattle will be ear-tagged for identification. Upon recovery from the surgical wound, the cattle will be relocated to the nearby Country Park area from where they are captured to resume their livelihood in the wild, so that their associated nuisance to the public can be minimised. Furthermore, AFCD has conducted another academic research in parallel, on the injectable contraceptive vaccination for cattle and buffalo since 2014 with a view to evaluating its effectiveness and durability. If proven effective, the vaccine can serve as an alternative to surgical sterilisation which enable us to further control the population of cattle and buffalo, even in remote areas of Hong Kong, where cattle or buffalo capture for surgery is not possible.
There are different viewpoints on what should be done about stray cattle and buffalo management from different stakeholders in the community. In this context, AFCD will continue to communicate with the locals, Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), District Councils and Rural Committees, etc. so as to reach an acceptable consensus on the most appropriate action to be taken. This might be a combination of the methods mentioned above, or even other location specific solutions. Please refer to our “Q & A” section for more information.
AFCD Cattle Management Team