Category: Cattle & Buffalo

Buffalo wars: Yu demands answers, conservationists demand protections

The future of Lantau’s cattle and buffalo populations is once again in dispute after an elderly woman was injured in a buffalo incident in Ham Tin.

Lantau district councillor Randy Yu has seized on the event to demand AFCD officials attend today’s Islands District Council meeting to answer questions and “ensure the safety of citizens’ lives.”

But there is disagreement even on the basic facts of the incident, including the date.

According to Yu’s account an 82-year-old woman, Ms Chen, and her un-named helper were knocked over by a male buffalo in the early hours of September 26.

Chen had more than ten stitches stitched on her wound and suffered physical and mental injuries and still had lingering palpitations.

“Since the accident, residents have been very worried about the safety of children and the elderly when they enter and exit the village,” Yu said.

However, conservationists argue that the AFCD’s neglect of Lantau buffalo and cattle herds endangers people and animals and could lead to their extinction.

“It is of vital importance that both citizens and community buffalos and cattle can coexist in safety and security,” Jean Leung, Pui O’s well-known buffalo carer, said in a statement.

“In order for Lantau to develop sustainably, we urge the government to have a clear policy in relation to the protection of buffalos and cattle in the community.”

Leung said Chen was not attacked but in fact she and her helper had fallen over trying to avoid a young male called Bulging Eyes who was “chasing off cows that had come into his territory.”

She said the incident took place on September 4, not September 26 as Yu claims. 

Leung says she immediately advised the AFCD and the next day Bulging Eyes was captured and relocated to the New Territory buffalo centre.

Leung pointed to the deaths of a female cow and her calf on South Lantau Road three weeks as another sign of the increasingly risky environment for local bovines.

But she said “senior AFCD officials do not seem to understand or even care about the habits of the cattle and water buffalos, neither do they respect the opinions of residents who know the herds well, directly disrupting the lives of the water buffalos and cattle.”

In recent years the AFCD neutering programme had resulted in 99% of the buffalo females being neutered and the castration of many male buffalo, causing clashes within and between herds.

“If this continues, it is not inconceivable that the cattle and water buffalos will disappear from this area completely. This will be a form of extinction.”

She also called on the government to close loopholes in regulations on the protection of coastal territories and strengthen enforcement of the laws intended to protect wetlands.

Leung and others took part in a protest in Central ahead of the district council meeting this morning.

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Elderly woman injured by charging buffalo in Ham Tin

An 82-year-old woman required stitches after being charged by an undesexed buffalo last week, sparking another discussion about buffalo and land management.

The woman, surnamed Wan, was out with her helper near old Ham Tin village at 7am last Saturday when she was struck by the buffalo, “running as fast a horse,” Oriental Daily reported.

She required six stitches in her head and three stitches in each of her hands.

The woman’s son said that whenever he went out he would keep his distance from the buffalo. Other villagers also felt alarmed. Some had complained to the AFCD that the buffalo had destroyed their vegetables and crops.

Jean Leung, the Pui O buffalo carer, said the male buffalo, which she named Bulging Eyes, came from Mung Tung Wan a few months ago.

She had advised the AFCD vets to take him to be desexed “because he was always fighting” with other buffalo, but it was difficult to arrange because he kept moving from place to place.

Bulging Eyes (Photo: Jean Leung)

He has since been captured by AFCD and desexed, she said.

Eddie Tse from the Save Lantau Alliance, told Oriental Daily the increased conflict between humans and bovines was related to land development.

An increasing amount of buffalo habitat in Pui O in being fenced off, while some private landowners have taken advantage of a law that allows them to dump trash on their own plots with government approval.

He said some conservation groups had called for the creation of special ecological zones for buffalo. They had forwarded proposals to the government but so far had had no response.

Carrie Lam vowed to protect the Pui O wetlands, Hong Kong’s last remaining buffalo habitat, when she took office in 2017.

She set up a new unit in CEDD called the Sustainable Lantau Office but it has taken no action to prevent the continued shrinkage and is yet to come up with a long-term plan to ensure the wetlands’ survival.

Photo (top): File photo

Tong Fuk’s last calf dead as car hits two cattle on S. Lantau Rd

Two cattle from the Tong Fuk herd died this morning after being struck by a vehicle on South Lantau Road.

The female and its calf both suffered broken legs and abrasions in the accident, which occured near the old Tung Chung Road turn-off between 6am-7am.

Both were euthanised by AFCD vets at the scene.

The calf was the last born to the Tong Fuk herd prior to the neutering of all of the females.

Most females in other South Lantau herds have also been neutered in recent years as the AFCD, backed by local rural committees, try to aggressively limit and reduce cattle populations.

The driver of the car did not stop at the scene but later filed a report at South Lantau police station. No charges were laid.

Separately, a dog was killed on Tung Chung Rd last night. Altogether animals have died in four fatal accidents on Lantua since the start of summer.

Photos: Lantau Buffalo Association

Pui O wetlands ‘close to unviable’ as govt fails to act

Lantau activists have slammed government officials over their failure to stop the continued destruction of the Pui O wetlands.

Ham Tin resident Martin Lerigo, who has led a campaign to save the vanishing wetlands for five years, has warned that they are “close to unviable.”

In a letter to the Sustainable Lantau Office (SLO), he said “vandalism continues unabated with seemingly little interest” from government officials.

Since officials last visited four months ago “there has been considerable further damage to the Pui O wetlands including multiple areas of fencing off, including across streams and mangroves,” he wrote.

“The wetlands are now close to being unviable as a home to the unique water buffaloes of Hong Kong, much loved by local people and visitors alike.”

The SLO was formed in 2017 as part of the government’s push to develop Lantau. Despite its name, it is a unit of the CEDD, staffed mostly by civil engineers.

It is responsible for carrying out the government’s conservation policies as well as development, but has few staff with environmental expertise.

More wetlands clearance (Photo: Lantau News)

Another resident, Tom Yam of Mui Wo, says the SLO’s conservation efforts have been “an abject failure, with more pristine wetland damaged and no damaged land recovered.”

The agency has set “no specific results or deliverables,” and has “no management plan that holds individuals and organisation accountable,” he said.

“It makes a mockery of your claim to ‘conserve the south and develop the north’ in Lantau. We only see development in the north and degradation in the south.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has vowed on multiple occasions to protect the Pui O wetlands, the city’s last major remaining buffalo habitat, but has yet to enact any new policies.

She has promised but not delivered a HK$1 billion Lantau Conservation Fund.

Lerigo asked if the office had taken any action to halt CLP’s connection of electricity supply to illegal structures. “This is a key driver of the environmental vandalism.”

He pointed out that a removal notice had been issued on an illegally-developed site seen by SLO officials on their most recent visit , yet “fencing is still there and has been expanded.”

Lerigo also asked:

  • If the SLO had taken any action to increase the level of conservation expertise. “Only four out of the SLO’s 111 staff have any professional expertise in conservation matters.”
  • If any progress had been made in setting up the Lantau Conservation Fund
  • The status of its proposal to use resumption or a managed scheme as a solution

Election ’19: Fung Siu Yin, reform candidate

Fung Siu Yin is the challenger in Sunday’s district council poll and a part of a new face in local politics.

Standing for the Lantau seat, she is pro-democratic, green and a member of a new group called Islands Connect, which is ensuring that for the first time democrats contest seats in all four islands in the district.

Fung, 33, has lived in Tung Chung for 20 years. She has worked as a Legco research assistant for the past eight years, and is currently on Eddie Chu Hoi-dick’s staff.

She opposes Lantau Tomorrow Vision, which she says has had scant scrutiny from the council. If elected she would call public hearings across Lantau to debate the project.

She has also done a good deal of work on public transport issues, finding that South Lantau residents object to the Sunday fare hikes and want to see more frequent services of both bus and ferry.

Having spent her early career working on senior and social welfare issues, she also advocates expanding community centres and medical services for the elderly and wants to set aside land for a retiree-run community farm.

The vacant Mui Wo high school, the wetlands and the Mui Wo improvement works are also high on her agenda.

Here is a condensed version of Lantau News’ interview with Siu Yin.

Why are you running for District Council?

I have lived in Tung Chung for about 20 years. In 2014 I knew we had big developments coming into Lantau. From that we tried to have some education and oral history documentation to tell people what would happen.

In 2018, the Lantau Tomorrow Vision was announced. In those four years, I had learnt more about Lantau people, and we know more about their needs. There were many problems with elderly citizens, and some education needs.

In our group, Save Lantau Alliance, we discussed the elections and we wanted to have a role, to have more debate in the community to talk about what we want for Lantau’s future.  That’s why we are running for election this year.

How do you see the role of the district council?

They get a lot of information from the government, and the government often consults with them on education, bus services, medical services, etc.

The councillors also can vote for the chief executive and one of them can be elected to Legco. They can meet with different government departments, they can share their ideas. They have many ways to work with the government.

You talk about reforming the district council. What would you do?

The Islands District Council has 18 members, including eight ex officio. So many people don’t have a voice. So we want to open a platform. We want the residents in the Lantau community, who care about the community, they can voice out. 

For example, the bus company wanted to increase bus fares. They just informed the district council but most Lantau people didn’t know.  In May we did a street survey. We found more than 68% of people didn’t know the bus company was applying to increase the fare.

We will have social media channels, like Facebook or WhatsApp. Give people many channels to share their opinions.  We think if the district councils are working, then there will be less anger in the community.

Can district councils do anything to address the current political crisis?

We can open many forums to discuss what people are ask for.  Is it reasonable or not reasonable, what is the meaning of the five demands, and so on. Because now you are blue, I am yellow, we are totally divided into two colours and we don’t want to talk to each other. It’s not a healthy relationship. 

Lantau Tomorrow Vision is a huge project and the government seems determined to build it. What can you do in the district council?

The district council talked about Lantau Tomorrow Vision just once, for one or two hours, and then a show of hands. 

If we can get to District Council, we will have an agenda item to discuss Lantau Tomorrow Vision. We want to have a public hearing.  It’s not local to Central, so we will have public hearings in Lantau – in Mui Wo, Tai O, and so on, and we can hear people’s opinions.

How to help Lantau’s senior population?

Lantau has a population of about 24,000, of which about 7,000-8,000 are over 50. But we have just one elderly home in Mui Wo. Two years ago, the home in Tai O closed.

The medical system is very important for them. We have just two clinics, with a limited service level, in Mui Wo and Tai O. It’s not enough. Also in Mui Wo the population has risen to more than 6,000. That’s why we ask the clinic employ two doctors, now just one.

We ask for community support service for the elderly. Some of them need help in cooking and cleaning, so they can live in their homes. We would like to set up community care services where they go to people’s homes, help cook and clean.

We also need community centres for the elderly, where they can read newspapers, sing together, have some health checks.

Right now we have a small centre in Mui Wo. In Tai O – nothing. In South Lantau – zero. NGOs provide services from Tung Chung, but that’s not reasonable. So that is why we hope to have centres in South Lantau and Tai O.

Also, elderly people feel bored. They say they would like to have a community garden. They know how to farm. They can raise chickens; chickens can eat waste food that humans won’t eat.

They can provide value in return – food, recycling, education for young people as well. So they become teachers. It’s more positive, right?

What is the status of the Mui Wo school?

The school [the New Territories Heung Yee Kuk Southern District Secondary School] has been closed for 12 years.  We want to re-use the school for the elderly services, medical service and also education services – for kindergarten, primary school – so it is not wasted.

In the last few months we have had communication with the residents. Many of the Mui Wo kids are under six years old. They are going to Tai O, Tung Chung or Tsuen Wan for kindergarten. We see here is a need in the community. We have an empty school – it’s a perfect match.

You have done some work on public transport issues. What have you found?

Two months ago we did a survey and held a forum.

For buses, the most important thing people are concerned about is service frequency.  People also worry about the safety of the double decker buses. On the upper deck most of them don’t have seat belts. There’s no room for luggage upstairs, either, so they have to put their suitcases in the aisle. It’s dangerous.

For both bus and ferry, people want to cancel the extra charge for public holidays and Sundays. They think it’s not reasonable.

The government gives subsidies to ferry companies. We want to improve transparency and open up the financials of the ferry companies so we know how they are spending the subsidies.

People also care about frequency. We need more ferries at peak times. The bus and ferry companies and residents don’t have the chance to communicate. District council members can create a platform for us to talk – we can hold a meeting once every two months.

The government has made promises over the Pui O wetlands but has done nothing. How can you help protect the wetlands?

We have a law to protect the South Lantau wetlands and also to protect the buffalo. Two years ago the government agreed to update the law, but this year the Chief Executive Policy Address again failed to mention it.

I think district council members can raise this issue again.

In South Lantau and Mui Wo, we have different parties. One will love and care about the environment. They know the ecosystem is very important for the community.  The second – they want more development. They have the intention to destroy the wetlands. They also have the intention to move the buffalo and cows.

The first party includes many of the residents. They love the buffalos and love the wetland, but they are scared to speak out. If district council members can collect people’s ideas about the wetlands and how to deal with problems of the buffalo and try to find a way to form a community consensus.

Also we have connections with the FEHD and the EPD, some of them are friends. We ask them what are the problems they face. Resources? Manpower? Rural party problems? We want to know what the problems are and try to find a way to protect the wetland and the buffalos.

I think education is very important. We have some residents who know a great deal about the cattle and buffalo and are willing to share. If more people know how to communicate with the animals and understand their behaviour, that will help.

What is the progress of the Mui Wo facelift?

They call it the Mui Wo improvement works. The first question is: improvements for whom? For tourists or residents?

When we saw the plan from 2017, we didn’t see improvement for residents. They moved the bicycle parking far away, and then moved the restaurants into the ferry pier building.

We collected some opinions. People really strongly disagree with moving the bike parking. It’s not convenient for them. But now the problem is not enough space. That’s why we have bicycles everywhere.  So people suggest that we should extend the bike parking because more people are moving here.

So we asked the CEDD for more information. They told us the plan was made in 2017, but can change and they are considering changes.  But they don’t think it will happen immediately – maybe it might take another five or ten years to finalise this stage. 

For the residents we think that is good, so we have more time to discuss what we need. Hopefully more time to debate and more time for them to change their plan so it works for residents, not just tourists.

RIP Billy, Lantau’s favourite cow

South Lantau is today mourning the loss of Billy, the beloved cow who ran with a buffalo herd and became friendly, perhaps too friendly, with visitors.

Billy was found dead in the wetland field at Lo Uk after being missing for two days, according to Jean Leung, the friend and champion of Pui O bovines.

His cause of death is uncertain, but eight-year-old Billy had been unwell for some time, a result apparently of the consumption of plastic and other trash.

Chilling: Billy in the wetland

Three years ago government vets wanted to put Billy down after he became ill from eating rubbish or contaminated food.

Jean persuaded them to release him back to Lantau so he could live out his days with the buffalo.

But Billy was in fact lucky to make it to adulthood. At four months he lost his mother in a dog attack on the catchwater.

Billy the calf after his attack (Photo: LBA)

According to local vet Dr Joe Laraya, Billy suffered a giant puncture in his rump that required daily cleaning, meaning he could not be let back to the herd.

So Billy stayed at first with Joe and his partner Okka Scherer, and then in Ham Tin with Mel Potgieter, best known as the inspiration behind the Lantau Beer Dash.

As Mel explained in an interview in 2014, Billy grazed on her lawn but was keen to be a part of the family.  He would eat the dogs’ food, force his way into the house and rub himself against people’s backsides.

As he grew bigger they took him for walks, where he became friendly with the buffalo herd, to the point of challenging some of the males.

Banana for young Billy (Photo: LBA)

It became harder and harder to bring him home. Eventually, Mel got “fed up” and let him go.

He became a part of the Pui O buffalo herd and for years was a local landmark and talking point. Mel points out that when the herd was harassed by dogs they protected Billy equally – he was one of them.

But Billy lived a second life as an unofficial mascot of Pui O beach and a scourge of visitors to the picnic site. Most had never encountered a cow before and had no idea of how to deal with a bovine showing a healthy interest in their lunch.

Silly Billy (Photo: LBA)

It made for occasional spontaneous friendly encounters but also headaches for lifeguards and AFCD staff who had to separate Billy from the uneasy tourists shielding their lunch.

Sadly, Billy was unable to resist the trash that visitors left behind. Bins too often overflowed with too many things that found their way into his stomach.

He never fully recovered from the incident three years ago, but as Jean said, he was able to “live more than three years because he liked to stay with his family, the buffalos.”

Billy’s intelligence, friendliness and placid good nature brought pleasure to so many. He will be missed. RIP Billy.

Police probe after car strikes three cattle, killing one

Police are investigating an accident at Shui Hau in which a car killed one cow and injured two others yesterday afternoon.

The car, a white Volkswagen Golf,  struck the three cattle on a bend at 5pm.

The driver was a 35-year-old foreign national. Her husband, who asked not to be identified, said his wife was slowing down to park the car when it collided with the cattle.

Post-accident (Source: Reader supplied)

She had come around the bend in Shui Hau village, about 100-150 metres ahead of her turnoff, when she collided with them. As her airbag activated, she was only aware of striking one.

Her husband said in an email:

The facts are that the cow was on the road, and ran in front of my wife. She had no time to avoid it. It fell onto the car, causing heavy damage, but the bumper was not even pushed in or severely damaged – indicating that her forward speed was not that high!

One of the cattle was heavily injured and was put to sleep by AFCD vets at the scene. A second, also seriously injured, was taken away for treatment.

The AFCD and volunteers are continuing their search this morning for the third animal, which sustained a head injury and wandered from the scene. Lantau News has sought a response from the AFCD.

It is the second fatality near Shui Hau within a year. A female cow died when struck by a taxi in a hit-and-run last June.

LBA president Ho Loy said the association had repeatedly asked the Transport Department to install speed cameras on South Lantau Road and Keung Shan Road to enforce the 50kmh speed limit.

Photo (top): Lantau Buffalo Association

(This story has been updated to include comments from the husband of the driver and deleting remarks reported in the attributed to an unnamed eyewitness.)

Lantau-themed creation takes the cake (photo)

What better way to celebrate a Lantau wedding than with a cattle-themed cake?

Village Bakery owner Kit Lau made this fabulous cake for the wedding of Renata Snow and her partner Pierce.

Renata posted on Facebook:

Huge thank you to our Village Bakery superstar Kit Lau for our magnificent Lantau-themed wedding cake today (the largest she’s ever baked – took her a week!). We loved both the appearance and the taste, and so did all our guests!

‘Amazing Bovid’ photo contest winners claim their prizes

Natasha Ramsey and Mink Chan, the two main winners of the Amazing Bovid of Lantau photo competition, received their prizes in a ceremony in Pui O on Saturday.

Natasha won the judges’ and artistic awards for her photo, Look into my soul, taken at Lower Cheung Sha Beach in 2013.

Natasha Ramsey with her winning photo

Natasha said when taking the photo she felt a strong connection with the animal.

“As I took the photo I felt a really strong bond. It felt it wasn’t just an animal, it had a deep soul and high intelligence,” she said. “From then on I used to photograph them all the time, and sit with them, and just be at peace with them.

Natasha says the buffalo pass through her Mui Wo garden several times every day.

It didn’t feel threatening, she says, adding that for her young daughters it is completely normal. “We give them enough space. Without them coming every day it would be quite sad.”

Mink Chan receives her prize from environmental photographer Martin Williams, a member of the judging panel

The other major winner was Mink Chan, who won the Outstanding awards for her portraits of cattle and buffalo in Shui Hau.

Mink, an indigenous Shui Hau resident, said she shot all of her photos around the village within the space of two days.

Mink, with LBA president Ho Loy, shows her winning photos

The ceremony took place at the sponsors’ sites Garden Plus and The Water Buffalo. Other major sponsor was natural cosmetics company Lush.

Winners and sponsors: Suzette Sanchez (Garden Plus), Natasha Ramsey, Mink Chan, Jenny Riley (Water Buffalo), Ho Loy LBA)


Photo (top): One of Mink Chan’s award-winning photos, Kiss