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Feral “Invasion” of the City

Green Country Vol.130 (Feb 2018)

A troop of fifty monkeys enters a primary school in Tze Wan Shan, a wild boar rambles through a shopping arcade in Chai Wan, a dozen cows occupy the children playground in Mui Wo… These scenes with beasts surely impressed us. Wild animals, in general, live in the countryside and stay away from people. Unless they lose their way, they would be less than willing to step into the city that's overcrowded with vehicles and people. Nonetheless, in recent years, we have seen more and more reports of wild animals entering the urban area. For example, reported sightings of wild boars rose from 294 in 2013 to 583 in 2016. What makes the animals move into the city?

To animals, the border line between the countryside and urban area does not stop them seeking food. In particular, when food in the wild becomes scarce, they will visit the city. Some flying animals such as bats, doves and Black Kites even take the city as their home. Their mostly aerial life does not cause much disturbance to people. City folks even welcome the melodious songs of small birds.

By contrast, large terrestrial wild animals are often unwelcome guests. For instance, snakes in the city cause panic and either are beaten to death immediately they are spotted, or a snake catcher is called to return them to the wild. Although most snakes in Hong Kong are non-venomous, they are indistinguishable to the general public and frequently stir fear in people. Moneys, when they roam into urban areas, often cause chaos as they are agile and aggressive. Large wild boars have also caused alarm in recent years when they got lost inside buildings or on the street.

Most of the time wild animals do not actively attack human. Don't provoke them and you will be safe even if you encounter them in town. However, if the animals are frightened and dash around, they will become a nuisance for a period of time.

The city can be a death trap for wild animals

While the wild animals may bring us some nuisance, to them, entering the city may mean death. Car accidents are a major risk. There are frequent reports of cars hitting cows, which may have to be euthanised. Wild pigs trying to cross streets may get their heads trapped in fence. Feral animals rampaging inside a building may be easily injured in their terror.

Obtaining food in the city itself may not do good to the animals either. Human diets, containing all kinds of seasonings and additives, are not fit for consumption by the animals. They may also mistake rubbish such as food packaging and plastic bags for food. Becoming used to obtaining food from human environments will change their feeding habit and lead to population increases. In the long term, this may bring more harm than good to the animals themselves, and wildlife ecology.

Animals intruding into human settlements are frequently reported all around the world. In Toronto, Canada, for example, local residents have complained about the invasion of Raccoons (Procyon lotor). Domestic rubbish is put in the collection bins outside houses, for removal by waste collectors. These bins have attracted a great number of raccoons. In the end, the government solved the problem by changing the design of the rubbish bins, so the raccoons could no longer raid the bins for food.

Apart from raccoons, Toronto residents are also bothered by other wild animals including coyotes, wolves, foxes, deer, elk and moose. People adopt different ways to prevent animal intrusion without hurting them, such as improving fence designs, screening off their houses with plants, and utilising scarecrows, glinting lights, sound devices or even spraying repellents

Controlling large animal populations

As compared to other countries, the issue of animal intrusion is not as grave in Hong Kong. The government has, however, adopted measures—including hunting—to address the problem. There are two civilian hunting teams that were set up in the 1970s, issued with arms licences from the Hong Kong Police and hunting permits from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD). The teams will, when requested by the AFCD, cull wild boar. The AFCD also set up a cattle control team and launched the Capture-Sterilisation-Relocation Programme in 2011. Stray cattle in Lantau and Sai Kung are sterilised and relocated to more remote regions to avoid causing a nuisance to nearby residents.

On the other hand, as awareness of animal rights heightens in Hong Kong, several concern groups on wild and stray animals have been founded in recent years– for example, Wild Boar Concern Group, Lantau Buffalo Association and Cows Home Hong Kong. Increasingly, the public hopes to see more humane ways of treating animals, and hunting and killing of wild animals is falling behind public expectations.

Adverse impacts of human feeding

In Hong Kong, about three-fourths of the land is the countryside, which is in close proximity to the urban areas. To prevent wild animals straying into the city, the government works on wild animal population controls to reduce their need to seek food in human areas. The AFCD began administering birth control and sterilisation procedures to monkeys in 2002, and contraceptive injections for male wild boar in 2017.

Feeding by humans is one reason some wild animal populations are booming. In feeding wild animals, we also change their foraging habits and make them accustomed to human diets while losing their instinctive fear of humans, increasing their chances of entering urbanised areas. In response to this issue, some years ago the government made feeding monkeys illegal.

In addition, fence enclosures and rubbish bins opened by pressing a pedal have been placed in the countryside, preventing monkeys and wild boars from raiding the bins for food. All rubbish bins along hiking trails were removed by the end of 2017. The increasing awareness of Bring Your Own Rubbish Away of Hong Kong people also helps minimise countryside rubbish and pickup of leftover food by wild animals.

The AFCD is also considering installing cattle grids across roads. Widely used in other countries, these devices are designed with gaps too big for the animal's feet to step on but posing no problem for vehicles. Setting up such grids in Lantau and Sai Kung would help alleviate the problem of cattle roaming on the roads.

Changing our behaviour and habits

Cattle, monkeys and wild pigs are the three major large animals most often found straying into the urban areas in Hong Kong. And humans are actually to be blamed. Cattle are not native to Hong Kong. The two main species – Domestic Ox (Bos taurus) and Domestic Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalus) – were introduced by farmers a few decades ago and the populations we see straying on roads today are the offspring of the abandoned farming partners. As for monkeys, they were introduced into the territory in 1910 when the government was building Kowloon Reservoir, to help reduce the threat of poisonous fruits of Strychnos spp. falling into the reservoir. The monkey population boomed as they adapted well to the local environment. Eurasian Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) is native to Hong Kong. Yet according to the AFCD, the increasing reported sightings of wild boar in urban areas may be due to human feeding

In fact, the urban environment is not an ideal habitat for large animals. To keep them in the countryside, we should reduce the urban temptations for them. We have to change some of our behaviour and habits, such as feeding wild animals. Monkeys, wild boar and cattle all can forage in the wild. There is no need for us to provide food for them. Secondly, we have to properly handle our food leftovers and rubbish when we go camping, barbecuing or picnicking in the countryside. No matter how inconvenient it is, we have to take our own rubbish away. Don't leave any garbage in countryside rubbish bins.

The close proximity of the countryside and urban areas makes it unavoidable that wild animals may stray into human territory. If you encounter the animals, don't panic or overreact, which will frighten the animals and cause injury as they try to flee. Let's work hard to co-exist in harmony with our animal neighbours by keeping wild animals in their natural habitats, without luring them into urban areas.

Text | Henry Lui

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Wild boars may forage food among rubbish bins.
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Black Kite is well-adapted to city life. The birds do not present problems for us.
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Rubbish left behind by people brings numerous problems for wild animals. These include the animals mistakenly eating rubbish, changing their feeding habits, getting used to human food, and over-reproduction due to abundant food sources.
© Candy Yau
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In Canada, cute-looking raccoons have caused a nuisance to local residents.
Photo from Pixabay
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Domestic cattle on the road pose a threat to the animals and motorists.
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It is important that we take our own rubbish away from the countryside.
© Henry Lui
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Rubbish bins opened with pedals prevent animals foraging for food.
© Henry Lui
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Administering contraceptive and sterilisation procedures to monkeys is an effective way of controlling their populations.

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