A bizarre incident last week in which hungry bulls wandered the aisles of a Lantau Island supermarket was rare and likely to be a one-off, Hong Kong’s conservation chief said on Sunday.
But he admitted the city’s wild pig problem was worsening and there was a need to explore other methods to bring down their population and prevent people feeding them, which had lured the animals into urban areas.
Dr Leung Siu-fai, director of agriculture, fisheries and conservation, said the issue of feral cattle straying into city streets was unlikely to worsen thanks to a years-long neutering programme.
“We’ve already neutered more than 500,” he said on a television show. “In the longer term, their numbers will stabilise, or even fall.”
His assurances came days after a group of stray bulls were filmed roaming through a local ParknShop in Mui Wo, helping themselves to fruit displayed in cold storage units and shelves.
And in November a bull was found dead near Pui O, his stomach and intestinal tract clogged with enough plastic bags to fill two rubbish bins.
Cows go foraging in Lantau Island supermarket, which Hong Kong animal advocates say is a sign of shrinking bovine habitats
Animal rights activists said the incidents reflected the plight of the island’s wild cattle, who were suffering from habitat degradation and becoming increasingly accustomed to human feeding, which is illegal but only in certain country parks and protected areas.
While Leung expressed confidence in Hong Kong’s cattle controls, he conceded that the problem of wild pigs causing a nuisance was worsening. There were 679 sightings or nuisance reports about wild boars between January and October 2018. In the whole of 2017 there were 738.
Of the more than 700 boar-related complaints his department received last year, 40 per cent pertained to human feeding and 35 per cent to pigs foraging through bins.
Feeding wild animals is only illegal in four country parks – Lion Rock, Kam Shan, Shing Mun and Tai Mo Shan – and the Tai Po Kau Special Area, making it hard to clamp down in other places.
But Leung said offenders outside of these areas could be prosecuted under littering laws.
Beloved bull Billy found dead with stomach full of plastic bags, prompting call for beachgoers to take their trash home
He added that the department was exploring options such as installing security cameras at 30 feeding blackspots to help the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department catch offenders.
Manpower for a programme launched in 2017 that captured, relocated and applied contraceptive treatment to wild boars foraging near built-up areas would be tripled from the current six-strong team, he said.
“If we bring their numbers down, the frequency with which they come down [into urban areas] will come down too,” Leung said.
Most wild boars encountered were not aggressive, he added.
In the past few months the government has been under fire over the wild pig problem, with some calling for a cull and a former lawmaker even suggesting they be caught and shipped to a remote island.
The Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group, however, argues they should be left alone and the government should do more to create an environment where humans and boars can “exist in harmony”.