Wild cows on Hong Kong’s Grass Island are starving

Cows at Hong Kong's Grass island, credit: 西貢牛
Cows at Hong Kong's Grass island, credit: 西貢牛

A herd of wild cows in Hong Kong is going hungry after humans destroyed the grass they eat. “Suddenly, there are massive numbers of people coming and trampling on the grass,” said Ho Loy, chairwoman of Lantau Buffalo Association, a group that campaigns to protect Hong Kong’s wild buffalos and cows.

The animals live with a few dozen fishing families on Grass Island, one of Hong Kong’s islets. The island is closer to mainland China than Hong Kong and is reached by a long bus and ferry ride.

Until the coronavirus struck last year, a manageable number of hikers and campers made their way to the island. But with overseas travel no longer possible for most Hong Kongers, a huge flood of visitors has arrived as people look for ways to entertain themselves during the coronavirus pandemic.

The once grassy lands have transformed into barren dirt, wiping out the primary food source for the island’s herd of wild cows.

“There was too much trampling on the ground. It’s not just the grass that cannot grow, the compost layer of the soil also disappeared. It’s now becoming an eco-disaster,” Loy told AFP.

The situation has become so bad that volunteers have started shipping food into Grass Island to stop the herd from starving.

Cows eating candy
Every month, Loy holds a workshop to train volunteers to collect fresh grass, feed the cows and visit campers to spread awareness about protecting the animals and to remind them not to leave rubbish behind.

On a recent weekend, the group spent three hours traveling to some of Hong Kong’s more remote villages to collect fresh hay using sickles and scissors. They then transported it to Grass Island to feed the cows.

Without grass, the cows turn to visitors or go through the rubbish left behind, with potentially fatal consequences. “That’s dangerous,” Loy said. “Many of the cows you can see, they have a strange, swollen stomach, which means they have a certain amount of plastic in their digestive system.”

“We saw cows going to the bins and hunting for food,” said Jennifer Wai, who joined the workshop with her husband. “We saw them eat candy still in a bottle and they ate the whole thing. It was heartbreaking to see.”

“This is a natural beauty of Hong Kong that’s going to be lost,” said Wai’s husband, Freddy Ramaker. “I think people should care.”

Loy said many visitors do not know enough about wildlife protection and often feed the cows because they are sociable friendly animals.

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