By Christie Wong
The conflict between wild pigs and humans currently developing in Hong Kong is the result of too little action, too late. Whilst wild animal culls are at times unavoidable, the current action has been undertaken before the root causes of the problem have been effectively addressed.
Justifying its actions, the government has indicated that all other options have been exhausted, hence a culling programme – which is clearly unpalatable to much of society including expert associations such as the Hong Kong Veterinary Associations and institutions such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Without a long-term comprehensive conservation and management plan, which we have yet to see, such culls will likely plunge the administration into a long-term cyclical activity that will only provide brief periods of relief through site-specific culls – unless of course the entire boar population were to be eradicated.
The causes of this human-animal conflict are well known and widely acknowledged:
- members of the public persistently feeding wild pigs
- inadequate and inappropriate legislation
- ineffective and insufficient prosecutions, resulting in lack of deterrence
- insufficient management of public and municipal waste in and next to pig habitats
Killing with kindness
Under The Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (WAPO) (Cap. 170), feeding wild animals in designated areas is banned. However, these areas do not cover many of the wild pig problem areas. In such locations it is not illegal to feed wild animals.
Even when “illegal” feeding occurs in a designated area, prosecution is problematic, requiring relatively complicated court proceedings where the challenges of proving guilt are substantial e.g.
- defendant claims to be feeding stray and not wild animals
- defendant claims to have left the food on the ground even when there are no animals present
Successful prosecutions are few and penalties are typically a few hundred dollars. Repeat offending is not uncommon. Notably, government officers do not typically, if ever, apprise the court of the negative impacts of wildlife feeding, which they could and should do to guide sentencing.
In reality, most prosecutions are for littering offences under the Fixed Penalty (Public Cleanliness and Obstruction) Ordinance (Cap. 570). Notably, fixed penalties cannot currently be handed down for “feeding wild pigs”, hence invoking the littering offence. This undermines the message that feeding wild animals is banned – some may interpret the law as meaning that you can feed wildlife provided you don’t litter.
It is recognised that the majority of the public do not feed wild pigs, however, the consequences of the relatively few that do is significant and warrants legislative reform. In order to reflect the seriousness of the offence and impose a deterrent effect, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and police should formulate a joint plan to take swift enforcement action when wildlife feeding is detected.
Regulating the feeding of wildlife is complex since the feeding of stray animals may have the same effect in the context of wild pig human-animal conflict. Feeding strays should also be managed so it can continue in a form that will not exacerbate the wild pig conflicts.
The waste problem
Although many of Hong Kong’s densely populated areas border country parks and pig habitats, it is common to see piles of municipal waste on pavements and kerbs in these locations.
Apartment buildings pile their waste for collection in the early mornings, the time when wild pigs typically feed. The waste may sit uncollected for several hours and inevitably attracts wildlife. The building’s management simply blame the government, seeing waste as its responsibility, and do little to address the issue. This practice is tantamount to putting food out for the animals. Importantly, the reproductive rate of wild pigs is highly dependent on food availability.
In some locations the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has installed waste bins that are pig-proof and has indicated that it will deploy these bins in suitable sites as needed. However, it remains common to see the “easy-to-access” bins near where wild pigs live.
Licence to Cull
The current drastic culling activities appear to be reactionary and rushed. In June the government’s approach as briefed to the Legislative Council seemed more reasonable, though as noted above, inefficiencies need to be addressed. Looking forward, if culls are needed, there should be clear science-based goals in place, where a minimum and maximum number of pigs that can be culled is set. The approach to estimating population numbers and setting target goals should be transparent.
Since wild pigs can range widely (and an increase in range will be induced by food availability), the definition of urban/rural wild pigs should be well established. Uncontrolled feeding and poor waste management will act as “pull factors” drawing wild pigs into urban areas. Without strong action on wildlife feeders and improved waste management, too many wild pigs will be culled.
Protecting Biodiversity – We Can do Better
In mid-October, mainland China released the Kunming Declaration acknowledging the global biodiversity crisis and calling for countries and jurisdictions to increase efforts to protect biodiversity. It is disheartening to see this “humane” destruction” of wild pigs in the wake of such a proclamation. Resorting to destroying wildlife before all measures and resources have been exhausted is at odds with our commitments to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Kunming Declaration. Put simply, we must learn to co-exist with nature.
Multiple measures are needed:
- Introduce a territory-wide feeding ban (under Cap. 170).
- Add the “prohibition of feeding wildlife” to Schedule I of Cap. 570, so wildlife feeding is itself a fixed penalty offence. Alternatively, introduce a Fixed Penalty Ordinance for Feeding Wild Animals and set the penalty to a higher level than Cap. 570.
- Ensure AFCD officers inform the courts of the negative impacts of wildlife feeding to encourage the sentencing of offenders with harsher penalties.
- Work with residential buildings management companies to ensure sufficient bins and collection of refuse to stop the practice of piling municipal waste on pavements.
- Make it easier to report poorly managed municipal waste bins to the authorities.
- Accelerate the replacement of the old-style waste bins with the wild pig-proof bins.
- During a human-wild pig conflict incident, the police should take charge of crowd control and cordoning off areas, and leave the wild pig relocation to trained wildlife expert teams. In most circumstances, chasing, cornering and manually restraining a wild pig is extremely dangerous. Various government departments (i.e., AFCD, FEHD, HKPF) must collaborate and complement each other during such events to ensure both public safety and animal welfare.
- Continue the Capture and Contraception/Relocation Programme.
- Continue with wild pig population surveys to assist in developing management strategies.
Christie Wong is a qualified veterinary nurse, and throughout her animal nursing career, she saw first-hand the negative impact of the wildlife trade. She has since joined ADM Capital Foundation’s courtroom monitoring programme, tracking wildlife crime cases from seizure to sentencing.
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