Despite our global designation as a major city filled with skyscrapers, approximately 70 percent of Hong Kong actually consists of country parks and mountainous ranges. The SAR is also by nature a subtropical location, and has a topography composed of mountains, grasslands, and cool waters—all conducive habitats for wild animals. For such a small territory, it’s pretty amazing to know that more than 5,000 species of animals have been recorded here. Here are some interesting wildlife native to Hong Kong.
PSA: If you see these animals in the wild, don't just immediately freak out and shock them into hurting themselves or you! Remember that they are probably a lot more scared of you than you are of them.
The Chinese White Dolphin (Sousa chinensis) is commonly referred to as the Pink Dolphin because their skin adorably takes on a blush during heat regulation. These dolphins reside in the Pearl River Estuary, particularly in the waters of Lantau Island near Castle Peak, Tai O, Lung Kwu Chau, Sha Chau Marine Park, and Chek Lap Kok and are so beloved that they were named the official mascot for Hong Kong’s 1997 handover ceremony.
Their population was believed to be numbered around 2,500, but the World Wildlife Foundation has reported that there has been a worrisome decrease in the number of young dolphins in recent years. There are several companies offering boat tours for pink dolphin sightings, but these expeditions are actually intrusive to their natural habitats and may pose a threat to these gentle creatures.
This is a large white bird that wades in shallow waters, so named for its distinctive beak that is shaped like a spoon. In wintertime, these spoonbills migrate south to their wintering grounds, mainly around Taiwan and the Pearl River Delta—this means we might be able to spot them in Mai Po Inner Deep Bay, Futian Nature Reserve, and Macau. The Black-faced spoonbill is a globally endangered species only found in East Asia, with an estimated world population of just 3,941. About 20 percent of their global numbers can be found in Hong Kong over winter.
Unless you go traipsing around the wilderness of Hong Kong at night, you’re rather unlikely to come across the Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica). These stripey creatures that rather resemble a hybrid of house cat and otter are nocturnal, living on the ground and nesting in holes or under rocks. While difficult for most people to spot, they are frequently captured on infra-red camera traps in the Mai Po Nature Reserve.
The masked palm civet, also known as the gem-faced civet (Paguma larvata), is even less abundant. They haven’t got the spots or stripes in other civets, but black and white markings on the face that looks like a mask instead. Do try not to alarm it if you spot one because, like a skunk, this animal will spray a secretion from its anal gland when threatened, which smells awful.
The East Asian or Malayan Porcupine (Hystrix brachyura) tend to be asleep during the daytime, but you might still come across them while hiking sometimes. They have been spotted quite frequently around Bowen Road, Black’s Link, and on The Peak. Because they pair up as mates, if you see one, you’ll likely also find its partner nearby. Listen out for the tell-tale rustling of their quills.
If you do come across a porcupine, give it ample space; when threatened, they will raise their quills in warning and back towards the perceived danger with the spiky ends. Sadly, every year porcupines get seriously injured by dogs attacking on instinct, so keep your pet on the lead if you’re on walkies and see a spiky friend.
Though feral, Hong Kong’s boars are now famous for fearlessly roaming ever closer to human settlements. We’ve all heard accounts of how these gutsy pigs root around in bins for scraps and leave pet dogs gibbering in fear, but the truth is they are shy by nature and only come near residences on a survival need to forage for food. They can be spotted mostly on Hong Kong island, near The Peak, Lung Fu Shan, Repulse and South Bay, and Aberdeen Country Park. Wild boars are generally quite placid if left alone, but be careful if you see babies around as the adult boar will be protective of its young.
Most of the monkeys local to Hong Kong are Rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Locals used to feed them, which has contributed greatly to a boom in their numbers, so much so that Kam Shan is known informally as Monkey Mountain. Feeding them is now illegal, but they have long since learned that humans often carry food, and have no qualms about aggressively ripping plastic bags straight out of your hands.
The primates around the Shing Mun Reservoir are relatively more chill, and are better subjects to observe in their natural habitat. It’s useful to know that excessive eye contact with a monkey is a sign of aggression, as is showing your teeth, so mind your body language!
Kites (Milvus migrans) are very common in Hong Kong, having adapted to be comfortable soaring above both the city and the countryside. You’ll often see these scavenging birds swooping around The Peak around sunset, along Sai Kung Pier, or above the mountains of Clearwater Bay. Being able to see a flock of kites in action is like seeing a birds of prey documentary in real life.
There are two known species of mongoose in Hong Kong, and the more common (as well as the prettier) is the Small Asian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus). They mainly inhabit open plains and wetlands, where they have easier access to their preferred diet of insects, amphibians, crabs, and eggs. Don’t let their cute appearance fool you—these are feisty little guys who will even take on the venomous Chinese cobra for a meal! There have been minimal sightings on Hong Kong island, but you might luck out at Tai Mo Shan, Tai Lam, Plover Cove, or more likely at the Mai Po marshes.
The other larger species is the Crab-eating mongoose (Herpestes urva), which can be identified by its grey-brown fur and a white stripe on the shoulder. They are rather rare and their distribution is restricted to northern Hong Kong, in Lin Ma Hang, Sha Tau Kok, Pat Sin Leng, Ma On Shan, and Plover Cove.
The smallest amphibian in the region, Romer’s tree frog (Liuixalus romeri) is endemic to Hong Kong. It is usually dark brown with mustard orange or pink-hued markings, blending in perfectly with the leafy forest grounds it calls home (yes, even though it’s called a tree frog). These little critters were first discovered on Lamma Island in 1952, and can also be found on Chek Lap Kok, Po Toi, and Lantau islands. Ever since they came under conservation protection, your best bet of spotting them would be to head to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden.
The cows of Sai Kung and Clearwater Bay are free-roaming and well-loved among the locals, even though bizarre incidents have happened such as a cow breaking into a supermarket to munch on greens. Across the territories in south Lantau, water buffalo can be found in the wetlands of Pui O, often also along Cheung Sha Wan beach.
Both these species are descendants of farm help that used to be kept for plowing fields, then later turned loose with the decline of agriculture. They are often followed by local cattle egrets, who feed on the insects on these gentle bovines.
The Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) may be one of Hong Kong’s most threatened species as they are used in traditional Chinese medicine and are illegally poached for the sale of its meat and scales in wildlife markets—they have been all but eradicated at this point in mainland China.
Pangolins have characteristic grey brown scales over their whole bodies apart from the belly and inner limbs; these scales have razor sharp edges and can be raised when the pangolin curls up in defense. To protect this critically endangered species, a five-year plan starting in 2019 has been put in place to better its conservation and survival chances.
The red muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak) is also known as barking deer because the male’s call surprisingly sounds like a dog’s bark. This species is one of the most abundant and widely distributed mammals in Hong Kong. It sports two small canines that protrude, much like a vampire or a sabre-toothed feline. Despite its relative prolificity, it’s relatively difficult to spot because they are nocturnal and also terribly shy—in fact, these deer are so timid that they have been known to die of fright when captured!
A couple of years ago, a pair of hikers made international headlines, claiming to have seen a tiger in Ma On Shan Country Park—an incident that shocked them so much, one of the hikers purportedly had to be sent to the hospital. It soon came to light that they had come across the elusive leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) instead. Slightly larger than the common house cat, these pretty felines lead solitary lives in woodlands and rainforests.
Sadly, they are a popular target of illegal trade for their beautiful fur or even as exotic pets. Though quite widely distributed in Hong Kong, it's unlikely that you will ever spot one in the wild, so head to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden instead as they have a couple in the Native Mammal House.
Bats surprisingly comprise almost half of the mammal species in Hong Kong. Some species are common in both rural and urban areas, such as the Short-nosed fruit bat which nestles in the Chinese fan-palm plant, and the Japanese Pipistrelle, which prefers roosting in man-made structures like air conditioning units. Rarer species include the Greater Bamboo bat, which has only been recorded in the Plover Cove Country Park in recent years, and Horsfield’s Myotis which can only be found in water tunnels in Shek Kong, Tung Tze, and Nam Chung.
There are also several smaller wildlife creatures and fauna endemic to Hong Kong, such as the Entoria victoria and Neohirasea hongkongensis stick insects, which can be found in rural Sai Kung or Tai Po Kau. The Hong Kong Jumper spider (Psenuc hongkong) and Hong Kong South Sea crab (Nanhaipotamon hongkongense) have both even been scientifically named after our city.
Two other unique critters that have only been found in Hong Kong are Bogadek’s Burrowing Lizard (which really looks more like a worm than a lizard) and the tiny Gascoignella aprica sea slug.