Header image courtesy to @tonylamhk852 (via Instagram)
Last updated by Janice Lam.
What's the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Hong Kong? Skyscrapers? Millions and millions of people crammed on a small island? How about wildlife? Honestly, we're not monkeying around! Sam the Local resident tour guide Danny takes us for a walk on the wild side to find some of our furry neighbours in the 852.
Believe it or not, according to the GovHK website, 40 percent of the land in Hong Kong is protected in the form of country parks or nature reserves. In fact, for a city known for its skyscrapers and shopping malls, it is amazing that less than 25 percent of Hong Kong has been developed for urban use.
Naturally then, you would think that Hong Kong should be teeming with wildlife. Well, you would be right. Here are four types of popular wildlife, which you might not know exist in Hong Kong, and where to find them.
If humans are the kings of the concrete jungle, then surely monkeys are the rightful ruler of the mountains. Step onto the trails of Kowloon and enter into the world of the monkeys—specifically the rhesus macaque and the long-tailed macaque. According to the Agricultural, Fisheries, and Conservation Department (AFCD), about 2,000 wild monkeys inhabit Kam Shan, Lion Rock, and Shing Mun Country Parks.
For such a large patch of land, 2,000 might not sound like a lot. But if you find yourself alone on a trail surrounded by monkeys, it can be quite a harrowing experience. That’s exactly the situation I found myself in one day while hiking through Lion Rock. I heard a rustling of leaves from afar, then the rustling crept closer and closer. I increased my pace while drying the sweat off my palms. Suddenly, the shuffling rose to a crescendo. I stopped, looked back, glanced left, and checked right. Nothing. Then, I looked up and 20 pairs of inquisitive eyes stared back at me. It truly was a breathtaking sight.
Fortunately for me, these monkeys came in peace. They just carried on with their day, moving around in search of food. They didn’t mind the presence of a curious visitor. A mother and child even posed for a few pictures. The average monkey reached one and a half feet tall when sat down, and two and a half feet when standing. They were nimble on the ground and even more agile when swinging from branch to branch.
Later on, I stumbled into signs everywhere warning of the dangers of these seemingly peaceful animals. The bolder monkeys have been known to harass humans for food. “They will go for plastic bags," I was told by a friendly hiker, "that’s where they think there’s food." Though I’ve never seen it myself, I heard that they can open a can of Coke and have even mastered the fine art of opening Vitasoy with its straw (something that I’m still learning to do without making a mess).
According to recent news articles, monkey attacks are on the rise. Humans also have to do their part to keep the peace. This includes avoiding eye contact with the monkeys and smiling with your teeth. Essentially, a pleasant “How do you do?” for us humans means “LET’S FIGHT!” in monkey speak. Most importantly, we need to avoid feeding them. Besides a hefty $10,000 fine, feeding monkeys also disrupts their natural diet and introduces a potentially unhealthy source of food for them.
Monkeys are a must-see in Hong Kong. There are only a few other urban places where you can come face-to-face with wild monkeys. They are not hard to find, but make sure to follow the rules and respect our fellow primates. Remember, no monkey business!
Click here for our full history of wild monkeys in Hong Kong.
Yes, you read that correctly—there are dolphins in Hong Kong! Not grey ones of the common variety, but rare pink dolphins which are officially known as Chinese white dolphins (Sousa chinensis). Interestingly, while other Chinese white dolphins become grey or white in adulthood, the Chinese white dolphins around Hong Kong and Macau turn pink, a characteristic which is commonly attributed to the expansion of blood vessels under their skin for heat regulation combined with the uniquely murky waters they inhabit in the Pearl River Delta. People have been aware of their presence for over 300 years, but they only came into the mainstream focus during the construction of the Chek Lap Kok airport in the late 80s and early 90s. Since then, they have become a beloved part of the local ecosystem and were chosen to be the official mascot for the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997.
Pink dolphins live in the Pearl River Estuary—namely the waters around Lantau Island. I’ve been on multiple outings, both on big yachts and small motorboats, to see these magnificent creatures. However, I have since learned that the motorboat operators actually pose a threat to the dolphins by getting too close and injuring them, sometimes fatally. To see pink dolphins from a safe distance, check out HK DolphinWatch, which has been running responsible and educational dolphin tours since the 1990s.
Due to the nature of these excursions, there’s no guarantee that you’ll see the dolphins. I’ve been five times and have successfully spotted them thrice—a personal sighting rate of 60 percent! Sadly, that rate is likely to fall with time because, according to WWF, the existence of the Chinese white dolphin is under threat. They report that a “worrisome decrease in the number of young dolphins” has been observed due to the threat of “overfishing, water pollution, and heavy marine traffic.”
For tips on how to safely and conscientiously admire these magnificent creatures, please read the “Code of Conduct for Dolphin Watching” from the AFCD and the “Guide to Dolphin Watching in Hong Kong” from Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society.
Click here to learn more about Hong Kong’s pink dolphins.
If it’s dark and you find yourself on a basketball court in the New Territories—or in a more sparsely populated area of Hong Kong Island such as Pok Fu Lam, sit down, get comfortable, and look up at the floodlights. On certain nights, you might see a flock of birds fluttering quietly around the lamps. Wait until one flies directly between you and the light. Notice anything odd? Pay closer attention—those aren’t birds you’re looking at, they’re bats!
As someone who has grown up and lived in cities all my life, I thought bats were creatures of woodland areas, caves, and forests. So imagine my surprise when I encountered bats while bouncing a rubber ball in Hong Kong! Everyone I told said that I must have been mistaken. I doubted myself until another night, when I saw them again! They couldn’t be birds, I reasoned. These creatures seemed to flutter about, whereas birds have more of a glide in their flight. I searched online and learned that there are, in fact, lots of wild bats in Hong Kong.
According to WWF, there are 21 known species of bats in Hong Kong. The most common species is the Japanese pipistrelle. Interestingly, there’s a lot we don’t know about them. Even recently, we have discovered new species and rediscovered old ones. Where do these bats live? That’s a very good question! In Hong Kong, bats don’t live in caves, as they are widely known to do, but instead in man-made structures like water pipes and tunnels. And, believe it or not, the favourite homes of Japanese Pipistrelle are air conditioning units!
Most bats in Hong Kong feed on insects. A Japanese pipistrelle with a body length of four centimetres, the smallest in the local area, eats about 3,000 mosquito-sized insects a night. An enemy of my enemy is my friend! Bats also contribute to the environment by spreading the seeds of local trees through their droppings. Let’s take a moment to salute these wonderful animals.
Where can you go for bat watching? There are several night hikes in the New Territories that are ideal. You can also use special listening devices called bat detectors to listen in on their echolocation. Or, if you’re like me, find some friends to play basketball with at night and look up every once in a while.
Wild pigs get horrible press in Hong Kong. In fact, not many people even know that pigs are native to this area. Frankly, they are sick and tired of being pushed out of the spotlight. So multiple times, in the last few months, they have shown up to say hello. The ruckus they caused was all over the news, including Localiiz. In one incident, a wild juvenile female pig waged a four-hour battle with the police in a mall in Chai Wan. On that same day, another decided to swim in a pool in Tsuen Wan. So now, we get it, Hong Kong is as much theirs as it is ours.
Recently, yours truly had an encounter with a wild pig. Now, this was before I’d done my research, and learned how close I was to becoming Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. During that moment, however, I recalled a TV show where a tribe of hunters were on a wild pig hunt. With long spears, the experienced hunters waited patiently in the treetops. Some of the younger hunters started to tremble and were visibly scared. Being raised watching Porky Pig, I thought pigs were slow and lazy creatures. That illusion evaporated when a boar appeared. It put up a ferocious fight against 20 armed men. It was like a scene from Jurassic Park.
Anyway, the other day, I came across a wild pig in Sha Tin. It was a young male, around 50 kilograms or so. We spotted each other from afar, giving both of us time to react. My whole life flashed before my eyes. What was I to do? I figured my best bet was to stay still and wait for him to pass. Provoking him was the last thing I wanted to do. I spotted a metal fence on one side, so I made sure I was ready to hop over it if he decided to charge. After a bit of a standoff, he decided that I wasn’t much of a threat. With one eye on me the whole time, he trotted by, and disappeared into the bushes.
So yeah, wild pigs are native to Hong Kong—I’ve seen it with my own eyes. They can be found almost everywhere, especially in the New Territories. Their diet consists mostly of plants, but they also feed on small animals like insects and earthworms. They avoid humans whenever they can. So, for your own sake, if you happen to encounter a wild pig, I highly encourage you not to engage it in any confrontational way. According to the AFCD, you should 1) leave them undisturbed, 2) not approach them, 3) if attacked, hide behind a barrier like a tree or a boulder. Trust me, you don’t want to mess with these guys!
Click here for our history of wild boars in Hong Kong.