Three children were injured and sent to hospital for treatment after two buffaloes ran into a group of pupils on Lantau Island in Hong Kong on Thursday.
A 24-second video posted online showed one adult buffalo chasing another across South Lantau Road near Pui O in what a local conservationist described as common mating season behaviour.
The two animals then ran along the pavement and into a group of pupils who were gathered at an outdoor public car park.
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Emergency personnel arrived on the scene soon after 9.30am.
Police said the two buffaloes in the chase hit an eight-year-old girl and a boy. “The other five boys and three girls dodged and tripped over,” police said, adding one of the boys was injured in the fall.
The girl who was hit by the animals was hurt in the abdomen, while two of the boys suffered injuries to the chest, face and hands.
The trio, all aged eight, were taken to North Lantau Hospital for treatment. The two boys were later transferred to Princess Margaret Hospital in Lai Chi Kok.
The other seven children, aged between eight and nine, did not require hospital treatment, police said.
Authorities later said that as of 3.30pm, the girl among the injured trio had been discharged, while the boys were in stable condition in hospital.
Ho Loy, chairwoman of the Lantau Buffalo Association, an activist group that campaigns to protect Hong Kong’s wild ruminants, said a herder had told her that Thursday’s incident occurred as the local dominant bull was chasing off the male he had replaced at the top of the pecking order.
Calling the incident “unfortunate”, Ho said that November and December brought increased buffalo activity as bulls competed for mates, and as the animals moved from one area to another looking for new wetlands during the change in seasons.
In its advice to the public, the association recommended keeping a safe distance of more than four metres from buffaloes, and to refrain from touching or feeding them.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it had received a report of the incident and sent staff to investigate immediately. It had also been in contact with the principal and teachers of the children’s school to find out what happened.
A department spokesman said one of the animals involved had been neutered, and the other buffalo would also undergo the same procedure.
“The aggressiveness of male buffalo towards [other males of the species] can be lowered after the surgery and the chances of hurting passers-by can therefore be reduced,” the spokesman said.
Jean Leung Siu-wah, known as the “buffalo mother” in the local community for feeding and taking care of the animals around Pui O, questioned the government’s sterilisation policy. She pointed out it would further deplete the animal’s population, adding that other measures should also be considered, as well as looking into the cause of the animals’ shrinking habitat.
“This is the wetlands. The buffalo have stayed here for two generations,” Leung said.
Environmentalists have become increasingly concerned that government-designated coastal protection areas are under threat. Local buffaloes, according to Ho from the association, had lost around 30 per cent of their habitat inside South Lantau’s protected area to human activity in the past five years, forcing the herd into closer contact with people.
“In the past, we would not see injuries like that, because they had enough space to roam and chase [each other] inside their habitat,” she said.
In September, a leading environmental group called on Hong Kong authorities to increase their protection of ecologically sensitive habitats in South Lantau after a survey of the area identified five spots threatened by human activities.
WWF-Hong Kong’s analysis of 47 watersheds – places where run-off collects in rivers and drains into a reservoir or bay – found nearly 37 per cent of the non-country park areas of Pui O, a popular recreational spot along the South Lantau coast, to be at risk from the likes of development and illegal dumping.
Around 90 of Hong Kong’s 130 water buffalo roam South Lantau’s wetlands.
Additional reporting by Rachel Yeo
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