The way animals are treated is often said to be indicative of how caring a society is. Equally pertinent are the government laws and actions regarding animal rights and protection. In Hong Kong, the situation is not clear though. While there is growing respect for animal rights and welfare among the people, it is often not matched with improvements in government policies and practices.
Government auditors are to be commended for examining the standards and compliance in this respect. The array of problems exposed in the Audit Commission's value for money audit is disturbing. The government's strategy to control the population of animals - from managing their numbers in the wild to responding to the nuisance they cause to citizens - leaves much to be desired. For instance, the number of complaints about nuisances jumped by 75 per cent to 2,012 over the past five years. But the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department often did not follow guidelines to carry out on-site visits.
The policy on stray and wild animal control also appears to be inconsistent. Figures showed that trapping monkeys for sterilisation has become more difficult, despite the greater need for control as their numbers have crept up by 13 per cent to 1,957 in five years. But the contractor tasked to do the job had neutered more than required under the guideline. For stray cats and dogs, more than 700 were put down over the past year, but the periods leading up to action could range from immediate to more than 90 days. And when the ones suitable for adoption were eventually sent to rehoming agencies, there seemed to be little monitoring of and accountability for what happened to them. That raises questions over the government's spending. With an annual budget of HK$62 million for wild and stray animal control, the public rightly expects better of our officials.
Hong Kong's biodiversity is rich. But our proximity to nature means wildlife and stray animals can bother or even threaten people. The department has an important job to do. With good policies and management practices, it can strike a balance between urban living and the well-being of wildlife and the environment.
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