LCQ1: Protection of animals in rural areas affected by development projects

     Following is a question by the Hon Chu Hoi-dick and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, in the Legislative Council today (April 11):
     Some people who are concerned about animal welfare have relayed to me that as the Government has taken forward a number of major development projects in the rural areas of the New Territories in recent years, quite a number of rural animals have been deprived of their habitats. It would be difficult for them to escape the eventual destiny of being euthanised upon being handed over to, or caught by, the authorities. Such people hold the view that the Government should take measures to protect the welfare of these animals in order to avoid recurrence of the aforesaid situation. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has formulated a comprehensive policy on the protection of the welfare of rural animals, in order to avoid their being affected by development projects and their being euthanised; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) given that the Wang Chau public housing development Phase 1 in Yuen Long will commence shortly, whether it has compiled any statistics on the number of animals (including dogs, cats, cattle, goats and sheep, as well as other animals) that will be affected by the development project and has taken measures to protect the welfare of these animals in order to avoid their being euthanised; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and whether it will compile such statistics immediately; and
(3) whether it will strengthen the co-operation with and increase the subsidies to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) and other animal welfare organisations, so as to facilitate their assisting the Government in compiling the relevant statistics and undertaking work on protecting the welfare of rural animals; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
     Thank you for the question by the Hon Chu Hoi-dick. As the question concerns not only animal welfare, but also land planning and public housing development, having consulted the Development Bureau and the Transport and Housing Bureau, I provide a consolidated reply as follows.

     The Government attaches great importance to animal welfare.  Our policy objective is to ensure that people and animals co-exist harmoniously, be it in rural or urban areas.  We also take appropriate measures to properly deal with the possible public health problems caused by stray animals in various districts across the territory, with a view to striking a balance between safeguarding public hygiene and safety and animal welfare.
     Phase 1 of the public housing development at Wang Chau, Yuen Long is understood to involve about 180 households currently, and planned construction of 4 000 flats.  Under the prevailing policy, except for the baseline studies (including those for wild plants and animals) conducted for specific development projects on ecological grounds, relevant departments do not compile statistics on other animals affected by development projects.  Therefore, the engineering feasibility study conducted for the Wang Chau Public Housing Development does not contain such statistics.  The above notwithstanding, we understand that the project area does not have any livestock farm, and is not a major habitat for stray or wild animals.  Furthermore, we believe that there should not be a large number of small household pets within the development project area, and such pets generally should not be affected by relocation of households due to the development works. 
     We have been adopting a multi-pronged approach towards the management of stray animals, including promoting through public education the concept of giving due consideration to the long-term commitment in pet-keeping; disseminating messages of responsible pet ownership and proper caring for animals; neutering animals being re-homed; promoting animal re-homing; and locating and catching stray animals in order to transfer them to animal welfare organisations (AWOs) as far as possible for adoption by members of the public.  The three-year "Trap-Neuter-Return" Trial Programme for handling stray dogs was just completed in early 2018.  The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) will consider the next step upon receiving the report to be submitted by the consultant of the Trial Programme.  Generally speaking, the number of stray animals received across the territory and the number of animals euthanised have dropped significantly over the past five years, showing that our efforts in stray animal management are by and large bearing fruit.
     In addition, AFCD has been working in close collaboration with AWOs to implement services for enhancing animal welfare.  AWOs may apply for funding from AFCD with details of their proposals, associated performance indicators and the estimated budget for AFCD's consideration.  AFCD will consider if the circumstances warrant adjustment of the funding to AWOs.
     Support and co-operation of society at large are essential to enhancing animal welfare.  We will continue our work on this front to further safeguard animal welfare.

Ends/Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Issued at HKT 15:59