Kadoorie Log #7: Putting the Conserve in Conservation

Running a rescue centre and a number of live educational displays takes a lot of effort, small but invaluable daily tasks of proper animal husbandry, and (among other things) resources.  From feed for the animals to energy to run the entire facility, the cogs and gears that keep an organization this big running are often overlooked, but critically important.  After working at the Kadoorie Farm for a few weeks, we began to wonder where it all came from, so we did some investigating.

Both animals, staff and visitors are fed primarily with produce and product grown on the farm.  Both the Sun Garden Cafe and The Farm Shop offer a wonderful selection of vegetables, grains, and eggs which are either locally grown or harvested from the farm itself, as well as various fertilizers for  people’s own backyard gardens or farms.

A sign in The Farm Shop explaining the use of bat guana in farming.

A sign in The Farm Shop explaining the use of bat guana in farming.

The agricultural part of the farm still grows crops, and there is also an eco-garden to teach visitors about growing their own food, along with a employee garden so staff can grow their own food and grab a snack on the go.


In addition to this, the Cafe uses no disposable utensils, napkins, or take-away containers.  Both of these small, but important strategies decrease the damage caused to the environment by the use of fossil fuels in transportation.  The lack of disposable cutlery cuts down on the amount of garbage produced, as well as waste which can cause harm to animals who consume it, and would increase the space needed for huge dump sites – further destroying animal (and human) habitats. There is very little recycling in Hong Kong, and the places who do accept recyclable waste have to ship it all the way to mainland China to be processed. The landfills here are overflowing (as is true of most heavily populated areas in the world), but instead of managing waste with recycling programs, and green bins for organic waste Hong Kong has recently licensed an incinerator in Tuen Mun. This quick fix will have huge impacts on both local citizens and the environment by raising the regional temperature by 1-2 degrees Celsius and increasing fume emissions detrimentally leading to more greenhouse gasses and higher risk of lung cancer in humans and animals (Terry Li Kwai Fong).

In the abstract, eating and growing food locally strengthens the bond people can feel to their environment, a bond with nature so often alienated in modern times by sprawling concrete and widespread urbanization. Working in the dirt alongside other creatures reminds us that we too are part of an ecosystem on which we rely.


Vegetarian diets themselves help to reduce the energy we expend, and the current director of Kadoorie is a strong believer in this concept.  His philosophy comes from a spiritual Buddhist belief in a respect for life. Materially a vegetarian diet cuts down on environmental degradation. In a 2009 study a Californian scientist found that a non-vegetarian diet consumed 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticide than a vegetarian diet (Marlow). 

However, not all species are lucky enough to be omnivores who can choose where their sustenance comes from.  For the carnivorous animals here at Kadoorie, meat is a must-have. The animals and insects used to feed the carnivores and insectivores, from chickens to the tiniest crickets are housed in spacious and well-kept enclosures and given a quality of life unimaginable to the factory farmed animals consumed by many people.  The chicken playground (made of recycled kindergarten climbers), the large stick-bug tanks complete with climbing trees (which are properly humidified and heated for their comfort and health), and the egg-carton colonies which house the crickets and cockroaches all serve as testament to the compassionate nature of the policies employed here, and to the dedication of the keepers who maintain them daily.

Today the river was running fully, as it often does in the wet season.

Today the river was running fully, as it often does in the wet season.

Even the water we drink here at Kadoorie has its own story. It comes from the beautiful stream that flows down Tai Mo Shan mountain. There are signs posted around the farm, in washrooms and kitchens, letting staff and visitors know the current status of the river, while reminding them not to use more water than they need.


A sign explains the low flow toilets – it is amazing how appliances and household items which are more environmentally friendly can add up over time.

Only certain taps are filtered drinking water, while the rest are unfiltered. When water is ‘purified’ it is safer for human consumption, but often changes the chemical balance of the water, which can have consequences on the delicate ecosystems and stream life – so keeping purification to a minimum is a great way to avoid indirectly affecting the wildlife. It is also wonderful because less filtered water means less chemicals and energy expended purifying water needlessly. Despite huge efforts to avoid needless energy consumption the vet tools, heating lamps, security alarms, and lights – not to mention the air conditioners –  all still need power. To help offset some of the electricity used at Kadoorie there are solar panels on nearly every building around the farm which soak up energy all day from the sun.


The Goddess of Mercy, Kwun Yam, looks down from one of the peaks over Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Garden. She is a figure which embodies compassion for all things.

All of these things that Kadoorie Botanical Farms and Gardens does to be sustainable, they do while also rescuing, rehabilitating and caring for animals at the same time as they are also often engaged in complex multi-team research projects.  It can get pretty intense around here but if they can do it – so can we!

Tasha and Karlie



Kadoorie Log #6: Conservation Success Stories


The pig nose river turtle, an animal that is indigenous to Northern Australia and South Western New Guinea, is listed as a vulnerable species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List (http://www.iucnredlist.org). Unlike any other species of freshwater turtle, the pig nose is extraordinary in having flippers resembling marine turtles. According to the IUCN, the term ‘vulnerable’ is defined as “a taxon which is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future” (IUCN 2001).

KFBG received a shipment of 785 pig nose turtles from the government as a result of an illegal import in 2009. They were being smuggled into the country for the pet trade and the clock started ticking immediately on the fate of these hatchlings. At a mere 10 cm, the turtles required a lot of care as they were originally shipped in such poor conditions. Many had died as a result of stress and malnourishment but during the eight months that it took the governments of Indonesian West Papua and Hong Kong to work together to determine what would happen to them, the staff of Kadoorie managed to save 609 of the original shipment. But the biggest question facing all the stakeholders who were involved in the turtles’ long term fate was determining for certain where they had come from in the first place. Releasing animals back into the wild is a very complicated process, something we will detail more at the end of this post. Fortunately for these particular turtles, there was paper evidence from shipping which helped determine that the turtles were in fact from Indonesian West Papua.

turtle 2

A decision was made to release the turtles back into the wild, however the logistics of such a task are considerable. Custom shipping boxes had to be built, and the turtles could only be in the boxes for a limited time. On top of that, a constant and specific temperature also had to be maintained as well as fresh water supplied, but not too much or they could drown. KFBG felt it was important to do a trial run with 8 turtles to see if they could survive the trip before sending them all. These are but a few of the issues faced with the return and release of these animals. Eventually, however,  various hurdles were jumped and the turtles were released in October 2011 in the Maro River in Indonesian Papua. This was an all too rare repatriation success story for KFBG and the various governments. The complexities of returning to the wild animals seized from the illegal pet trade is more often than not stalled by insurmountable barriers around international and national laws, which compound the more obvious problem of just working out where they came from.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the KFBG teams the villagers in the Maro River were educated about sustainability and the importance of preserving the turtles, thereby minimizing the risk to the potential of this population from human poaching and fishing. But  pig nosed turtles take up to 15 years to reach full reproductive maturation and the average survival rate to that point of many wild turtle species is often not much more than 1%. When released these turtles were still juveniles, thus their capacity to repopulate the region would not be achieved, or even measurable for nearly 15 years. So this is obviously a very long term research challenge. While 609 turtles were released the reality is that it is likely that only a very small percent will survive to adulthood. Tracking the survival rate data of the pig nosed turtles was left in the hands of the villagers who, along with two other communities along the Maro, had pledged to protect them and to provide the local Forestry Officers with updates if sightings occurred. Given the remoteness of the Maro community this was perhaps the most resource rational way of trying to ensure some longer term data could be made available but anecdotal evidence is the weakest level of evidence, often yielding fairly unreliable results. So the repatriation of the turtles raises some critical conservation questions. If we don’t fund the research to reliably assess long term survival of returned species can we really claim anything much more than provision success?

Taking a different angle on the question of success though, the repatriation  of the pig nosed turtles was a worldwide success from a number of different points of view. Kadoorie was able to identify where the smuggled species originated, which, given the illegal nature of smuggling is very rare. Compounding the typical suppression of shipping details is the fact that there is often insufficient data summited to GenBank (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/genbank/), the open access DNA databank that is a vital resource to tracing the exact provenance of particular animal species. So after locating the area where the pig nosed turtles could be released attempts to create a grassroots movement within the community surrounding the river were initiated. This was a large part of the turtle’s release success because such communities are likely to also be the poachers who sell the turtles to the trade involving animal trafficking in the first place. Educating them and providing them with viable economic alternatives were central aspects of even the provisional success of this wildlife restoration attempt.

Interestingly, the particular approach to education in Maro was extensively focused on educating the youth of the nearby tribes to value the importance of conservation in terms of local wildlife preservation. Once again, this is a long term investment that works on the assumption that changing the hearts and minds of the children is the equivalent of investing in the leaders of the future. But in Maro it was also the case that the Chief was very instrumental in the success of the release and in educating the rest of the villagers. So he was a key player in managing the immediate issue of preserving the turtles while educating the children on sustainability managed the future. The turtle restoration wouldn’t have taken place without extensive collaboration from numerous stakeholders in addition to the folks at KFBG including the Hong Kong and Indonesian governments, various other conservation NGO’s, even the commercial airlines who helped with transport costs of the turtles and of course the villagers of Bupul. Investing in these collaboration not only advances global conservation efforts they help to raise global consciousness about the potential to preserve and even save critically endangered species.

Wildlife-conservation-society. download

As noted above, as far as releasing animals back into the wild goes, it is a very long and complicated process. One cannot simply release an animal anywhere as it may not be native to that region. Increasingly scientists are revealing the importance of micro-environments to the particularity of certain species. Releasing animals of a separate sub-species could alter the gene pool of the existing population negatively, and the animals might find themselves in ecosystems that cannot sustain them.  There are a number of potentially negative impacts to be considered very carefully before any decisions can be made regarding the release of animals which have crossed international borders. GenBank is a critical resource for this kind of aspiration. It allows DNA to be matched with DNA of animals in other areas and can offer information on where the animals originate. However, this system currently has its limitations because it relies on scientists voluntarily submitting samples. While the database is growing all the time the task of logging all the DNA of all species in all regions of the globe is an insurmountable one. And  in the case of the pig nose turtle it wasn’t GenBank that provided the provenance of the turtles in the end, it was a combination of reasoned logic and paperwork. It was highly unlikely the turtles were smuggled from Northern Australia. The Australian Navy is constantly patrolling those waters for illegal human smuggling so it’s unlikely that the turtle smugglers would risk an encounter with the Australian military. It was therefore more logical  to look towards West Papua as the origin of the turtles and sure enough on this rare occasion the shipping documents had enough information to actually support this hypothesis.  Through collaboration with International Animal Rescue Indonesia, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the ministry of Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia a suitable release site was determined near Bupul, in the Maro river. Had there been a DNA profile of these and similar turtles in GenBank, however, a release site may have been found much faster. As it happened, the pig nosed turtles were released into a river where once pig noses had thrived but where they had not been seen for over 20 years. The gamble was that the river system could still support them.

Given how important DNA is to the possibility of returning to the wild animals that have been seized for the illegal food and pet trade, the DNA database is a critical resource. Yet how plausible is it to begin DNA testing animal populations around the world, including those in remote areas for conservation efforts? What would the resource implications of such an effort be and is it the best use of conservation resources at this time? What would the cost of such a mass project be? GenBank is an attempt to do just this but the fact that it’s voluntary has implications on how comprehensive and therefore how useful it can be. It’s like the wiki of genetic material but hasn’t yet taken off in quite the same way.  Even if we could conceivably accomplish a complete biodiversity DNA map, we are in a period of mass species loss right now. And then there’s the question of evolution and the fact that genes change over time. Perhaps that makes the task easier – for all the wrong reasons – but another question emerges anyway. How useful can a DNA bank be in the face of gene flow and genetic drift? These are just some of the complex questions raised by even a successful conservation effort like the project to return the pig nosed turtles to the wild.



Zack and Jacqueline

Kadoorie Log #5: First Days with the Inspectorate at the SPCA

This week was our first week at the SPCA. We were paired up with inspectors, who go out on a daily basis answering to emergency rescue calls. The hotline gets information about various animals in need. On our first day, we rescued a cat from a wet market (fresh meat and produce markets) where it  had been in one of the stores for four days without food or water. We also rescued an exotic bird, a dog that had been hit by a car and two more cats that had found themselves in sticky situations.





What we’ve gathered from our very brief experience with the inspectors so far is that there are some fascinating differences between Canada and Hong Kong when it comes to animals and people.  Many of the animals that we would think of in Canada as pets, especially the street dogs, are often as afraid of the people as the people are of them. This makes the work of helping them when they are sick or injured that much more difficult. While walking to the SPCA on Monday we tried to give a street dog some water, which it clearly needed, but its fear overwhelmed its need to drink and it ran away.  Perhaps the difference lies in part in the fact that Canada doesn’t have such a visible stray animal problem, which is not to say it doesn’t have a problem – just that it’s not as visible. But it’s also true that in Hong Kong different dogs are socialized to have different relationships with humans. There are the true pets who are very used to humans, the community or loosely owned dogs who are often a bit more circumspect and the truly feral dogs who won’t come near humans voluntarily (http://www.spca.org.hk/en/animal-birth-control/community-dog-programme). The category we don’t tend to have in Canada are the loosely owned or community dogs.

Despite the different categories of dogs, some things are the same. Today we went to try to capture a semi-feral, feral or perhaps even loosely owned dog – it’s not always easy to tell the difference –  that has an enormous tumour protruding out of its stomach. If and when this dog is caught it will likely be euthanized a: because it is suffering and b: because it will need surgery and medication and the costs would be prohibitive for an animal that even if it survived, would likely not be adoptable. The same welfare based approach would probably happen in Canada. What compounds this dog’s circumstances in Hong Kong, however, is not only its status but its size.  Given the space restrictions in Hong Kong, the public is a lot less likely to adopt a large dog to begin with, let alone one that might need considerable medical care. While the idea of euthanizing an animal simply because it needs expensive medical attention raises complex moral questions the same dilemma emerges in Canada on a daily basis. Such intensive veterinary care is often prohibitively expensive and many simply cannot afford it. This economic barrier to good welfare pushes people towards abandonment, surrender to shelters or euthanasia.

But it is also true that in Canada the overall culture, including economics, surrounding companion animals has shifted considerably around veterinary care and people are increasingly encouraged to go to extreme lengths to provide their pets with medical intervention at all costs – literally! Surgeries running to the thousands of dollars are not unusual. But this raises the question of the relationship between class/economics and welfare. It’s only those people with money who can genuinely afford to provide this kind of care for their animals and this is as true in Hong Kong as it is in Canada. For those who don’t have access to the same financial resources the options are fewer – go into debt to pay the bill, abandon, or surrender the animal. Against this backdrop then, prolonging the life of an animal like the one with the tumour, seems like a poor use of very limited resources. For a street dog, there are few options.

In conclusion, there are interesting similarities as well as differences emerging especially around the challenge and management of unwanted animals. In both countries, paradoxically, euthanasia is often the option that is seen to be in the best interests of the animal; this is the animal welfare focused option.Yet ‘welfare’ is clearly inseparable from economics.

Krista and Ryanne

Kadoorie Log #4: Orientation with the SPCA Inspectorate


The gang at the SPCA with the paw prints, and shell prints of some of the adoptees. From right to left: Karlie, Krista, Jacqueline, and Tasha

Today the group woke up bright and early to meet Shuping Ho, our SPCA host, at the bus stop; she works as a Researcher in the department of animal welfare at the SPCA. After a ride on the 64K bus into Kowloon and a quick trip on a very crowded peak hour metro to Tsim Sha Tsui we got on the Star Ferry to cross the harbor. From there we could see the SPCA front and centre on the waterfront.

In Canada 56% of all households have at least one cat or dog, while some people also keep small birds, rodents, reptiles, or fish (Perrin 48). The identity of these animals varies according to the preferences of their owner/human companion – they are considered to be everything on a scale from simple unintelligent creatures, to intelligent workers, friends, and some of us even consider them our kin. In Hong Kong the culture of pet keeping is relatively new. Things are different in Hong Kong. According to Tony Ho, Chief Officer of the SPCA Inspectorate, only about 10% of Hong Kong households have a cat or dog. A misconception we had before arriving in Hong Kong was that many people were afraid of large dogs or domestic animals because of a lack of exposure to them growing up, and while this may in part be true, clearly the tide is turning. Many people, especially in the urban areas of Hong Kong island itself and Kowloon, seem to like dogs and cats, but cannot keep them due to an array of barriers: public housing doesn’t allow dogs and many private landlords don’t want to rent to people with dogs either. And then there are the very significant limitations of space to compound the situation. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with the island itself having a population density of 6,290 people per square kilometre. Put in perspective, Toronto has a population density of 945.4 people per square kilometre! The whole of Hong Kong, meaning Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories – where we are – covers a total of 1,104 square kilometres with a population of over 7 million. The Greater Toronto Area is 7,125 kilometres with the same population. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that people in Hong Kong don’t have a big culture of pet keeping! There’s very little space, most people live in high rises, rents are astronomical – some of the highest in the world – and people work very long hours here.

The laws surrounding animals are very different here. The main two laws which protect animal welfare are Cap169, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance and Cap169a, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations which date back to 1935 when Hong Kong was still under the rule of the British (Hong Kong Department of Justice).  By contrast animal protection/welfare in Canada is administered by a complex web of federal, provincial and municipal laws and there can be considerable variation across jurisdictions regarding what is and is not addressed in the legislation. In Ontario, for example, animal welfare laws were first enacted through the Ontario SPCA Act in 1919 and had not been significantly updated until fairly recently when Ontario introduced the Provincial Animal Welfare Act which became law in March 2009. The new Act created new standards of care (Provincial Animal Welfare Act, 50-c.16) and significantly upgraded the potential offences including a new section on causing or allowing distress to animals as well as causing harm to law enforcement animals.

Animal welfare regulations in Hong Kong apply to both domestic pets and animals sold as live food in wet markets, which causes distortions in how pets are allowed to be treated.  What would be humane for an animal who only needs to be kept short-term until they are sold and killed for food may not be appropriate when applied to a pet being kept in the long-term. As the law applies to all animals without exception, however, these regulations can be detrimental to the well-being of pets. One such rule states that an animal need only be kept in a cage big enough to stand up and turn around. The SPCA recognizes that these rules are outdated and has continuously advocated to improve these laws and update them to more ethical policies. In some parts of Ontario including Toronto, the number of domestic animals allowed in one home is six (Toronto Municipal Code 349-5). In Hong Kong there is no legal limit to the number of animals a person can keep, once again a rule remaining from when the animals were primarily used as food. One consequence of this is that the lack of a legal restriction means they don’t have the option to charge people for having a huge number of animals, for example, people who run illegal puppy mills. But even in Canada, where we do have legislation like this, it differs province by province. Thus we can have Quebec colloquially known as the’ puppy mill capital’ of North America, because its laws are so lax, the fines for being caught so low, and prosecution, not exactly a high priority for police.

The standard of animal welfare enforced by the law is lower than in Canada and Britain, but many people here in Hong Kong still have strong personal beliefs about the safety, protection, and overall welfare of domestic animals. For instance during our orientation we talked about the SPCA’s standard of welfare. Here they operate on the principle of “The Five Freedoms” – a standard commonly used to determine whether an animal is being humanely kept which encompasses: freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from distress and fear, freedom from illness and disease, freedom to show normal behaviours, freedom from discomfort. These standards, although not enshrined in the law, are used by the SPCA to educate tens of thousands of children about pets every year, and to give advice to pet owners who may not be taking optimal care of their animals.

A slide from a case study about bad breeders and puppy mills.

A slide from a case study about bad breeders and puppy mills.

The SPCA works paw-to-paw with the police, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Gardens. Although the SPCA does receive government funding, relative to other sources it is very small, about 1%. As with most NGOs that also have a watch dog role to play around legislative reform, a fine balance has to be struck between maintaining institutional autonomy and fostering good working relations with all stakeholders, including government, the public and even sometimes other activists.

Another way the SPCA works to protect animals and foster a climate where there are fewer conflicts with humans is through the Animal Population Management program an example of which is the Trap-Neuter-Release program which has been very successful in managing the stray cat population in Hong Kong.  Alongside this initiative of the SPCA the government and the quasi government administered Ocean Park are engaged in managing the feral dog and monkey populations which continually come into conflict with people. Complicated questions continue to arise around management strategies and even entitlement as humans increasingly encroach on what has been the animals’ territory. It is true that domestic pets should be neutered and spayed in order to prevent litters that cannot be cared for, but the feral dogs and cats of Hong Kong are as wild as the monkeys in many cases, and have shared the land with the humans since they were first taken in or displaced by them.  This raises questions of the ethics of human settlement and population.  As it currently stands, however, TNR programs save the lives of thousands of animals each year.

Despite their exemplary work, intensive training programs, and genuine dedication, the SPCA here, like the SPCA and Humane Societies in Canada, can sometimes find themselves to be the target of the media.  Just as news broadcasts in North America tend to be sensationalized and polarized in order to enthrall viewers by serving more as entertainment than as balanced information, the Hong Kong media has also been guilty of the same thing. Polarizing representations, especially of euthanasia, garner considerable public attention but they rarely offer an insight into the complex process that actually goes into making each individual decision, let alone the systemic forces that make euthanasia a necessary option in the first place. But in the spirit of ‘any press is good press’, perhaps even the polarizing representations of animal welfare may have a silver lining if they can be used as an opportunity for greater public awareness and education. And education is clearly a high priority for the Hong Kong SPCA and one of the aspects of their work which is focused on pro-actively preventing the problem rather than reactively responding to it. The more people can be educated to take responsibility for neutering and caring for their animals the fewer animal welfare issues there will be. This is especially true of the ‘loosely owned ones’ – these are particularly the dogs who often guard buildings and businesses who tend not to registered, microchipped, collared or neutered but who do have owners, at least right up until the authorities appear at their doorsteps. When that happens, they conveniently become ‘street dogs’ – not owned by anyone.  So while sensationalism is a complex issue and can (and often does) lead to more detrimental outcomes for animals as well as reductive and demeaning portrayals of serious and informed animal activists, there may be an aspect of this type of media which serves an educational end in raising public awareness.  This can be compared, for instance, to the unlawfully obtained farming and slaughterhouse videos done by PETA, which resulted simultaneously in a zealous oversimplification of issues of animal welfare, especially in the factory farming industry, at the same time as it fuelled the already vicious backlash culture working against animal rights activism. Nonetheless, it did break through the usual cone of silence on animal welfare issues. A mixed blessing perhaps.

-Karlie & Tasha

Works Cited

Hong Kong Department of Justice. Bilingual Laws Information System. Chapter 169.a-b (The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance)

Perrin, Terri. The Business of Urban Animals Survey: The Facts and Statistics on Companion Animals in Canada. Can Vet. January 2009: 50(1): 48-52 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2603652/

Provincial Animal Welfare Act, 2000, chapter 16 – Bill 50 (amended)

TORONTO MUNICIPAL CODE CHAPTER 349, ANIMALS – Article III (349-5. Number of cats and dogs restricted)

Kadoorie Log #3: Monkey Business

IMG_5047Our group, Krista and Ryanne, worked in the live educational display (LED) section this week at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic gardens. This means that we worked with a zoo keeper helping her with her daily tasks. Of all the animals we encountered during the day our favourite was the Macaques. This is a type of monkey that lives in the area and like many primates they are very social creatures. In the wild, they live in troops.

At Kadoorie, there are 7 Macaques: Rambo, Rosie, Darlexi, Sita, Oliver, Woowoo, and Quasi. These monkeys are of varying age and have found themselves to be at Kadoorie for a variety of reasons. For some of the younger monkeys, like Sita and Oliver, their mother was no longer capable of caring for them. For many of the other monkeys the government picked had them up as they were causing a public disturbance. For example, Woowoo was caught many times causing a ruckus at the hospital finding food by scavenging through the garbage.

In Hong Kong there is the urban area and then there is nature; there is not much of an in-between state. With Macaques there is great competition for food, especially in the winter. Any monkey that becomes ostracized struggles to survive. These are the conditions when they most often begin to stumble upon human garbage and find that this is able to satisfy their hunger. Eventually, they make the connection that humans equal food; which in turn results in the harassment of humans by the monkeys. And make no mistake cute turns to kind of scary pretty quickly: these monkeys can be quite aggressive so they become a nuisance to humans.

IMG_5299The human-animal relationship is a complex one. In this scenario, despite being so closely related to humans, the monkeys are often not seen as being sentient and intelligent like us. Instead, once they come into conflict with humans, they are more clearly positioned on the animal side of that boundary. Yet people often lay the foundation for this conflict by encouraging the monkeys by feeding them. And when relations break down the government gets called to deal with the “problem”. The immediate solution to the problem can result in captivity and sometimes euthanasia, an outcome that is less than ideal for anyone and one that doesn’t tackle the root of the problem.

Once in captivity, it becomes very hard to provide these creatures with the stimulation they need. At Kadoorie there is a divide between the monkeys. The older monkeys (Rosie, Rambo and Darlexi), do not get along with the younger monkeys (Sita, Quasi, Woowoo and Oliver). Despite the best efforts of Kadoorie staff only half of them get to go outside for the day (though the mini-troops are rotated regularly). Captivity cannot provide the kind of space, nor relationships that simulate the wild and the artificial structuring of troops is often not all that successful.

IMG_5297In addition to the monkeys’ not getting along, the way they came to be here in the first place plays a role in  their future ability to be accepted by members of their own species. For example, Sita was hand raised by people as she came to Kadoorie at only two weeks old. Understandably, she prefers the company of humans rather than her fellow Macaques and one unintended consequence of saving her life is that she has to manage being bullied by the other monkeys. This is a perpetual dilemma that is constantly being negotiated in rescue work with animals.

An interesting question that arose for us concerned the question of animal identity. When you take away an instinctual part of an animal`s life (such as living with and choosing their own troop), do you take away the identity of these animals? In other words, is Sita only part Macaques? It is easy to see that she has a need for humans yet for her own sake she lives with monkeys. But it’s an uneasy ‘living’. Sita doesn’t fully understand group dynamics nor does she altogether seem to enjoy interactions with her own kind. She would be shunned in the wild and she is being shunned in captivity. It is a wicked problem – a dilemma that arises in part because we are damned if we do – i.e. if we save them, and we are damned if we don’t. Whatever we do, it won’t be the wild, but will it be wild enough? Most of the time, if Kadoorie is an example of what we can do, the answer is yes, it is enough – but only with an enormous amount of commitment, care and resources.

Ryanne and Krista


Kadoorie Log # 2: How the wild become captive

On Wednesday, Jacqueline and I worked in the Live Educational Display at Kadoorie. We were matched with one of the zookeepers to assist him in his daily routine for the morning. His area includes both the mammals and the reptiles. The morning work consisted of cleaning the enclosures and providing the animals with fresh water, checking animal behavior, counting all of the bats, scattering food in the animal enclosures to encourage foraging, and assisting with the wild boars. We worked specifically with fruit bats, barking deer (that’s me, Zack, and the barking deer below), several turtle and tortoise species, Chinese water dragons, wild boar, water monitors, a masked palm civet and leopard cats.

barking deer

Animals can arrive at Kadoorie multiple ways. Most of them are injured or rescue animals from the wild. Some come from illegal imports via the government until a court case is settled and the government decides the fate of the animals. Other animals (primarily snakes) are brought in by the police because they were in close proximity to humans who they want them removed. A few even come in as abandoned exotic pets. Depending on the time of the year, the number and species of animals that arrive at Kadoorie changes. For example, only in the winter for a timeframe of two months, there is a species of bird that ends up at Kadoorie due to its migration path as the birds often run into the skyscrapers in Hong Kong. Due to such a variety of ways animals arrive at the center, the work is hectic and constantly unpredictable. Kadoorie frequently receives confiscated shipments from the exotic animal trade and once received a shipment of what ended up being 7 000 turtles. They then must care for and maintain the turtles until the government and various other often international stakeholders, decides what to do with them.  This process can sometimes take years, as multiple governments become involved since these imports usually pass through a series of countries on their way into China. Futhermore, the courts might have cases they deem more important and therefore put off the animal case until they deal with the other cases. This raises interesting questions about the status of animal in relation to the law. Kadoorie, however, sometimes has to turn down animals. This is done primarily because they either do not have the housing available, the animal has no conservational value or they know there is no positive outcome so the animals will end up euthanized.


While helping the keeper with his daily tasks we got a sense of how much work it is to maintain even the few animals that are kept at Kadoorie for educational purposes. Just the two wild boars alone, which are a part of their Live Animal Educational Display, take an enormous amount of time and work.  The daily process of maintaining them includes cleaning the pen area, feeding the animal and providing care for their specific needs. For example, treating their hooves and providing mental stimulation are essential to their long term health. These tasks might seem simple but they require a lot of forward planning because of the risk involved while interacting with what remains a wild animal. The occupation of simply caring for the boars’ hooves now involves training the wild animal to perform certain helpful tricks so that the keepers can have access to their feet. This is done through positive reinforcement training involving food. The wild boars have learned, much like domesticated horses, to raise their foot, bow and to walk forward and backwards. These are exercises that the boars would not need to perform in the wild but are essential to their ongoing health in captivity. Because these boars are wild animals certain complications arise that would not normally be an issue in their native environment. The two male boars – brothers – unexpectedly had to be separated after many years of living peacefully together due to the aggressive and dominant tendencies that arose after separating them for a brief period for processing. Once reintroduced the conflicts occurred where before there were none. Due to their new behaviours the boars are now separated for the sake of the keepers’ safety and their own. This is a problem that the boars would not have faced in the wild because they would have had enough space to ‘work it out’. The enclosure Kadoorie provides, while luxurious by many standards, is not big enough to support such antics, so a simple fence has been put in place to keep the boys apart. That combined with hormone therapy makes for a more harmonious existence.  The story of the boars is the tip of the iceberg of the complexities involved with maintaining the physical and mental health of wild animals in captivity.

Zack and Jacqueline

Kadoorie Log#1: Intervention or Assistance? A Look at Animal Seizure

Day 1 – Orientation at Kadoorie (Wednesday 4th June)

10296908_10152030522687294_4411943606936484585_nOrientation included presentations from the Fauna department of Kadoorie and the SPCA, as well as a guided tour of the lower farm.  This introduced our group to different perspectives on conservation, and the various ways that animals and their habitats are affected by humans.  Some of these consequences of human activity are direct, in the form of poaching, hunting, destruction of habitat, and animal cruelty while others are somewhat less obvious, such as the way global politics and government policy can create unforeseen barriers to animal welfare.  Individual humans can provoke hostility toward animals as well, and it happens everywhere in the world. Where we are near in the New Territories in Hong Kong rare Burmese pythons are being affected by urban sprawl and coming into conflict with humans when food is scarce and they go after pets. This is comparable to the arguably unnecessary reinstitution of the spring bear hunt in Sudbury and North Bay because of bear sightings. Both situations are driven by the complaints of citizens who are concerned about the potential dangers of supposedly predatory animals to people and to their beloved pets. But taking the time to consider alternatives to destroying these creatures, such as sighting warnings or safety education for the bears or relocation for the snakes, can be literal life savers for these creatures.


Despite the good done by institutions like Kadoorie, the SPCA, and similar organizations worldwide, the interactions between humans and animals are usually negative for the animal, resulting in the removal of their freedom or the loss of their chosen habitats.  It is important that humans are aware of the consequences they cause, and that they understand the needs of the animals they interact with.  In some instances, even the best of intentions can result in unfortunate (and avoidable) consequences for animals.  In Hong Kong, there is a traditional Buddhist inspired practice of ‘mercy releases’ in which people purchase animals who are to be sold from wet markets (live animal markets) as food and set them free in a show of kindness and spiritual good will.  Unfortunately, this often results in animals being placed in environments that are very hostile to them (for instance, fresh water fish being put into the sea where they will be unable to survive) and in the end still causes harm to the animals.  This is equally a problem in Canada when well-meaning animal activists out of ignorance release animals that cannot survive in the wild – something tragically ended the lives of several wolves from the captive pack in Halliburton Woods a few years ago and had far-reaching consequences for their complex hierarchical structure.  To prevent both cruelty through intent and cruelty through kindness, people need to become more informed about the natural environments of animals, their individual demeanours and normal behaviours, and proper precautions to take when dealing with animals.

Even in conservation, there are complex tensions between the protection of species of animals versus the protection of individual animals. In work where there is little material profit for human beings decisions which protect endangered species and the biodiversity of the planet sometimes overshadow the protection and ‘saving’ of more common animals. These hard, but necessary decisions, are often made at Kadoorie Farm, but even here where tough calls and practicality are required to continue operating, human compassion is always in evidence.  There is, for instance, a fully domesticated Macaw here who is of a common pet trade species, who cannot be released, but who cannot be displayed for educational purposes because it causes him a great deal of stress and despite it not being practical to continue caring for this creature they do so. There are many instances like this at Kadoorie which reveal a genuine connection to animals. but more often than not, for the sake of the animal it is equally important to prevent a closeness between animal and keeper so that a smooth transition back to the creature’s natural habitat can be achieved. Beneath all these seemingly everyday decisions we can see at work  complex ideologies about what it means to be human, what it means to be an animal in captivity or otherwise, as well as the complex web of power, respect, harm, and care which creates dynamic relationships between living creatures – for better or for worse.

Karlie and Tasha

Oliver the Macaque

Oliver the Macaque