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 #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#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