4 Ways to Experience Wildlife in Hong Kong

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Hong Kong? Skyscrapers? Rolls-Royces? Millions and millions of people crammed on a small island? Probably. However, have you ever associated Hong Kong with “Wildlife?” Well, believe it or not, according to the GovHK website, 40% of the land in Hong Kong is protected in a form of country parks or nature reserves. In fact, for a city known for its skyscrapers and shopping malls, less than 25% of Hong Kong has been developed for urban use. Naturally then, you would think that Hong Kong should be teeming with wildlife. Well, you would be right. Let Sam show you 4 types of popular wildlife you might not know exists in Hong Kong and where to find them.

Monkeys


If humans are the kings of the concrete jungle, then surely monkeys are the rightful ruler of the mountains. Step into the trails of Kowloon and you enter into the world of the monkeys, specifically the Rhesus Macaque and the Long-tailed Macaque. According to the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), about 2,000 wild monkeys inhabit Kam Shan, Lion Rock, and Shing Mun Country Parks.

Baby Monkey
Cute Monkey Baby (Credit: Strippedpixel)

For such a large patch of land, 2,000 might not sound like a lot. But if you find yourself alone on a trail surrounded by monkeys, it can be quite a harrowing experience. That’s exactly the situation I found myself in one day while hiking through Lion Rock. At first it’s a rustling of leaves from afar, then the rustling creeps closer and closer. I increased my pace while drying the sweat off my palms. Suddenly, the shuffling rose to a crescendo. I stopped, looked back, glanced left, and checked right. Nothing. Then, I looked up and 20 pairs of inquisitive eyes stared back at me. It was truly a breathtaking sight.

Family of Monkeys
Monkeys just hanging out

Fortunately, these monkeys came in peace. They were just carrying on their day, moving from place to place in search for food. They didn’t mind the presence of a curious visitor. A mother and child even posed for a few pictures. The average monkey sat a foot and half tall and two and a half feet standing. They were nimble on ground and even more agile when swinging from branch to branch.

Later, I stumbled into signs everywhere warning of the dangers of these seemingly peaceful animals. The bolder monkeys will harass humans for food. “They will go for plastic bags” I was told by a friendly hiker. “That’s where they think there’s food.” Though I’ve never personally seen it myself, I heard that they can open a can of Coke and have even mastered the fine art of opening Vitasoy with its straw, something that I’m still learning to do without making a mess.  

According to recent news articles, monkey attacks have been on the rise. Humans also have to do our part to keep the peace. This includes avoiding eye contact with the monkeys (true) and smiling with your teeth (also true). Essentially, what is a pleasant “How do you do?” for us humans means “LET’S FIGHT!” in monkey speak. Most importantly, we need to avoid feeding them. Besides a hefty HK$10,000 fine, feeding monkeys also disrupts their natural diet and introduces a potentially unhealthy source of food for them.   

So Human-like
Remember to avoid eye contact!

Monkeys seeing is a must-do in Hong Kong. There’s only a few other urban places where you can come face-to-face like this with wild monkeys. They are not hard to find, but to make sure you go to the right place at the right time, ask one of our Locals. Make sure to follow the rules and respect our fellow primates. Remember, no monkey-business.

Explore nature with a local insider

Chinese White “Pink” Dolphins

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. There are dolphins in Hong Kong! Not the gray ones of the common variety, but rare pink dolphins. Officially, they’re known as Chinese White Dolphins (Sousa Chinensis). Due to the expansion of blood vessels under their skin for heat regulation, most of the dolphins will appear pink. People were aware of their presence for over 300 years, but they have only been in the mainstream focus during the construction of the Chek Lap Kok airport in the late 80s. Since then, they have become a beloved part of the local ecosystem and have also become the official Mascot for the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997.

Pink Dolphins live in the Pearl River Estuary – namely the waters around Lantau island. I’ve been on multiple outings, both on big yachts and small motor boats, to see these magnificent creatures. For those who are interested in the most relaxing way to see them, there are dolphin-watching cruises that run a few times a week departing from Hong Kong island. These cruises can be pricey, but they are a good way to spend a few relaxing hours in Hong Kong.  

Pink Dolphins!
Pink Dolphins on the Pearl Estuary (Credit: WWF)

<edit>

Hi Folks! Noticed any changes to the article? The following two paragraphs from the original article has been redacted. In it, I described my personal dolphins watching experience with local fishermen from Tai O. After this article was published, I learned, from users on social media, that the local tours I talked about might actually pose threats to the dolphins. If that’s the case, then we can’t in good conscience leave this article unedited.  

I reached out to Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society to see if they can tell us more about the situation. They’ve been around for over a decade and contributed a lot to dolphin conservation in Hong Kong. Check out their website, it has tons of useful information about the local dolphin species.      

We can’t wait to hear back from HKDCS. In the meantime, please check out the “Code of
Conduct for Dolphin Watching” from AFCD and “Guide to Dolphin Watching in Hong Kong” from HKDCS!

Thank you observant readers. We certainly appreciate the feedback. The more you know!  

<end edit>

"worrisome decrease in number"
“worrisome decrease in number” – WWF (Credit: HKDCS)

Due to the nature of these excursions, there’s no guarantee that you’ll see the dolphins. I’ve been 5 times and have successfully spotted them thrice – a personal sighting rate of 60%. Sadly, that rate is likely to fall with time. According to WWF, the existence of the Chinese White Dolphin is threatened. A “worrisome decrease in the number of young dolphins” has been observed. According to the website, the threat comes in the form of “overfishing, water pollution, heavy marine traffic.” Find out more from your Locals how you can enjoy dolphin-watching while helping to preserve the local dolphin population.

Bats

If you find yourself at night on a basketball court in the New Territories or in a less populated area on the Hong Kong Island such as Pok Fu Lam, sit down, get comfortable, and look up at the flood lights. On certain nights, you might see a flock of birds quietly fluttering around the lamps. Wait until one flies directly between you and the light. Notice anything off? Pay closer attention, those aren’t birds you’re looking at, those are bats!

As someone who grew up and lived in cities all my life, I thought bats were creatures of woodland areas, caves, and forests. Imagine my surprise when I encountered bats while bouncing a rubber ball in Hong Kong! Everyone I told the sighting to said that I must have been mistaken. I doubted myself until another night, when I saw them again! They couldn’t be birds, I reason. These creatures seem to flutter about whereas birds has more of a glide in their flight. I searched online and learned that there are, in fact, lots of wild bats in Hong Kong.

Map of Bats in Hong Kong
Bat population in Hong Kong (Credit: WWF)

According to WWF, there are 21 known species of bats in Hong Kong. The most common species in Hong Kong is the Japanese Pipistrelle. Interestingly, there’s a lot we don’t know about them. Even until recently, we’re still discovering new species and rediscovering old ones.

Where do these bats live? That’s a very good question! In Hong Kong, bats don’t live in caves, as they are widely known to do, but lots live in man-made structures like water pipes and tunnels. And believe it or not, the favorite homes of Japanese Pipistrelle are air conditioners units!

Most bats in Hong Kong feed on insects. A 4 cm Japanese Pipistrelle, the smallest in the local area, eats about 3,000 mosquito sized insects a night. An enemy of my enemy is my friend. Bats also contribute to the good of the environment by spreading the seeds of local trees through their droppings. Let’s take a quick moment to salute these wonderful animals.

Japanese Pipistrelle
Japanese Pipistrelle – the most common bat in HK – Credit: WWF)

Where can you go for bat watching? There are several night hikes in the New Territories that are ideal. You can also use special listening devices called bat detectors to listen in on their echolocation. Find a local that can help you maximize your chance to find bats! Or, if you’re like me, find some friends to play basketball at night and look up once in awhile.    

Wild Pigs

Wild pigs have a horrible PR person in Hong Kong. In fact, not many people even knows that pigs are native to the area. Frankly, they are sick and tired of being out of the spotlight. So multiple times, in the last few months, they showed up to say hello. The ruckus they caused were covered all over the news. In one incident, a wild juvenile female pig waged a 4-hour battle with the police in a mall in Chai Wan. On that same day, another decided to swim in a pool in Tsuen Wan. So now, we get it, Hong Kong is as much ours, as it is theirs.

Pig in Mall
Wild Pig Infiltrates Mall – Credit: SCMP

I’ve definitely hesitated adding wild pigs on this list because, well, they aren’t a type of animal you WANT to run into. Wild boars can be a threat to humans. According to AFCD, an adult male can reach 2m long and weigh over 200kg. Take a second to let that sink in, a large golden retriever on average weighs 30-34k kg. This beast is 6-7 times heavier. Scarier still, they can reach the speeds of 40 km/hr and jump 140-150cm high. That’s almost as fast as Usain Bolt (45 km/hr) and definitely higher than Michael Jordan’s vertical jump (122cm). That’s absolutely crazy.

Usain
Almost got him!

Yours truly recently had an encounter with a wild pig. Now, this was before I’ve done my research and learned how close I was to being Leo Dicaprio (reference: The Revenant). During that moment, however, I recalled a TV show where a tribe of hunters was on a wild pig hunt. With long spears, the experienced hunters waited patiently on treetops. Some of the younger hunters started to tremble and were visibly scared. Being raised watching Porky Pig, I thought pigs were slow and lazy creatures. That illusion evaporated when a boar appeared. It put up a ferocious fight against 20 armed men. It was like a scene directly from Jurassic Park.  

Piglets are the cutest things ever! - Credit: AFCD
Piglets are the cutest things ever! – Credit: AFCD

Anyways, the other day, I came across a wild pig in Shatin. It was a young male around 50 kg or so. We spotted each other from afar, giving both of us time to react. My best bet was to stay still and wait for him to pass. Provoking it was the last thing I wanted to do. There was a metal fence on one side and I made sure I was ready to hop over it if he decided to charge. After a bit of a stand off, he decided that I wasn’t much of a threat. With one eye on me the whole time, he trotted by, and disappeared into the bushes. Luckily, I had my camera with me that day. Avoiding sudden movements, I took it out and filmed the rare experience.

My life flashed before my eyes
My life flashed before my eyes

So yeah, wild pigs are native to Hong Kong, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. They can be found almost everywhere, especially in the New Territories. Their diet consist mostly of plants but they also feed on small animals like insects and earthworms. They avoid humans whenever they can. For your own sake, if you happen to encounter a wild pig, we highly encourage you not to engage it any confrontational way. According to the AFCD, you should 1). leave them undisturbed, 2) do not approach them, 3) if attacked, hide behind a barrier like a tree or a boulder. Trust me, you don’t want to mess with these guys.   

Thanks for reading. Stayed tuned for more Hong Kong related articles! 

Sam the Local connects people for customized Outings to explore Hong Kong. Our Locals build an itinerary based on your interests and then take you to see the things based on the itinerary. Pick a Local to book for your Outing, and please reach out if you have any questions.

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About the Author

Danny

I'm originally from Hong Kong and grew up in California. I am now back in Hong Kong, reminiscing about old Hong Kong, and seeing a new side of the city with my camera lens. I love biking, swimming, and anything salt and vinegar flavored.

 

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