AP Photos: Year of Ox puts focus on Hong Kong's wild bovines

HONG KONG -- The Chinese Year of the Ox begins Friday, and in the shadow of Hong Kong's futuristic urban skyline, wild bovines are getting some love.

Ho Loy of the Lantau Buffalo Association and her team of volunteers dedicate most weekends to checking on the cattle that roam the biggest island within the territory of Hong Kong. Starting mid-morning they distribute grass and hay bought with donated funds to different herds around the island.

“The animals are a very important part of our culture, of our city planning, especially rural planning," Ho said. The animals provide an opportunity to explore “what that means to Hong Kong people about the nature, the remaining nature value in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong's Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department estimates there are approximately 1,100 brown cattle and 120 water buffalo distributed across Hong Kong's Lantau Island and rural parts of the New Territories near the border with China.

Over her 14 years of caring for the animals, Ho, a Lantau resident herself, has come to know them well. Water buffalo are “very shy, they spend most of the time in the wetland. So, preserving the wetland is one thing will help them to live healthy,” she said.

Fiona Woodhouse of the Hong Kong Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the welfare of wildlife speaks to the overall health of Hong Kong's environment and cultural heritage.

“So, we need to ... ensure their welfare as much as possible and look at what we’re doing in Hong Kong to see how it impacts those animals and their ability to survive and live safely in Hong Kong,” Woodhouse said.