The role of Water Buffalo in Lantau
Biodiversity Conservation

Credit : Ann W Y To
Credit : Ann W Y To

About the project

Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) are fascinating large mammals predominantly present in Southeast Asia and with an estimated global population size of over 200 million. Due to their exceptional significance to ecosystem functioning, buffalo are popularly considered 'ecosystem engineers'. Yet historically, systematic scientific research is lacking concerning buffalo population dynamics, social behaviour, and their impact on wildlife and humans. In addition, how humans perceive buffalo remain unexplored. 

Lantau, a large island located in the western part of Hong Kong, is rich in biodiversity. Among other species, the island is home to a free-roaming water buffalo population, which provides a unique opportunity to fill in the gaps in buffalo scientific research. The current project supported by the Lantau Conservation Fund will assess the role of buffalo in Lantau’s biodiversity, by taking a behavioural ecology and social sciences approach. The project is led by an interdisciplinary team of researchers and has the two following major objectives:

• Behavioural ecology: Determination of the buffalo population size, growth, and vegetation use during dry and wet seasons of the year. Additionally, investigate the social and ranging behaviour of the buffalo (herds).

• Social science: Investigation of buffalo-human relations to assess anthropogenic influences on buffalo as agents of conservation. Scientific knowledge generated from the project will not only be instrumental in guiding the conservation efforts of Lantau biodiversity but will advance our understanding of the behavioural and ecological implications of a large mammal in such a unique habitat.


Investigating the Lantau Island Water Buffaloes: An Unforgettable Fieldwork Experience

Ariel Wong, City University of Hong Kong

[Figure 1. Female buffalo digging wallow in Lo Uk marshland, Pui O; Figure 2. Female buffalo rolling in wallow in Lo Uk marshland, Pui O; Figure 3. CHE CHE and AMY sitting together in Ham Tin River at low tide; Figure 4. The bachelor herd bathing in San Wai river, Pui O. Credit: Ariel Wong]

As a second-year veterinary student, I was extremely honoured to be selected for an undergraduate project fellowship from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB, see link here: to address the above-mentioned questions. ASAB is a leading organisation that promotes and supports the study of animal behaviour. I’m still analysing my data, so I will share my field experience below

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In the Shadows of Skyscrapers: the Unconventional Human-Buffalo Interplay in Hong Kong

Dr. Danhe Yang

[Photo: Buffalo's Close-Up: A Nosey Moment, Shui Hau, Lantau Island. Credit: Dr. Danhe Yang]

As cultural anthropologists, we need to study animals and, more importantly, comprehend human-animal relationships beyond our species, HUMAN. Traditional anthropology has predominantly focused on humans alone, portraying animals as passive objects in the background, examining their symbolic meanings and/or utilitarian values to humans only, and sidelining other relational practices. However, in recent years, influenced by the philosophical concept of the 'Animal turn', anthropology has been expanding its scope.

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Buffalo on the beach

Dr. Debottam Bhattacharjee

[Photo: A herd of buffalo at Pui O beach, Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Credit: Dr. Debottam Bhattacharjee]

The Lantau island is highly rich in biodiversity and home to many different species, one of them being the buffalo. Interestingly, the not-so-big population of feral buffalo is one of the top attractions to travellers visiting the island. But these animals are much more than just tourist attractions; they are an integral part of the island and are of significant value to the functioning of the Lantau ecosystem.

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Chapters from the Field

Dr. Debottam Bhattacharjee & Dr. Danhe Yang

Feral water buffalo hanging out on the beach (credit: Debottam Bhattacharjee)

Subtropical summers aren’t just tough on us–feral water buffalo feel the heat too! But Hong Kong’s iconic animals have some slick strategies up their hooves for thriving in scorching conditions. Watching them reveals a surprising parallel to our own social lives. As the sun set, buffaloes roamed beyond the fields, partaking in a nightly dance with residents as villagers peacefully walked alongside these gentle giants, unveiling an unplanned interaction that offers a heartfelt glimpse into the natural flow of life in this tranquil South Lantau community.

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Organisations involved


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