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AFCD urges public not to feed feral cows after the tragic death of Billy the Cow

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On Friday November 23, Pui O personality Billy the Cow was found to have died, after a long period of being visibly unwell. It is believed that Billy, who had become famous from an early age after being rescued by a group of Pui O residents, died alone.

According to the results of an autopsy carried out by the Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department (ACFD), Billy died from complications relating to heavy ingestion of plastic bags and garbage. Billy had developed this habit after being fed by humans from bags, leading him to associate plastic with food. Billy had become a victim of his own celebrity.

The AFCD went on to say that cows will naturally choose to eat grass and vegetation, but these natural instincts were overridden in Billy by the constant human interaction he was exposed to in Pui O.

Over the last few years, Billy would interact with humans in ways that concerned the residents of Pui O. Melanie Potgieter, whose family helped raised Billy when he was injured as a calf, explains that Billy had developed a taste for bread and marshmallows that picnickers and campers would throw away on Pui O Beach. When visitors would swim and leave their food unattended, Billy would come and eat through the plastic to get to the food he craved. While the campsite was eventually reinforced to keep him out, he still had access to litter and the bins along the beach.

According to the ACFD, the amount of plastic found in Billy’s digestive system was enough to fill two rubbish bins.

It is a tragic end for an animal who brought the community together in his younger years. Melanie’s family took Billy in back in 2011 at the request of Pui O’s Doctor Joe, as they had a closed-in yard. This allowed Billy’s injuries to be looked after and cleaned. He was walked to the buffalo fields twice a day everyday. Eventually, he became too big to be kept at Melanie’s house, and local dog and cat rescuer Okka Scherer took over. She continued to walk him to the fields until he seemed happy to stay there with the buffalo herd, at which point he was released.

There are several opinions as to what could have been done differently to save Billy’s life. Lantau wildlife organisations Tai O Cattle Community Group (TOCCG) and Protection of Animals Lantau South (PALS) believe that Billy may have benefitted from being released to a cow herd as a calf when he became strong enough. They also suggest he may have been able to receive appropriate treatment from experts had he been taken into care by the authorities.

Speaking to Life on Lantau, TOCCG  founder Kathy Daxon said: “If he had just been allowed to be taken by professional vets, who knows the outcome. We wish Billy had gotten the help he deserved.”

The ACFD has used the case to highlight that this is a moment from which people should learn. It is urging people to not feed feral cows living in the countryside – a message that TOCCG has been actively trying to push for a number of years – as the more people feed them, the more dependant and therefore skinny they become.

Billy’s story is the tragic result of the public not heeding the ACFD’s advice; an innocent creature died simply because it did not know any better.

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