HONG KONG — A water buffalo grazes in a lush open field, an egret standing sentinel on its back. A herd of wild cattle bathes in the sunshine along the side of a winding road.

Two idyllic rural scenes, noticed nearly every day.

In Hong Kong.

This is a location known for its urban superlatives. There are far more skyscrapers here than anywhere on the planet. Most residents live in tiny apartments, many stacked atop sprawling shopping malls, which in turn are piled on prime of subway stations. With an region about the size of Luxembourg, Hong Kong is continuously reclaiming land from the sea, creating far more space for its 7.two million people.

Map | Hong Kong, China

But there is one more side to this former British colony. A wild side. Most of Hong Kong is not an urban jungle, but rather a real one, teeming with monkeys, Burmese pythons, barking deer, wild boars and 14 sorts of venomous snakes (eight of which, including the king cobra, are lethal to humans). About three-quarters of the land right here is countryside, mostly mountainous terrain and much of it protected as parkland.

Rice paddies when dotted the lowland places, where for generations cattle and water buffalo plowed the swampy land. By the 1970s, when Hong Kong’s financial boom and soaring land prices produced farming much less attractive and uneconomical, most of the work animals were abandoned.

They seem to have carried out just fine.

As many as 1,000-odd feral bovines — mostly cattle but also water buffaloes — stay. Although several make their houses deep inside the nation parks, other folks reside close to people, grazing at bus stops, sometimes raiding gardens and blocking targeted traffic.

This month, an immense, horned water buffalo shocked students by running alongside them in a cross-nation race. For a lot of residents venturing outside the city’s urban core, cattle are the first wild animals they encounter.

Animal-rights advocates say the cattle have helped bring a sea modify in attitudes toward wildlife in current years, each among the populace and the government. A decade ago, the animals’ future looked uncertain as developers, specially on Lantau Island, residence to the city’s airport and Disneyland, pushed the government to eliminate them to clear land for new homes.

A lot of cattle, which are not a protected species, have been slaughtered, and the herds on the island have been on the verge of getting eliminated, stated Ho Loy, who leads the Lantau Buffalo Association.

“It was just like a war,” stated Ms. Ho, whose group seeks to preserve the island’s cattle and buffalo.

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Now, the Hong Kong government agency in charge of managing wildlife is functioning to preserve the cattle, monitoring their well being, tagging them, tracking some with GPS collars, and performing selective sterilizations to hold their numbers in verify. Considering that the agency, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, set up its cattle management group in 2011, a lot more than 300 animals have been sterilized, it mentioned in an emailed response to questions.

Volunteer groups like Ms. Ho’s, as well as equivalent organizations in other parts of Hong Kong, operate closely with the government and the public to shield the animals and deal with complaints.

The beasts’ larger profile has given rise to a new breed of residents: urban cowgirls.

Karina O’Carroll, 32, is a single of them. As a founder of Sai Kung Buffalo Watch, she requires calls from the public at all hours, responding to reports of cattle blocking roads, and protests from folks annoyed by piles of steaming cow patties. All in an work to maintain bovine-human harmony.

“We have gone to choose up poo to appease folks,” she stated, explaining to them that “it’s the greatest point for your gardens and your plants.”

Ms. O’Carroll does not have a lasso. She has found that the ideal way to shoo cattle off the road is to jingle some auto keys — they will move away from the sound. Failing that, splash them with water. And even though she does not carry a six-shooter, she does on occasion fire antimaggot medication at their hindquarters.

“They don’t like the sound of sprays,” she says. “You’ve got a single shot, and then they’re gone.”

Ms. Ho is much more of a cow whisperer, speaking to the animals in a soothing voice to make them move off the roadway, out of harm’s way.

Both women are helped by scores of volunteers, as interest in the cattle grows. The government now sees the animals as significantly less of a nuisance and more of a tourist attraction.

“The division recognizes that the cattle and buffalo are component of the heritage of rural Hong Kong and that it brings pleasure to visitors and locals alike to see these animals in a organic atmosphere,” the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Division says on its website.

Cows are far and away the most common wild animal noticed in Hong Kong, but encounters with other creatures also take location as the city expands and folks venture into the wilderness.

In May, a wild boar entered a purchasing mall on Hong Kong Island, rampaging by means of a children’s shop just before becoming tranquilized and returned to the wild. The subsequent month, a 12-foot python had to be removed from a village grave web site where it had taken residence. Families hiking in the wilderness have been recognized to lose a family dog to a python’s stranglehold.

Last month, far more than a dozen macaque monkeys took more than a college playground, forcing students to move inside although animal manage officials tried to get rid of the primates. At some point a single, lured by a banana, was caught in a cage, prompting the other folks to retreat, neighborhood news media reported.

Hong Kong’s thriving wild fauna stands in sharp contrast to the rest of China. From 1970 to 2010, the population of reptiles and amphibians fell 97 percent in China, even though the mammal populations — humans excepted — fell 50 percent throughout the same period, according to a study released this month by the Globe Wide Fund for Nature.

Cattle right here are bucking that trend. Their numbers on Lantau Island have a lot more than tripled in current years, Ms. Ho estimates.

Feral cattle, which do not meet the government’s definition of wild animals, do not take pleasure in government protection. In Hong Kong, killing or possessing a wild Burmese python, fox, squirrel, monkey or any bird subjects violators to a fine of as a lot as $ 12,900 and up to a year in prison.

But these days, handful of folks set out to harm the animals, and although Ms. O’Carroll and her colleagues fear that cattle rustlers from mainland China could spirit entire herds away on boats in the dead of night, so far that does not appear to have occurred.

As an alternative, much more folks look to take pleasure in just getting them about as a living reminder of Hong Kong’s bucolic previous.

“They’re portion of our community,” Ms. O’Carroll said. “They have to remain. They were right here just before a lot of us.”

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