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Mysterious Beasts of Hong Kong

The world seems to have its fair share of zoological oddities still yet to be understood. Yet while many may imagine that these unidentified mystery creatures should be confined to the most unexplored and uncharted of remote areas, this is not always the case. Strange cryptids and zoological anomalies can sometimes crop up in areas that are well-inhabited and even crowded, and one of the most remarkable cases of these comes to us from the bustling mega-city of Hong Kong. One of the busiest cities in the world, there still appear to be mysteries lurking on the fringes of all of this bristling civilization, and here we will look at some of the odd, unknown beasts that seem to have called this corner of the world home.

Often called “The Pearl of the Orient,” Hong Kong itself is presently an autonomous territory of China and was once a British colony, finally being granted sovereignty in 1997 as a special administrative region. As a semi-autonomous area, Hong Kong has a separate political and economic system from China, and besides military and foreign affairs is almost its own entity. Perhaps one of Hong Kong’s most unique attributes is its image as a bustling, neon filled morass of people and cars, and at 7.2 million people of a wide range of nationalities all crammed within just 1,104 km2 it is considered to be one of the most crowded, densely populated places on earth, and it also is known for having the most skyscrapers in the world. All of this perhaps makes this thrumming metropolis area the last place one would expect to find mysterious, unidentified creatures, but amazingly there have been cases of shadowy beasts roaming the region from time to time.

Hong Kong

One of the weirdest such accounts was originally published in a 1956 edition of a flying saucer publication called The Saucerian Review. The report claimed that one evening in March of 1955, terrified residents began frantically calling police claiming that they were being stalked or even attacked by a 6-foot-tall ape-like beast covered with long, shaggy gray hair that was alternately described as being bipedal and walking on all four legs. Often the creature was said to be seen looming outside of windows or galloping down the street on two legs, four, or both. The most dramatic report came from a villager named Law Chiu on the outskirts of the city, who told authorities of a harrowing encounter he had had with the monster as he had been visiting his family’s temple.

Chiu claimed that as he had approached his destination the bizarre creature had shambled out of some brush, walked towards him upright while grunting, and attacked him around 50 yards away from the temple. In the rather dramatic account, he says that he punched the thing in the stomach and that they grappled about on the ground in a flurry before it ran off on all fours. Tracks of the beast were even found after a woman reported seeing it walk past her vegetable garden. The prints were described as being “triangular” and “unlike those made by a man or ape.” What in the world could this thing have been? Was it a misidentified mundane animal of some sort? A monkey perhaps? A hoax? Mass hysteria? No one really knows.

On top of weird ape-men are all of the mystery big cats that seem to have roamed the area. In particular, tales of tigers skulking about Hong Kong go back to the early 1900s. In March of 1915, spooked locals of the Fanling area near Sai-Kung began to report seeing a tiger lurking about in the underbrush in the area, occasionally killing livestock such as cows or ponies, and this panic reached a fever pitch when a villager named Sheung Shui was allegedly killed by the ferocious beast and several more people supposedly badly mauled. The police, who up to that point had written it off as merely the product of overactive imaginations, sent in an Ernest Goucher to investigate these incidents, along with Indian constable Ruttan Singh and a Constable Holland, who trudged out into the wilds to investigate and perhaps track the man-eater down.

On March 9, 1915, the men were ambushed by the cat, and it managed to kill Sing and brutally maul Goucher before being driven off by Holland’s pistol, which he blindly fired at it in fear until it clicked on empty. Goucher would be rushed to Government Civil Hospital, where he died three days later from his horrific injuries. The crazed tiger’s reign of terror was finally brought to an end when Assistant Superintendent of Police Donald Burlingham shot and killed it after an extensive hunt. The 2.2 meter long big cat, often known as the Fanling Tiger, was subsequently exhibited in City Hall and its stuffed head mounted over the entrance of Central Police Station to greet visitors.

It is all extremely odd and puzzling, as tigers were not known to exist in Hong Kong at the time and have in fact never been indigenous to the area, although it was technically within the possible range of the the South China tiger, which is now thought to be extinct. It is thought that although none of these tigers had ever been officially confirmed in Hong Kong it is possible one may have somehow wandered in. Another theory is that it could have escaped from a circus or even been intentionally released by the Japanese to sow terror, but no one really knows where it came from. Yet another tiger was supposedly killed in Stanley Village of Hong Kong in 1942, apparently as it stalked about right in front of the police station.

The Hong Kong tiger killed by Donald Burlingham

This would not be the last of mysterious tigers in Hong Kong. In July of 1965, some schoolgirls were having a picnic in the hills of Tai Mo Shan, north of Kowloon, when they reportedly spotted a tiger prowling about in the wilderness nearby. Over the next several months sightings reports of tigers came pouring in from other residents of the area, but authorities were unable to find any evidence of such an animal despite several extensive searches. Oddly, a report from a local named Chan Pui claimed that he had actually captured the notorious mystery cat, but it turned out to be nothing more than an unusual crossbreed dog, most likely a mix between German Shepherd and Chow. In the following years a grayish, tiger-like cat was also widely sighted in the area in 1976. Since no known such type of big cat is known from Hong Kong, it is unclear exactly what any of these people saw, and no further evidence of them has ever been turned up.

The waters around Hong Kong have also occasionally been the haunt of rather mysterious creatures. Since ancient times there has been said to be a race of semi-aquatic humanoids, similar to mermaids, which have inhabited Hong Kong waters. These strange creatures are variously called the Luting, Lu Ting, or Lutung Fish, and are traditionally described as having a human head perched atop a dark body like that of a seal. Although sighted throughout the centuries, they may seem to be something purely mythical in nature if it weren’t for some of the eyewitness accounts of mermaid-like creatures around Hong Kong into modern times. As recently as 1940 there was a rash of sighting made by fishermen off of Lantau, with the excited men saying that what they saw were Luting. Many have been quick to say that these are just sightings of dugongs, but witnesses are adamant that they have seen these legendary Chinese mermaids frolicking about.

The Luting

Also curious are encounters of what have often been called “sea dogs” wandering Hong Kong waters. On April 17, 1914 it was reported in the Hong Kong Telegraph Extra that a group of around 18 seal-like animals was seen swimming in formation between the Soko Island group and Cheung Chau Island, to the southwest of Hong Kong. The yachtsman who claimed to have seen the animals said that although he took them to be seals, his Chinese sailing mates said they were not seals but in fact what they called “sea-dogs” or “sea-pigs.” The article would say further of the strange creatures:

Our informant looked but could see little at first because the animals were only just breaking water with their noses to obtain air, this being accompanied by a hissing noise. Then a small one jumped into the air and it was at once seen that, whatever they were, the passers by were not fish. Further confirmation was to be found when one of them broke water and raised his head so that he could be easily seen. His face was not unlike that of a cat with drooping whiskers over the mouth. He then dived and showed a large portion of his back as he went down; in fact, roughly speaking, five feet of his body was exposed. In all there were four persons who saw these animals – two Chinese and two Europeans and they are all convinced that they were of the nature of seals. That night the yacht was anchored in the locality and the hissing could be heard all night. However after passing Adamastor Rock [location unfound] no further traces of them were seen.

The informant also stated that he was sure they were not porpoises. It is an interesting account in that although there are some species of seals found in far northern Chinese waters they not known to inhabit Hong Kong or anywhere near there, and the Chinese yachtsmen at the time claimed they were something else other than mere seals. What did these people see? Were these merely wayward, out of place seals or something else? Considering that there were no further reports and no evidence of the encounter other than this account it is hard to say.

Besides mermaids and strange seal-like beasts, there is one animal that is known to be in Hong Kong which is nevertheless just about as mysterious. The extremely rare, endangered Pink Dolphin or Chinese White Dolphin (Sousa chinensis chinensis), inhabits the seas and harbors of Hong Kong, as well as the Pearl River Estuary, and they are quite unique indeed. These dolphins exhibit a strange and striking white or pinkish hue as adults akin to the color of bubblegum, which is believed to be caused by blood vessels near the surface of the skin for the purpose of regulating their body temperature.

The pink dolphin was first recorded in 1637, when the British explorer and trader Peter Mundy, who while in Macau wrote in his diary, “the Porpoises here are as white as Milke, some of them Ruddy withall.” In later years Swedish missionary and naturalist Pehr Osbeck wrote of dolphins that were “snow white” in color around Hong Kong. Among the native population the white dolphins were seen as magical creatures who could predict disasters, and it was said that to see them leaping from the water in unison was a sure omen of catastrophe. The animals were a common sight for fishermen of the area for centuries, and as unusual as they appear they were seen mostly as pests who ate all of the fish and damaged catches.

A Hong Kong pink dolphin

Although this species has been known for hundreds of years, there was never much thought given too their status and they remained a rather understudied and misunderstood species until the 1990s, when land reclamation projects started to take huge chunks out of the dolphins’ natural habitat and conservationists became worried about their fate. Adding to the various land reclamation projects in the city is the intense pollution caused by 7.2 million people dumping their garbage and toxic runoff from Chinese factories making its way down the Pearl River, as well as the threat posed by overfishing and the massive amount of boat traffic through Hong Kong, which churn up the water and often hit the dolphins to injure or kill them. It is a hostile environment for these rare pink dolphins to be sure, and although there have been in recent days efforts to save them there are only an estimated 100-140 of the dolphins left in Hong Kong and around 1,000 in the Pearl River Delta. For now one can still see the amazing sight of these somewhat ghostly pink dolphins swimming through the city’s waters with skyscrapers looming in the background, but it is unclear for how much longer.

While the uncharted wilds of our planet hold many mysteries and strange creatures, it seems that one can also come across such oddities right in the midst of civilization. For all of our expansion and conquering of the natural world unusual creatures and bizarre mysteries can often pop up right under our noses, and with these strange cases from Hong Kong it is obvious that there is sometimes more to this world than meets the eye.