Hong Kong is often portrayed as a concrete jungle, but the bustling city is also rich in biodiversity.
Ecological surveyors from the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department work hard in the field to gather research and update the city’s ecological database.
They are split into nine groups according to different specialties, such as mammals, freshwater fish, butterflies, dragonflies, birds and plants.
The teams conduct surveys covering all major habitats of high conservation value.
Field Officer Ringo Wong is a nature and wildlife enthusiast who joined the department in 2010.
He has been an ecological surveyor for more than three years, responsible for investigating amphibians and reptiles, such as snakes, frogs and lizards.
Mr Wong said amphibians and reptiles are often camouflaged and elusive, so surveyors turn over stones and use torches to search hidden areas.
When they find a specimen, they record the species, sex, location, time and weather.
Ecological surveyors conduct field trips two to three times a week, exploring woodlands, streams, freshwater wetlands and swamps.
Mr Wong said the job is challenging but rewarding.
"It gives me a lot of opportunities to meet some rare species such as the Tonkin Pit Viper, Northern Reed Snake and Bogadek’s Burrowing Lizard.
"In terms of Bogadek’s Burrowing Lizard, it can only be found in some outlying islands in Hong Kong. So when I found it, I felt very excited."
On the record
Fellow field officer Tong Chi-pan also loves nature and has been an ecological surveyor since 2014, responsible for mammals such as bats and rats.
He and his teammates capture bats and release them after taking measurements and performing checks. The data is stored in the department’s ecological database.
Every year the team revisits bat habitats in drainage channels and caves to count their numbers.
"We take records of the bats’ locations, their distances from the mouth of the cave, the temperature and humidity of their exact positions, and look for any external factors affecting the abundance of bats."
If the team encounter a large group of bats and cannot count them all, they take photos which are enlarged with software for easier counting and species identification.
Mr Tong said the general public has a limited knowledge about bats.
The data obtained by ecological surveyors can help educate people about bats and the information is posted on the department’s website.
Mr Wong added that publishing their research online and in books and periodicals can better develop public understanding of the city’s biodiversity.
Labour of love
The department has been conducting this citywide ecological survey programme since 2002.
Mr Wong and Mr Tong agree the key requirement for anyone aspiring to be a surveyor is a love of nature.
"They must love animals and nature and study subjects such as environment, ecology or biology. We mainly work outdoors, so physical endurance is also a factor," Mr Tong said.
Mr Wong added: "Ecological surveyors share a common interest but each of us has their expertise. Some are good at observing birds, some are good with butterflies and some are good with dragonflies.
"When we go out to work, we can exchange our experiences and share our new discoveries. We enjoy an amazing work atmosphere."