By Eli Meixler
November 27, 2018

Visitors to Hong Kong’s beaches have been warned to keep track of their plastic trash after a bull that was known as a beloved local mascot was found dead with a stomach full of plastic bags.

Billy, an eight-year-old bull who lived on Pui O beach on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island, was reported dead by a Facebook fan page on Saturday, according to the South China Morning Post. The beloved bull’s untimely demise was confirmed Monday by the city’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).

Billy had become something of a local icon for local residents and tourists after joining a herd of local wild buffalo, and was often seen cavorting in the sea and accepting gifts of food, according to the Post. Lantau Buffalo Association chair Ho Loy told the Post that residents were “greatly saddened” by news of Billy’s death. He “helped change the way people thought about cattle” with “his friendly demeanour,” she added.

But that popularity may have contributed to his demise. According to the AFCD, Billy’s stomach and intestinal tract were packed with enough plastic bags to fill two garbage bins. Beachgoers offering Billy snacks and campsite detritus had caused the habituated heifer to “correlate plastic bags with food,” the Department said.

Plastic ocean pollution is a pressing concern around the world. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic is released into the ocean every year, a number could increase tenfold in a decade, according to a 2015 study. Plastic trash accounts for 60-80% of trash found along Hong Kong’s shorelines, according to a 2016 World Wildlife Fund survey. Microplastic particles have also been found in human waste, and ingested plastic has been traced from fish in Hong Kong to humans.

In July, the Hong Kong government introduced a “Plastic Free Beach, Tableware First” campaign targeting disposable plastic utensils in hopes of “achieving a plastic-free ocean.” Forty-seven beachside businesses signed up to participate in the initiative.


Write to Eli Meixler at eli.meixler@time.com.

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