08 May 2009

Vesak Day and "Animal Liberation" on our shores

Today NParks and PUB urged the public NOT to release animals into our reservoirs and wild places. Animal release is traditionally conducted on Vesak Day which falls on 9 May this year.

The President of the Buddhist Fellowship, Angie Monksfield, added that there is a difference between Buddhism and kindness towards animals. "Being kind to animals is one of the core practices in Buddhism," she said. "However, freeing animals into the wild, especially those that have been bred in captivity, is not necessarily a kind act as these animals would be easy prey for predators."

Instead, she urged Buddhists to refrain from eating meat and to adopt and care for animals from shelters, help injured animals and preserve their natural habitats.

What can happen after an animal release? A visible example is today's report of how 300 stray dogs that were dumped on isolated islands off Malaysia turned to cannibalism after weeks of starvation. The report says "The villagers said they never intended to be cruel — they believed the dogs could feed on the deserted islands' wildlife". For small or less conspicious animals like birds and aquatic creatures, the effects may be similar though less visible.

Does "Animal Liberation" take place on our shores? Unfortunately, yes.

The Ambitabha Buddihist Centre "conducts animal liberation activities on a regular basis" it says on its website. The page on these activities ends with "As at 19 May 2008, about 100 million animals were liberated. Rejoice!"

The Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre had photos of their "Animal Release" events online. From the photo gallery of their 3 Feb 09 event it appears that they left from Marina South Pier and released the following animals in the deeper waters between Kusu Island and Seringat-Kias: Spider conch snails (Lambis lambis), Mud crabs (Scylla sp.), Flower crabs (Portunus pelagicus), 'See ham' (Anandara sp.) .
The location is probably too deep for the conch snails to survive, and unsuitable for the other animals which naturally occur on shallow muddy shores near or in mangroves. The Lazy Lizard's Tales shares an encounter with an unusually large number of dead Mud crabs on Changi beach in May last year, that were probably involved in a release.

The Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre also had a 14 Mar 08 event where they left from Changi Point to a fish farm to purchase fishes to be released. The fishes seemed to be pomfrets. This seems to be the same procedure used by the Palden Choling Buddhist Centre's Animal Liberation event on 27 Apr 08.

The Palden Choling Buddhist Centre also had photos of their Animal Liberation event on 12 Apr 08 where they departed from Changi Point and it seems Mud crabs (Scylla sp.) were released in deep water, although the area seems to be near a wooded shore (possibly Pulau Ubin).

Why do Buddhists practice "Animal Liberation"?
Here's some information from a quick web search. These may or may not reflect actual beliefs of Buddhists in general.

Releasing Life with Wisdom
(JPG) from the Buddhist News in Brief has practical Do's and Don'ts that also protect natural habitats and the animals to be released.

Why Buddhists Practise Life Liberation on the Zeph&Frens yahoo group which includes answers to questions such as those below. The answers suggest that despite these concerns, Buddhists who want to gain merit should continue to release animals.
  • There are cases of liberated animals causing other species in its environment to become extinct. Isn't this harmful?
  • Don't we create bad karma when we liberate animals which get eaten by other animals in nature, or which eat other animals?
  • It still doesn't feel right that freeing some animals might mean sending them to kill or to die.
  • Some people liberate the wrong animals into the wrong environment. For instance, releasing fresh water fish into the sea. Shouldn't this be discouraged?
  • It seems pretty hard to ensure that the balance of the environment will not be disturbed when we release life into it.
  • But some say there are sea creatures bred out at sea within nets which might not have the instincts for survival in open sea.
  • The practice of mass animal-liberation on special merit-multiplying days seem to encourage regular mass capture of animals. Is this a good idea?
Animal Liberation is also discussed on Moonpointer a buddhist blog community of everyday dharma.

What are the impacts of animal release?

Marine animal release, 7 simple questions you should ask on the Pulau Hantu blog.

Please don't release animals into our wild places: you will do more harm than good on the wildsingapore website. Which also has suggestions of alternative actions to show compassion.

More blog posts on the issues
More news articles on the issues

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