“Mercy Release” brings Misfortune to the Animals

Nature Conservation

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) urges the public not to release animals into the wild. Mercy or Merit release activities may not bring good luck to people or save animal lives, on the contrary, the activities often lead to suffering and death of creatures and negative ecological consequences. Such activities can also potentially release disease into the environment which may result in the death of many more creatures.

Mercy release activities have been common practice in Hong Kong for at least two decades. After the outbreak of avian flu, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fish and seafood became the popular market animals for mercy release, although birds are still released. However, animals purchased from pet and food markets are not suitable for this activity. Many are not native to Hong Kong, and they may be injured or sick. Furthermore, the place they are released is often not the correct habitat for the animal.

One very cruel fact surrounding this activity is that many wild animals are captured specifically to be released, and for the one bird which reaches the market place 10 or more birds may already have died during transportation in crowded conditions. During capture and transportation, the animals suffer stress and may lack food and water. They are simply seen as a commodity to be bought. By the time they are once again released back into the wild, many are too weak to survive. In addition, some released animals are captive-bred species which lack skills to survive in nature. Effectively the action is similar to releasing a friendly pet dog in the middle of the wilderness to fend for itself and find food. This would not constitute a compassionate action, but many citizens that attend these activities are being misled into the belief that what they are doing is good for the animal. Also the traders have turned what was considered a compassionate activity into a commercial enterprise, reaping large sums of money from the suffering of animals.

Buddhism has many quotes that help us to reflect on how we treat our fellow creatures:

“He who, seeking his own happiness, punishes or kills beings who also long for happiness, will not find happiness after death.

- Dhammapada

Non-native animals may even suffer and die as the local habitats and climate in Hong Kong are unsuitable for them. KFBG staff have noted on many occasions dead and struggling animals, following release practices that have taken place in a stream near the centre. So far over 100 dead and dying turtles and frogs have been passed to the rescue centre following release in just one small stream. Rescue team staff become very upset when they see such large numbers of animals suffering after they have been purposely left behind after mercy release activities.

Uncontrolled trade in the wild animals for release could also have impacts on natural populations, and some may even disappear completely from there natural areas just to support Mercy Release activities. The wild animals have a better chance of living if there is no such trapping to meet the demand of those who want to release them. The absurdity here is that wild animals that are already wild and free do not need to be captured to become wild and free again!

In contrast food market animals are bred on farms and are not adapted to being released in the wild. Although we can understand the reason behind wanting to ‘save’ the market animals the fact is that these animals suffer and die slowly over days and weeks so it is naive to suggest they are being saved. The blessings they receive on release will not help them survive the unsuitable conditions they must encounter.

The released animals can threaten the survival of native wildlife. They may spread diseases and pass parasites to native animals in nature. It has already been documented in Europe that invasive American turtles are introducing a parasite which is killing a European turtle species. Invasive species, such as the Red-eared Slider Turtle, a native North American species and a popular choice for mercy release, will compete with local species for food and shelter. In 2014, the Wild Animal Rescue Centre of KFBG received two Snapping Turtles which were captured after release into a reservoir. Snapping Turtles, originate in the United States, and grow to be the largest freshwater turtle species in the world. They are extremely aggressive with strong and powerful jaws. If this species survives in the natural streams in Hong Kong, it could cause major ecological impacts to local species.

Presently there is no legislation to prevent release of purchased animals into the environment. In several countries the laws are tighter and it would be unlawful to carry out these release acts, especially with known invasive species. Taiwan recently developed new legislation which makes it illegal to release animals without permission through a permitting system managed by the Authorities.

“We encourage the public to seriously consider their actions and not release wild caught and market animals. Consider replacing these activities often linked with religious ceremonies, with alternative activities such as TREE PLANTING, ADOPTING A VEGETARIAN DIET (to encourage less reliance on meat) and VOLUNTEERING or SUPPORTING animal welfare and environmental protection organizations. This will help to end unnecessary suffering of wildlife and market animals and will represent a compassionate effort to improve the health of the environment and in turn provide help to many creatures,” suggested Dr Gary Ades, Head of Fauna Conservation Department of KFBG.

On Buddha’s Birthday let’s give the creatures we share this planet with a break and leave them in the wild where they belong. In the case of captive bred market animals you can refuse to eat any animals you feel have been treated in a cruel manner by trade and also convince your friends and family to do the same. Buying and releasing these animals will only perpetuate the suffering you are trying to stop.

May all beings be free from enmity;

May all beings be free from injury;

May all beings be free from suffering;

May all beings be happy.

- Buddhist Prayer for Animals to be Free From Suffering

Bags full of exotic bull frogs about to be released in a small stream near KFBG

Dead Fish, Chinese Edible Bull Frogs and Red-Eared Slider Turtles are regularly seen following Mercy Release activities

The death rate of released birds can be as high as 75%. Many like this Tree Sparrow are in poor health