Animal Releasing vs Ecosystem Protection: A False Dichotomy

When I received personal snail-mail yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see a single page of The Straits Times (dated 21 May 2010) in the envelope. It was page C3, entitled “More people releasing animals into wild” by Grace Chua. The article focuses on the impact of releasing animals into the wild and how “More people are releasing animals into the wild, reversing a downward trend.”

Oh dear, oh my Buddha! We should call in the police to investigate this matter! The limited natural ecosystem is about to be overrun by these animals released by “people tired of their pets or those setting free animals in religious rites”. Take a closer look my friend, there was a drop from 44 cases in 2004 to 1 in 2007 and an INCREASE to 3 in 2008 for animals being released into the parks and reserves. Phew! ok, call off the search party for the culprits.

Now, if you read through the article, you will see various cases of different animals being released and how the very releasing can cause either harm to released animals or to the ecosystem. A group called “Operation No Release” is specifically targeting Buddhists’ religious practice of animal liberation during Vesak, the very day of celebration of Buddhism’s founder, the Buddha. Vesak celebrates the Buddha’s Birth, Attaining of Buddhahood (of Perfection) and Final passing into Mahaparinibbana (Great Cessation) and on this day of celebration, Buddhist take part in a variety of practices to strengthen their commitment to the Buddhist Teachings, and try to further develop qualities like Metta-Karuna (Loving Kindness and Compassion) and Wisdom.

These are part and parcel of the daily life of a Buddhist, to try to improve themselves through the cultivation of the mind and
purifying one’s bodily, verbal and mental actions. Amongst a whole range of practices, animal liberation is one of them and it is aimed at 1) Giving animals a second chance at survival and 2) to develop compassion towards all sentient beings, humans, animals, spirits, gods and hell beings alike. The article failed to share with the reader this positive aspect of such a practice, choosing to focus only on one aspect of it. Compare this with thousands of animals being killed at restaurants and slaughterhouses, I would choose to give animals a second chance any time.

There are hundreds of Buddhist temples, monasteries and societies in Singapore. Only one is quoted from Ajahn Brahmavamso, an Australian venerable serving as spiritual patron for Buddhist Fellowship. With respects to Ajahn Brahmavamso, I believe it will give readers a more comprehensive coverage of the subject matter by inviting comments from local Buddhist communities in Singapore. So, dear Straits Times and Grace Chua, in future if you need some thoughts on Buddhist practices, you can consult Singapore Buddhist Federation or any of the local Buddhists for advice and information.


The article goes on to highlight how even Secondary school students are also doing their bit to discourage the practice with “30 pupils from Fuhua and Zhonghua primary schools and enrichment centre Neumind” attending a workshop to learn why releasing animals harms the environment. Why are they discouraging the practice and not encouraging the RIGHT practice? Thousands of people are killed in car accidents each year, should we ban driving? No! We encourage drivers to drive safely and responsibly! I say, keep up the workshop but please focus on the positive motivation of Animal Liberation and educate people on the RIGHT ways, on BETTER ways to do it.

Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) students were also highlighted in the article highlighting how “they are working with National Parks Board to put up signs and exhibits in nature areas to explain the fate of released animals”. The RGS students came to SBF seeking the Buddhist opinions on the issue of Animal Liberation. Their request was channelled to me and we had an interview on 24th March 2010. Their teacher-in-charge, Mrs Raja, came with them and I shared with them the various aspects of animal liberation. When they use the word “issue” one too many times, I asked them what the issue was about and Mrs Raja quickly replied that they had no issue on it. It was clear from the interview that they wanted to discourage animal liberation. I cautioned them that if they are interested in protecting the ecosystem, they have to take a well-rounded view of as many of the factors involved as possible and that by zooming in on Buddhist animal liberation alone while not considering other factors, they may be missing the point and not achieving their original goal.

With the ST article, I understand what issue the RGS students may have with Buddhist animal liberation, but again I must highlight to them and others a moderate approach that will serve all better without inciting religious sensitivities. The intention and motivation behind the practice of Animal Liberation is a very positive and wholesome one. In the past twenty over years, Singaporeans have learnt a great deal about better ways to express this beautiful practice in a more positive way and with education, the methodologies and the motivation can be more inline.

Promote the positive motivation of Animal Liberation and educate people on the RIGHT ways, on BETTER ways to do it. Animal Release and Ecosystem protection being incompatible is a false dichotomy.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the water, along with Granny.

PS: I’ve kept the RGS students informed of this blog post so that they may freely comment on their positive work and perhaps how they have been touched through it. I am also hopeful that knowledge and dialogue will empower them to realise that protection of the ecosystem and Buddhist animal
liberation are not mutually exclusive that there is value in encouraging responsible animal liberation that will bring a wholesome and positive development of compassion in people while not damaging the ecosystem.

PS1: When RGS students mentioned to me on the displacement impact that animal liberation has on the ecosystem, I asked them if we should stop fishing since it causes a displacement as well. 😉

11 thoughts on “Animal Releasing vs Ecosystem Protection: A False Dichotomy”

  1. Figured some of you would want to read the original ST article:

    Found this blog containing a copy of it.

    Original ST site with part of it … the RGS article requires subscription

    More animals released into wild
    Released creatures often die or disrupt ecological system here: NParks
    By Grace Chua

    Additional one I found from 20th May 2010
    Nurturing nature keepers
    By Grace Chua

  2. Dear venerable
    Please advice what are the RIGHT ways and BETTER ways to carry out Animal Liberation without harming our local ecosystem as suggested in your entry.
    Thank you.

  3. Dear Sir,

    Certainly, there are many ways of conserving and protecting our environment, and we must all engagae in as many ways as we individually can, and not just do one, such as not to litter, to take public transport and not drive, to become vegetarian, etc, etc.

    With regards to animal liberation, please do enlighten us on the methods and procedures of animal liberation that you want to promote. Then only can members of the public and non-Buddhists
    see both sides of the coin to compare and decide for themselves on this topic.

    I await your kind response.
    Thank you,

  4. Dear Tan BC & Andrew:

    Thank you for asking. 🙂
    Here’s what I wrote in reply to a similar question in facebook:

    @BK & Jerry:
    Education for both parties will be helpful to not just have understanding but to have a practical
    solution that fulfills both goals for Buddhist animal liberation and protection of ecosystem.

    For example:
    There are at least two groups that I am aware of that organises animal liberation voluntarily. Their beneficiaries are the sea dwellers such as fishes, squids, prawns, crabs and others that are facing certain deaths to placate somebody’s palate.

    These organisers do their background research on the different types of animals and goes to different parts of the neighbouring sea to release them, helping to ensure their higher rate of survivability.

    In addition, the target animals for release are rotated randomly. So they may choose to release fishes this month and then crabs another month and so on. This is to prevent a positive reinforcement on the supply end, unwittingly creating a causal demand on the fisheries.

    Obvious matters like salt-water animals vs fresh water animals should be apparent by now, but more should be done to educate the masses on their differences.

    To be completely unbias, I would not claim that the ways it is done is perfect. It is not. But I am hopeful that we can improve on the methods so that we can gradually do it better.

    Compared to the condos we have, first-gen HDB flats are somewhat crappy. But if we didn’t start there, we would still be staying in kampong houses. Ok, kampong houses is not necessarily a bad thing, but you get my drift.

    With metta, ^_^

  5. Hi,

    In order for animal release to actually save animals from being eaten, there must be a net effect of some would-be consumers being denied their chance to buy/eat animals. Do you have any studies or proof that this is happening? Do you believe the animal sellers do not simply aim to increase production in order to accommodate both consumers and people buying animals for release?

    1. @Goh, thank you for your insightful comments.

      The groups buy the animals from fish markets, sometimes wholesalers where restaurants buy from. The animals are quite definitely due for the stove and table. That much is certain. Animal liberation is not a direct attempt to deny consumers from eating, rather it is to give the animals a second chance at living. Indirectly, those who take part in animal liberation gradually develops compassion towards animals and voluntarily refrains from eating live seafood, and in some cases, meat altogether.

      In Buddhism, we encourage Buddhists not to take up jobs as butchers or slaughters, and sincerely others will give up such a bloody livelihood too. However, we are not about to police the world nor impose our practices or values on others. We can only change ourselves. Others may become inspired to change, but cannot be forced.

      You may be right that in some cases, some sellers may increase production, but one could also ask if you have any studies or proof to affirm that. However, to ask for such proof would be missing the point either way. Consider those who are freeing girls and women from prostitution. Using your statement, one could argue that pimps and brothels may increase the number of victims in order to offset such attempts. But would that make sense?

      In any case, as I mentioned in the entry, the groups I know of try to minimise this effect by purchasing the animals from different sellers sporadically. There may be better ways to reduce this unwanted production-reinforcement effect, and I am sure we should explore them further.

      Animal liberation is one of various practices and efforts by Buddhists to help make life a bit more compassionate for humans and animals alike.
      Through your comments and the like, we can improve on our methods to better achieve our goals.

    1. Dear Venerable Sudhamma Bhikkhuni,

      Thank you for your kind words.
      It is our duty to do so. Would be good to hear from you and your fellow monastics in your community on this matter, and the other posts in this blog.

      With metta,

      ChuanGuan bhikkhu

  6. You are encouraging animal liberation as a practice in compassion but liberating animals into the wild takes extreme careful planning and considerations. It would be wise to actually study the impact on releasing animals into the wild. We Buddhists love to engage in merits deeds, especially those where we believe we are doing something good. But if you consider deeper and more carefully, releasing numerous amounts of animals into the wild and releasing three or four small animals is a very different thing. If you really want to practice compassion, buy these animals back and provide them a safe sanctuary so they are neither harm nor are harmful to the eco-system where they do not belong to originally. It’s easy to encourage everyone to go ahead but it’s not responsible at all because behind it is a kind of laziness and irresponsibility to oneself, others and your unintended beneficiaries or even victims.

  7. Better let the Government to form subcommittee to study, broadcast the rule & regulation for all major religions to avoid unhappiness as in the National Antumn. Well, the government respect all races & religions giving equal rights. Anything an issue has to be properly proposed with good mannerism, no just talking corner & then spill the spoiled milk all over, dirty indeed. Media & Protective Group will tend to overly stated.. Relevant measures must have already taken well in advance as this liberation of animals for many many years. Just few days before Vesak Day, it is brought up during the morning News with invited guest of eco problem & also repeat broadcast. But nothing mentioned clearly of government statistic and not states the coming Vesak Event. If its truly alarming, then WARNING will be enforced by the Authority by Law like “No Smoking” sign. All levels will knew & appreciates the kindness. for the peace, harmony & prosperity of the citizen & nation.

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