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. 😉