Fewer animals released

Divine connections: A file photo showing devotees and their pets seeking blessings from monks at Thekchen Choling temple in 2022. — The Straits Times/ANN

The tradition of releasing animals into the wild on Wesak Day as an act of compassion is becoming less common among Buddhists, as many Buddhist organisations advise against it.

Only three cases of releasing animals into the wild were reported each year from 2019 to 2023, according to the National Parks Board (NParks), which continues to encourage the public to refrain from the practice. Offenders may be fined up to S$5,000 (RM17,400) under the Wildlife Act.

Advocacy group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) also has had no reports of animals being released to the wild since 2019. Prior to that, it would receive five or six reports a year, though it noted that most were not reported.

“We are grateful for the efforts of NParks’ Operation No Release campaign, animal welfare groups and fellow nature groups for bringing about the awareness of the harm of releasing animals into the wild to the public, that has resulted in the decrease of the number of cases over the years,” said a spokeswoman from Acres.

In the run-up to Wesak each year since 2006, NParks has carried out Operation No Release, despatching officers and volunteers to parks, nature areas, reservoirs and waterways to remind people not to release animals into the wild.

“Releasing animals into the wild harms them and our ecosystem. These animals will find it difficult to fend for themselves and are unlikely to survive in their unfamiliar surroundings,” said Lim Liang Jim, group director of conservation at NParks.

The few that are able to adapt to the new environment may disrupt the ecological balance of Singapore’s natural habitats by competing with native species for resources, he added.

Wesak holds particular significance for Buddhists, as they believe that the merit generated from good works done on this holy day will be amplified.

On top of chanting mantras and sharing vegetarian meals, devotees in the past released caged birds and animals as an act of compassion.

Buddhist organisations such as Thekchen Choling have been encouraging devotees to advocate for animal welfare in other ways, such as adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet, doing animal rescue work and supporting animal shelters. — The Straits Times/ANN

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