Wesak Day releasing of birds actually cruel

by SM Mohd Idris, Malaysiakini, May 22, 2009

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) echos the call by the Buddhist Chief High Priest of Malaysia, Venerable Reverend K Sri Dhammaratana against the cruel practice of releasing birds during Wesak.

SAM shares the concern expressed by the Ven Reverend that such act of ‘kindness is actually perpetuating trade and capture of such birds.

Despite an appeal of a similar nature in the past, the Buddhist fraternity remain oblivious to it as they continue with the traditional practice of releasing animals as a gesture of compassion and a repentance for one's sins.

Little do they know that their compassionate intentions are often lost in the act resulting in unintentional cruelty to the animals.

This is because most of the birds brought from the pet shops are caught days earlier and kept in cages for sale on Wesak day. It is an illusion that by releasing these birds they are returning them to their original habitat.

Released birds and animals when hungry, frightened and fatigued would not be able to find shelter and food, the consequences of which is death. When released at crowded temples, they become absolutely disorientated and are unable to fly and fall prey to predators.

On the other hand, by buying animals from pet shops, the people are actually encouraging the catching of more of these birds and animals. Birds from the wild often die when caught or during the journey to the shops.

Since these are cheap birds, they are treated like dirt. Overcrowding in dirty cages and standing in their own excrement, there is no proper care food or even water.

Similarly, non-native animals released into reservoirs will cause an ecological balance as in the case of the luohans or the red eared slider which prey upon the native species. Either they cannot survive in their new environment or they may affect the well-being of the original inhabitants.

The traditional liberation of animals needs to be reviewed in the light of knowing that released animals can result in suffering for them because of their ecological incompatibility. There is also the danger of introducing virus and bacteria from animal releases.

Compassion needs to be balanced with wisdom and one can ‘liberate' animals by adopting rescued pets from animal shelters instead of from pet shops, by supporting animal welfare activities, advocating humane methods of animal control, caring for an injured bird or fishes trapped in pond and so forth.

SAM reiterates its stand that the practice should be stopped. NGOs and religious institutions should play a part in educating the public to help animals by not releasing them into reservoirs, nature reserves and during religious festivities.

The writer is president Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).