Religious Practice of Releasing Captive Wildlife for Merit
“The United Nations (UN) Decade for Biodiversity (2011-2020) is a global impetus geared at re-orienting society towards recognizing the value of biodiversity and conserving it. Religious institutions have already begun to show notable interest in and to take action toward reversing the environmental crisis in general and halting the loss of biodiversity in particular. Amidst these endeavors by religious institutions however, we call for a holistic reappraisal of practices within their fold to address any that might impede global progress to save biodiversity.
For example, a practice by Buddhists and Daoists that raises concern is fang sheng— the Chinese term for the act of releasing captive wildlife as an act of compassion.
The manner in which ‘animal release’ is practiced raises concern for biodiversity that conflicts with the ritual’s aim of compassion. ‘Animal release’ causes several adverse effects on biodiversity including the spread of invasive species, genetic swamping, extreme animal suffering, competition, vulnerability to predation, disease, and human health concerns.
Aware of these adverse effects, the Religion and Conservation Research Collaborative (RCRC) of the Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group (RCBWG), Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) concludes that the religious practice of ‘animal release’ poses risks to the future of biodiversity in Asia and other parts of the world where currently practiced. The RCRC recommends a targeted awareness campaign that emphasizes the problems associated with ‘animal release’ and the most pragmatic alternative practices that maintain both spiritual and ecological integrity.