Old ways

For those who subscribe to the line of argument that what’s important is the intention during the act of animal liberation and we should not concern ourselves with the uncertainty of their survival: allow me to poison those pure and wonderful thoughts of yours.

A couple of days ago, two colleagues from lab stepped off a road into a stream near one of our reservoirs, and were given a nasty scare when dozens of things started jumping around.

American bullfrogs.

Sold as a delicacy, and bought and released by a misguided soul who wanted to accumulate merits on Vesak Day. In a square patch of about 2m x 2m beside the stream, my friends counted about 20 of them. Many more had jumped out of their way.

Whatever well-wishes the liberator had for the frogs, many already were dead.

Yesterday, I joined them when they went back to take some photos. It was not a pretty sight, nor a pretty smell. There were only a few that looked alive, and some of these were so weak that they didn’t bother very much to move when we prodded them. One that I picked up was flaccid and foaming in the mouth. Some of the carcasses have been washed away by the stream, but some still remained, either bloated or upturned or with flies buzzing around them.

So, now that you know their chances of survival, can you still plead ignorance and claim that your intentions during your next liberation will be as pure as ever?

This kind of animal release is a sure-lose scenario: if the frogs cannot adapt and die (so rapidly too), it obviously defeats the purpose of giving them a new lease of life. If they frogs survive, disperse into the forest and reproduce, it’s a ticking time bomb for the ecological integrity of our native flora and fauna. Either way, you have just paid a tidy sum of money into the hands of the suppliers of frogs encouraging them that this is lucrative business, while the several customers who were denied these individuals on their dinner plate have gone on to buy others. Just how much wisdom has accompanied this supposed act of compassion? Have you actually saved any frogs at all? Or have you actually caused more frogs on the overall to die?

Some have struggled to improve and adapt the practice with the times. I wrote about this to TODAY voices. This is the original letter:

Dear Editor,

Religious release of animals: a scientific way?

In many parts of Asia, the practice of animal liberation has kicked up much debate in terms of animal welfare and environmental impacts. Some recent developments have attempted to address these concerns. The ‘beneficiaries’ have largely switched from exotic freshwater pets such as red-eared sliders and birds to seafood such as fish and crabs on the rationale that these are native our region’s seas. A second, more questionable, recommendation has been to avoid purchasing patterns that can be anticipated by sellers.

The latest move has been to purchase only marine fish reared in fish farms, and not those directly caught at sea (“Buddhists celebrate Vesak Day”, May 18). While I admire such efforts to modernize our traditions, I would like propose that we go two steps further: first, construct an economic model to show how this better circumvents the usual market scenarios of animal capture and liberation; second, engage an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of possible short term ecosystem shocks and long term genetic erosion to the wild populations from such large quantities of a few species being released. The EIA can advise on husbandry practices, and recommend appropriate mixes of species and release volumes and timings for the best outcome. Buddhists can then confidently help to reach out to and educate those that still slip through the watchful eyes of our nature wardens and conduct the worst practices of releasing exotics directly into our reserves.

This is an opportunity to show how scientific method can complement religious devotion for a positive outcome.

But perhaps at the end of the day, we may find that the most enlightened way to practice compassion would still be the long and hard way: live simply, reduce consumption, and be kind and gentle to all life around us.

In short, I think there is no cheap way.



  1. 3 May 2012 at 23:52

    […] wrote a letter to Today last year about this. I am also part of a working group of the Society for Conservation Biology that’s […]

  2. 4 May 2012 at 19:27

    […] year, I wrote a letter to Today about this. I am also part of a working group of the Society for Conservation […]

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