Shu Jen Chen, who was born and raised in Taiwan, is a campaign manager for Humane Society International, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that addresses animal issues worldwide. Chen was involved in the recent successful campaign to persuade the restaurant in the National Palace Museum to take shark fin soup off its menu. Soon, Chen will begin working with local animal and environmental groups in an effort to end the Buddhist custom of ‘mercy releases.’
H11: What are ‘mercy releases’?
CHEN: ‘Mercy release’ means the freeing of captured animals. Some Buddhists buy captured animals and release them into the wild in the belief that by releasing a captured animal they not only can bring themselves longevity, fortune and good luck in this life, but can also atone for their sins from previous lives and help make their next life a better one. This tradition began long ago with spontaneous acts of compassion. However, the modern version of mercy release is completely different. The vast majority of animals used in mercy release today were caught for the sole purpose of being released. Many do not survive the ordeal of capture. Some are killed by the traps or nets. Others starve or suffocate in the cages used to transport and store them. These animals are often provided little or no food or water, as their purpose is not to be pets, but for release. Therefore, the animals’ long-term health is not the main concern of the trappers and dealers involved in the trade.
H11: Are the animals used in ‘mercy releases’ in Taiwan captured here or overseas?
CHEN: Both species native to Taiwan and imported species are used in mercy release. Many are bought from conventional pet stores. Fish, turtles and birds are preferred animals, but a wide variety of others are released as well. Most large ‘mercy release’ ceremonies are held by temples, and we understand that at least 400 temples in Taiwan are involved in the practice.
H11: What happens to the animals after they’ve been released?
CHEN: Many animals don’t survive for long after being released. They may die directly from illness or injury, or may be easy prey for hunters or predators. Often, hunters will wait near releasing sites to recapture the animals and sell them again for profit. Many die because they are not released into their natural habitat. For example, freshwater turtles are sometimes released into the ocean, or saltwater fish into ponds or rivers.
H11: What about the animals that do survive?
CHEN: Some released non-native animals flourish in their new habitat, causing enormous problems for native species. Some become competitors for food and territory, or mate with native species, threatening their gene pools. Others introduce foreign diseases or parasites to native populations, with devastating consequences...
The rest of the interview is here.
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