Sun, Jun 17, 2012 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Cobra encounters spark debate over animal ‘releases’

MISPLACED MERCY?The Buddhist practice of mass releases of captive animals into the wild has come under fire, with some calling it well-intentioned, but misguided

Staff Writer, with CNA

Buddhist Master Hai Tao is seen in Yilan County on Friday. Hai said he was not involved in a recent incident in which followers of his released more than 100kg of snakes in the county.

Photo: Hu Chien-sen, Taipei Times

The issue of whether to release captive animals resurfaced after several people in Yilan County, which contains the nation’s largest botanical garden, recently encountered cobras, which do not generally inhabit cooler mountainous regions.

An explanation for the unusual phenomenon has now emerged: Self-proclaimed followers of Buddhist master Hai Tao (海濤) released more than 100kg of the snakes in the county’s Shuanglianpi (雙連埤) area.

They even posted about the release on the Web, saying that they “have become addicted to the practice” and drawing criticism from environmental protection groups, as well as from concerned netizens.

“Releasing captive animals is good practice, but releasing snakes into the wild hurts society and contravenes the intention of mercy,” Master Hai Tao said.

He said his group makes legal applications whenever it stages such releases.

He said the cobra release was the act of an individual acting in his name, and he told his followers that it is alright to save snakes, but not to release them into the wild.

The follower had posted an article on a Buddhist Web site in the middle of last month saying that if NT$36,000 (US$1,200) could be solicited, a wholesaler would be willing to sell 100kg of snakes “at a cheap price.”

On June 1, a blog chronicled the process, saying that six people bought 117 kg of snakes and drove deep into the mountains of Yilan County that night to release them.

One follower even described the process as follows: “When I heard the excited and frightened screams of one female follower, I smiled.”

“You need to release the animals yourselves to feel the infectious sensation. The sensation will be ingrained in your head and get you hooked,” he wrote.

Lai Chien-cheng (賴建丞), a former head of the Yilan chapter of the Society of Wilderness, said he saw a listless snake on the road at Shuanglianpi, which he speculated could be one of the ones that were released recently.

“This was not giving the snake life, but death,” he said.

He said that a lot of such Buddhist groups release turtles and fish at night at Shuanglianpi, numbering in the thousands each time, which he said has caused an ecological disaster.

The government should regulate the practice, he added.

Lin Kuo-chang (林國彰), a section chief of the Forestry Bureau, said the bureau had asked police to investigate.

Lin also said that the bureau was working on revising the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法) to regulate commercial and massive “release” activities.

However, because the proposed amendment will affect religious culture, with fines of up to NT$2.5 million (US$83,670) and criminal prosecution, religious groups oppose the move.

Lin said that religious groups believe the practice is redemptive, but said the bureau was hoping reason with them.

“We hope to explain to the religious groups that the practice, while done with good intentions, actually has negative effects,” Lin said.

The bureau plans to base its rules on those regulating hunting by Aborigines and would require those planning to release captive animals to register the species, the areas and numbers of animals to be released.

“They will be barred from releasing them if they have no prior permission,” Lin said.

At a forum on regulating captive animals earlier this week, religious figures said the practice was an important part of Buddhism and that if the law prohibits it, believers will simply release them secretly.

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