I attended a Buddhist introduction session recently and was impressed by the society dedication and sincerity in sharing the wisdom and knowledge of Buddhism. They showed a video clip to introduce new comers to the society's activities. There was one section in the video showing Animal Liberation which upset me. Caged birds were released. Often unscrupulous business men profit from capturing wild birds and sell them to folks who want to liberate animals as part of their Buddhist practice. To me - this is a misguided act.
Buddhism teaches kindness and refrain from harming life form. I believe animal liberation arises from this noble concept. However times have changed, and we need to pay attention to the context in which animal liberation is carried out. If not instead of it being an act of kindness, it could become an unintentional act of cruelty.
1) If animals, be it birds, turtles…etc are purchased for liberation, this is not true kindness. The only person who benefit is the business man or pet shop owner who sell the animals for liberation. The animals in fact suffer unnecessary stress of being capture and then released again. Statistic has shown that more than 50% of captured animals die due to injury, stress or ‘hunger strike’. Wild animals when capture may refrain from eating or drinking. Unscrupulous business men may not take care of the capture animals properly resulting in high death rate.
2) Liberation of animals into unsuitable surrounding may result in low survival rate.
3) Animals which are not resident to the area/S'pore could upset the eco systems and resulting in death of other animal species. An example is the popular red ear turtle sold in pet shops which are often released into reservoirs. Red ear turtle are not resident species of S’pore.
4) Those who do not understand the true meaning of animal liberation may be encourage to be irresponsible pet owners. Often pets are abandon when the owner cannot cope. They use the excuse of setting the animals free, when they are in fact committing a very cruel act. In S’pore we often see turtles, tortoise, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs…. release at parks and reservoirs. These are house hold pets, they cannot survive on their own. Some have been breed for decades as pets and need human care. These animals ‘set free’ often suffered a prolong death due to injury, disease or hunger.
Buddhism is against taking of life. But is not subjecting an animal to prolong suffering even more cruel ? This is surely not in line with Buddhist teaching.
No animals should be purchased for liberation. It will only perpetual the demand for these animals and the vicious cycle of animal cruelty.
a) Participate / Support worthy Animals Welfare Project / Causes
The society could instead support or participate in animal welfare projects or causes. For example Resort World Sentose captured wild dolphins and trained them to perform for the public. Many had died and those that survive the ordeal will face a bleak future in an unnatural environment with the sole purpose to entertain the human race ! Animal welfare groups in S’pore like ACRES, SPCA… are petitioning for their release. This is a valid case of animal liberation.
b) Adopt an abandon animal
There is no greater kindness than the commitment to care for and give a home to an abandon animal. Those members who like animals could be encouraged to adopt an abandon animal from SPCA, Cat Welfare Society and other animal welfare NGOs.
c) Take care of the strays
Members could be encouraged to take care of the strays in their neighbourhood. There are always stray cats to be found in HDB and even private condos / estates.
Certainly the above mentioned worthy causes are more meaningful than the empty gesture of releasing animals just for the sake of practising Animal Liberation.