Many Singapore residents must be familiar with the practice of fangsheng on Vesak Day. Also known as jiwitte dana, it is a traditional Buddhist practice of mercy release of captive animals to receive good karma. Although fangsheng may seem like an act of compassion towards the animals, mercy release actually brings more harm than good to the animals.

 

Jeopardizing lives of released animals

Unlike their wild counterparts, animals bred in captivity are reliant on human care and lack the essential skills or natural instincts necessary for their survival. As a result, many animals struggle in unfamiliar environments and eventually perish soon after release. Even in the case of wild-caught non-native animals, they may be unsuited to our climate which decreases their survivability upon release. Furthermore, animals released into the wrong habitats (e.g. freshwater aquatic species released into the sea) may suffer painful deaths.

 

A Lovebird on the loose in a neighbourhood (source: TAC staff’s photo)

 

Endangering our local biodiversity

Besides threatening the released animals themselves, the practice of mercy release opens a pathway for the introduction of invasive species into our local ecosystems. In cases where non-native animals do survive and thrive in the wild environment, they may compete with our native biodiversity for resources. The more aggressive species may eventually outcompete our native species. Moreover, released animals might carry harmful diseases or microbes that our native wildlife has not built an immune response to, thus further endangering our native biodiversity. Notable non-native species introduced into Singapore’s waterbodies include the Red-eared Slider, American Bullfrog, and Australian Red-claw Crayfish.

 

A Red-eared Slider basking in the sun

 

How, then, can we be compassionate to animals?

There are plenty of alternative ways to carry out acts of kindness towards animals that will benefit them. Here are some of them:

 

Donating

Contributing to animal shelters and other animal welfare organisations through donations is a great way to aid shelters in providing the best care for animals in need.

 

Volunteering

If you are looking for more than simply donating to animal shelters, volunteering at the shelters allows you to provide care and love for the animals. Those who like to go for nature walks would enjoy volunteering for beach or forest clean-ups, which can help our native wildlife by keeping natural areas clean and litter-free. You can also aid in the restoration of habitats that support wild animals by participating in tree planting activities.

 

Act Responsibly

Finally, the easiest way to show kindness to animals this Vesak Day is to choose not to partake in mercy releases.

Let us celebrate our traditions responsibly on Vesak Day!

 

References

Ahyong, S. T., & Yeo, D. C. (2007). Feral populations of the Australian Red-Claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus von Martens) in water supply catchments of Singapore. Biological Invasions, 9, 943-946. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-007-9094-0

Human Society International. (2019, April 2). Retrieved May 19, 2021, from Human Society International: https://www.hsi.org/news-media/mercy_release/

Magellan, K. (2021). Prayer animal release: An understudied pathway for introduction of invasive aquatic species. Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management, 22(4), 452-461.

Ng , T., & Yeo , D. C. (2012). Non-Indigenous Frogs in Singapore. NATURE IN SINGAPORE, 5, 95-102. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236278498_Non-indigenous_frogs_in_Singapore