Buddhist Mercy Releasing - Good Deeds Turned Bad

I heard about Buddhist Mercy Releasing for the first time in 2017 when I was in Hong Kong on a field trip called "Global Challenges" for my masters degree. I was talking to a professor from the local University and was horrified to hear about what was happening in Hong Kong. I decided to write about this specific topic today because I think it is something that needs more attention. I have linked some organisations that you can donate to at the bottom of this blog.

The buddhist mercy releasing is an ancient ritual believed to improve karma by releasing animals from suffering or death. Around 680,000-1,050,000 birds are released in Hong Kong every year (this number is for birds only, many other species such as turtles and fish are released too).

Hong Kong is famous for it's live animal markets and it is easy to understand how they have used the mercy releasing and turned it into a commercialised business. 80% of the birds found in live markets are sold purely for mercy releasing. Up to 75% of these birds die before or after release due to disease or injuries caused by poor housing conditions. The birds can also die due to the release causing competition for territory, food resources and being released into non-suitable habitats.


Because the birds are in a weakened state, many wildlife traders will go to the release sites and capture the animals again because they are too weak to escape. These animals end up in a cycle that unfortunately only ends up in death.


Consequently, many exotic species of birds have become established in Hong Kong as invasive species due to buddhist mercy releasing (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261857467_The_Influence_of_Traditional_Buddhist_Wildlife_Release_on_Biological_Invasions). Many of these birds are imported from mainland China. In fact, they import 560,000-930,000 birds illegally into Hong Kong each year, generating extreme profits for wildlife traders.

Sadly, many of the buddhists are unaware of the ecological implications and believe that they are doing good for the animals. Other practitioners have made it into a commercialised business drawing in tourists to their releases and have no regard for the lives of the animals.


There are organisations in Hong Kong that are working to educate the buddhists and give them great alternatives that will still improve their karma (https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1890/ES12-00368.1). Some have turned their temples into wildlife sanctuaries while others use the money that previously would have purchased the animals from the live markets and make donations to wildlife charities instead.


This is a project that we did for our Masters degree where you can read a more visual and summarised version of this information:


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Here are some more images from the trip to Hong Kong under the "Global Challenges" Field Course. We worked on several projects and met people working with WWF, illegal wildlife trading of elephant tusks and the wet market (trying to educate people about sustainable fishing).




© 2020 by Hanna Wigart