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July 10, 2012

Turtle Release with Buddhist Blessings, Humane Education and Compassion

An alternative to traditional mercy release

Humane Society International

  • Buddhists perform blessings for the soon-to-be-released turtles. Iris Ho/HSI

  • A branch soaked in holy water is waved over the turtles. Iris Ho/HSI

  • The staff at Teatown gave a presentation on their turtle protection work. Iris Ho/HSI

  • This slide illustrates the local turtle species. Iris Ho/HSI

  • This box turtle who was kept illegally as a pet has now been returned to his wild home. Teatown Lake Reservation

  • Hatched in captivity after his mom was killed by a car, this baby box turtle has now been released. Teatown Lake Reservation

  • This female box turtle carrying eggs was released back into her home range. Teatown Lake Reservation

  • After being hit by a car and losing one of his legs, this box turtle was rehabitlitated and released back to the wild. Teatown Lake Reservation

by Iris Ho

In May 2012, Humane Society International joined a group of Chinese Buddhists in New York to visit Teatown Lake Reservation, an 875-acre nature preserve and education center located in the Lower Hudson Valley in Westchester County.

The visit, sponsored by HSI and organized by Venerable Shi Benkong, the American Buddhist Confederation (ABC), and licensed turtle rehabilitators, was part of HSI and ABC’s year-long collaboration to encourage a humane alternative to the traditional Buddhist animal release rituals known as “mercy release” that harm the environment and impact hundreds of millions of animals worldwide.

Over the past couple of years, Venerable Shi Benkong has been working with and supporting licensed turtle rehabilitators’ work in rescuing, nurturing and caring for injured turtles and tortoises and releasing healthy ones back to the wild. On this day, more than 40 turtles were released.

Help by signing our "No Mercy Release pledge" or donating to support our work.

Education is key

A symbol of longevity in the Chinese culture, turtles, both imported and native, are one of the most common victims of the misguided mercy release rituals. To help the Buddhist community better understand that these rituals can cause tremendous suffering or even fatal injuries to the turtles, Erin Baker, animal care supervisor and environmental educator at Teatown Lake Reservation, gave a highly informative presentation on various native turtle species, poaching and other threats facing turtles. She also told stories of the turtles that the Reservation has rescued and helped rehabilitate.

The Buddhist visitors were visibly captivated by Erin’s presentation and stories. She concluded her remarks by encouraging the visitors to help protect the turtles by not participating in the harmful release rituals.

A welcome alternative

Afterwards, several abbots and abbesses led the congregation members in Buddhist chanting to bless the turtles. The congregation patiently waited in line to meet and give their individual blessings to the soon-to-be-released turtles. The excitement and happiness among the visitors for these turtles who were fortunate enough to be returned to their natural habitat were palpable throughout the room.

It brought tears of joy to the rehabilitators to see their work being so appreciated. The group also made a generous donation to commend the dedication and efforts by the Reservation and the rehabilitators.

Mercy and compassion for animals were on prominent display—transcending religion, ethnicity and culture, and shared by all that day. Visit our mercy release page to learn more about this issue.

Read excerpts from Youth Buddhism Communications' newsletter:

Iris Ho is wildlife campaigns manager for HSI.