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May 16, 2012

HSI and The American Buddhist Confederation Discourage Harmful Animal Release Rituals

Humane Society International

  • HSI's Iris Ho takes a photo with the leaders of the American Buddhist Confederation. Iris Ho

  • The president of the American Buddhist Confederation poses with Iris and two supporting abbesses. Iris Ho

  • Chatting about the negative impacts that mercy release can have on wildlife. Iris Ho

  • Contrary to its original intent, today mercy release has become an industry built on the capture and supply of wild animals. EAST

Humane Society International and The American Buddhist Confederation of New York announced plans to encourage the Buddhist community to support animal welfare instead of the ritual of releasing animals, such as birds, fish and turtles, into the wild. The announcement was made on the eve of the annual Buddha Birthday Parade in New York City, an event that highlights Buddhism’s compassion and respect for all living creatures.   

The ritual, also known as “mercy release,” is based on the Buddhist belief that freeing captured wild animals creates good fortune. The earliest description of the animal release ritual is found in the third century, and the practice gained in popularity as Buddhism spread. Today, however, mercy release has become an industry built on the capture and supply of wild animals, for whom there are devastating consequences of injury, illness or death. 

“The modern-day version of mercy release has created a thriving industry for those who trap, trade and sell wild animals for release – taking advantage of Buddhists’ empathy for animals,” said the Venerable Refa Shi, president of the confederation, which includes several dozen member temples across New York. “We reject the kind of ritual that harms animals and the environment. Partnering with HSI has helped our community connect with animal welfare groups and promote understanding of the concept of animal protection. ”

HSI has been working closely with Buddhist leaders to increase awareness among temple and congregation members of the animal cruelty and ecological threat caused by mercy release. New York state environmental laws prohibit the release of wildlife without a license. HSI has begun to translate the laws into Chinese, and Buddhist leaders will distribute the translated texts to temples across the state to inform the community of the prohibited acts and related penalties.  

“A shared goal – to help and celebrate animals – formed and guides this relationship,” said Iris Ho, HSI wildlife campaigns manager. “As Buddha’s birthday is celebrated this weekend, Humane Society International commends The American Buddhist Confederation for truly reflecting Buddha’s compassionate and humane teachings and helping animals through its support for animal welfare.”

Previously, HSI took Buddhist visitors to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and the Safe Havens Farm Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York. Daylong tours at the sanctuaries demonstrated that supporting and working with animal sanctuaries or animal welfare groups – instead of participating in harmful mercy release rituals – is truly the best and most compassionate way to help animals. Visitors performed Buddhist blessings for the animals and gave generously to support the sanctuaries’ work.


  • Around the world, hundreds of millions of wild animals are captured for the purpose of being released in the Buddhist practice known as “mercy release.” Research shows that in Taiwan alone, 200 million wild animals are used every year in release rituals. The ritual is practiced in places around the world, including Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Nepal and the United States. 
  • Birds, fish and turtles are the most commonly used animals, but a wide variety of species – native and imported – are victims of this misguided ritual.
  • Many animals sustain fatal injuries in traps or nets during capture, while others die while packed tightly into crates or cages during transport. Even those who survive the release often die soon after from exhaustion, injury, disease or become prey to other animals. Some are re-captured after the rituals and re-sold.
  • Release rituals also cause environmental harm. Animals may be released outside their natural habitats and in groups large enough to establish breeding populations, often wreaking havoc on local ecosystems. Some are invasive species that may threaten the survival of the native species.


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Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations — backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide — On the Web at hsi.org.

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