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May 22, 2013

Translation of Regulations Will Help Buddhist Communities Shun Harmful “Mercy Release” of Animals

Humane Society International

  • Animals released outside their natural habitats and in groups large enough to establish breeding populations often wreak havoc on local ecosystems. EAST

NEW YORK — As part of its ongoing collaboration with Buddhist leaders, Humane Society International has teamed up with The American Buddhist Confederation to stop the practice of “mercy release” by translating a section of New York state regulations into Chinese. New York state prohibits releases of wild animals by people who don’t have proper permits.

Though just a few brief paragraphs, the translated regulations from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, will be made available to Buddhist communities statewide and are expected to raise awareness and help curb the inhumane practice of “mercy release,” which leads to devastating consequences of injury, illness or death for wild animals.

Mercy release is based on the Buddhist belief that freeing captured wild animals creates good fortune. The hundreds-year-old tradition, originally based on a spontaneous act of kindness towards an animal, is now a multi-million dollar industry built on the capture and supply of wild animals. 

The Venerable Ruifa Shi, president of the American Buddhist Confederation, said: “Modern day release rituals are harmful to the animals and the environment and go against Buddhist scriptures in compassion for all beings. We call on our community to abide by and respect relevant state laws and regulations.”

Iris Ho, HSI wildlife campaigns manager, said: “Following state laws and protecting animals from harm should be the foremost concerns of all New York Buddhists. The translated regulations will help people - especially those for whom English is a second language - understand the legal ramifications of engaging in animal release.”

The Confederation will disseminate translated materials among Buddhist temples and communities across New York. They are also available by clicking here and at ABC offices, 55/59 Chrystie St., Suite 410, New York, or Youth Buddhist Communications, same location, Suite B101.

While mercy release can be difficult for authorities to discern, the practice has, at times, led to members of New York Buddhist communities being brought into court and questioned about animal release because they didn’t know the regulations. Media reports as early as 2004 show a possible link between non-native species in the wild and mercy release. Most recently, an incident in Central Park’s Harlem Meer where the invasive snakehead fish was found had signs of mercy release: the snakehead fish is found in Chinatown markets for sale, fish species are the most commonly used animals in mercy release, and many Buddhists go to fish markets or seafood restaurants to purchase live animals for release.


  • Around the world, hundreds of millions of wild animals are captured for the purpose of being released in the Buddhist practice. Research shows that in Taiwan alone, 200 million wild animals are used every year in the release rituals. The ritual is practiced around the world, including in Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Nepal and the United States. 
  • Many animals sustain fatal injuries in traps or nets during capture, and others die while packed tightly into crates or cages during transport. 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.
  • The release ritual also causes environmental problems. 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.

Visit hsi.org/mercyrelease for more information.


Media Contact: Rebecca Basu, +1 (240-753-4875), rbasu@humanesociety.org

Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations. For more than 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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