Buddhist groups step up reminders to followers to avoid releasing animals on Vesak Day

Khoe Wei Jun Straits Times 28 May 18;

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Buddhist Federation and other experts are encouraging devotees to not release animals to mark Vesak Day, but to consider alternatives instead, including going vegetarian.

Buddhist groups have been regularly educating followers on the issues associated with releasing animals, but in the lead-up to Vesak Day on Tuesday (May 29), the groups say followers need to be reminded.

Venerable You Wei, the chairman of the federation's education committee, said: "It will be ironic to consume meat and liberate life."

He added: "Vegetarianism saves many more animal lives than life liberation."

The practice of releasing animals on Vesak Day and on other special occasions is known as "fangsheng" among Chinese Buddhists, and "jiwitte dana" (the gift of life) among other Buddhists such as Theravada Buddhists, said Dr Neena Mahadev, an anthropology professor at Yale-NUS College.

Dr Mahadev, who specialises in the study of religion, in particular Buddhism, said Singaporean Buddhists "tend to be mindful of the broader ecosystem and are educating themselves on which animals are appropriate for release, and which will survive in the wild".

Mr Chan Chow Wah, a researcher of Buddhism, who is a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute in Britain, said: "Animal release, if done in the right context, is not an issue. For example, releasing a captured wild animal to its original habitat."

But many Buddhists believe it is not appropriate in Singapore. Said Mr Chan, who is a Buddhist: "In urban places like Singapore where animals for sale are bred in captivity, releasing these animals causes suffering as they are unable to survive when they are released."

Other than adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, Mr Chan said, there are other ways to show compassion to animals. These include doing animal rescue work and supporting animal shelters. He said that these activities take place all year round in the Singapore Buddhist community.

More Buddhist followers are aware of how releasing animals also jeopardises the environment.

Dr Tan Wee Hin, a biological science professor at NUS, said: "Introducing animals such as red-eared terrapins and fish can change the environment, such as the quality of water, to become harmful to other species and increase the competition for limited resources."

The National Parks Board (NParks) has been working with volunteers to spread awareness, using exhibitions, roadshows and school outreach activities. NParks volunteers have also been looking out for animal release in nature reserves and parks.

Those caught releasing animals can be fined up to $50,000 under the Parks and Trees Act, jailed for up to six months, or a combination of both.

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