More people releasing animals into wild

Released creatures often die or disrupt ecological system here: NParks
Grace Chua Straits Times 21 May 10;

MORE people are releasing animals into the wild, reversing a downward trend.

The number of them caught trying to do so in the parks and reserves here - in a free fall from the 44 cases in 2004 to just one in 2007 - saw an uptick with three cases in 2008.

Last year, the figure climbed to 10 - either people tired of their pets or those setting free animals in religious rites.

The 150 animals on the brink of being released last year included domesticated pets like rabbits, dogs and cats, as well as turtles and birds.

The National Parks Board (NParks) and water agency PUB, hardly thrilled with this trend, have beefed up their 'Operation No Release' squad, which patrols the parks, reserves, waterways and the coast and advises those releasing animals against doing so.

These volunteers number more than 250, more than triple the number since the programme began in 2004.

This year alone, bags of crickets, goldfish, guppies and swordtail fish have been found in the MacRitchie Reservoir Park.

NParks, which said it does not know why the numbers are on the up again, has so far not prosecuted anyone for the practice.

Its Central Nature Reserve assistant director Sharon Chan said nine in 10 released animals die within a day, while more aggressive animals such as the white-crested laughing thrush can drive out native species to claim turf.

The thrush species has now spread to the Southern Ridges and Bukit Batok Nature Park, and has even reached the edge of the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

Some people do not even release animals into the right habitat. Freshwater soft-shell turtles are known to have been released into the sea.

Even where the habitat is right, the ecosystem may not be able to sustain so many animals, said National University of Singapore biologist Chou Loke Ming, in reference to a group releasing 10 tonnes of cockles, mussels and other shellfish into the sea off Pulau Ubin this year.

Shellfish will not live long when piled on top of one another, he said.

The volunteers in Operation No Release will have their work cut out for them next weekend, when Buddhists set free animals in observance of Vesak Day, and this weekend too, in the run-up to it.

Already, Buddhist temples and groups here have discouraged the practice.

The Buddhist Fellowship's spiritual patron Ajahn Brahm said: 'Before one releases a captive animal, one must use one's wisdom and reflect whether one is doing more harm than good.

'If more harm is being done, such as sending that animal to a certain death or destroying the local habitat, then releasing the animal is clearly bad karma. It should not be done. Compassion without wisdom can do more harm than good.'

Secondary school students are also doing their bit to discourage the practice, and yesterday, 30 pupils from Fuhua and Zhonghua primary schools and enrichment centre Neumind attended a workshop to learn why releasing animals harms the environment.

RGS students pitch in to spread the message
Straits Times 21 May 10;

A GROUP of students from Raffles Girls' School (Secondary) will be among adult volunteers stationed in the nature reserves to discourage people from releasing animals.

This year, the eight girls have already held public expeditions, conducted nature walks through MacRitchie Reservoir and visited primary schools to spread the message.

They are working with the National Parks Board (NParks) to put up signs and exhibits in nature areas to explain the fate of released animals, and have also recruited about 50 of their schoolmates to join in this month's volunteer campaign by NParks to discourage animal release.

The RGS project, called AnimaX Release, received a $1,500 grant last September from the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) to grow in scope.

The project had its beginnings last year as a school research project, said team leader Deborah Tang, 16. But research, making posters and leading nature walks for the project took up more of the girls' time than expected, and it evolved into a two-hour-a-week extracurricular activity.

She said some girls in the group had previously released unwanted pets into the wild, not knowing then that it was illegal, could threaten the balance of nature and also harm the released animals.

RGS team member Stephanie Siow, 16, recalls releasing hamsters into forested areas and aquarium fish into drains as a child.

'I really thought the hamsters would be happy in the wild,' she said, with remorse.

From a survey of 200 people at MacRitchie Reservoir, the girls found out they were not alone in thinking this way: More than a third of people polled also believed it was all right to release animals into the wild.

AnimaX Release is one of four projects Acres is supporting. The others are for projects on insanitary dog farms called 'puppy mills', a cat care and sterilisation programme and one that raises awareness of the continuing illegal trade of wildlife.

Acres' executive director Louis Ng said: 'This is not just a conservation issue, since most of the animals released are non-native species, but also one of animal welfare, because most of the animals released are unable to survive in the wild.'


FACT SHEET on Operation No Release
NParks media release (pdf)

‘Operation No Release’

An initiative led by the National Parks Board (NParks) and PUB, the national water agency, ‘Operation No Release’ is an annual activity where NParks and PUB staff, its partners, and volunteers reach out to members of the public to raise awareness on the detrimental effects of releasing animals. The activities are usually carried out just before Vesak Day and on Vesak Day itself, when such acts are more common.

In recent months, however, there have been more instances of people releasing animals not just on Vesak Day, but also throughout the year. The volunteers then also act as our eyes and ears throughout the year when they visit the parks to lookout for such activities.

While the intention behind such acts may be kind, it actually causes more harm than good. Most of the animals do not survive after they are released, as they are usually not native to Singapore and are unable to adapt to the habitat, or are domesticated and unable to fend for themselves in the forest. It is estimated that about 90% of released animals die within a day.

The act of releasing animals also creates the demand for more animals to be captured from the wild, and sold in shops. The time spent in captivity would be stressful for these animals. Some of the common animals released include birds, crickets, rabbits, hamsters, and terrapins.

The introduction of non-native animals into the nature reserves and reservoirs also affects the ecological balance. Some of the introduced animals that do survive are usually more aggressive or prolific breeders (such as the red-eared terrapins) and may compete with the native animals for space and food, or prey on the native animals.

This year, more than 250 volunteers – the largest number to date - will patrol the nature reserves, reservoirs, parks, and waterways to reach out to the public and advise them to refrain from releasing animals.

In the past few months, NParks has also been working six students from Raffles Girls’ Secondary School on a project titled AnimaXRelease. The students have set up booths at MacRitchie Reservoir Park and also conducted guided walks for the public to share the detrimental effects of animal release. For Vesak Day, the students have also produced T-shirts, postcards, and lapel pins with the ‘no release’ message to be sold to members of the public at their booth at MacRitchie Reservoir.

‘Operation No Release’ 2010 volunteers
NParks would like to thank all volunteers, as well as the following partners for their participation in ‘Operation No Release’ this year.

Volunteer Groups, Associations, and Organisations
- Buddhist Fellowship
- Cicada Tree Eco-Place
- Mediacorp Singapore
- Nature Trekker
- SG Care Volunteers
- Singapore Zoological Garden Volunteers
- Toddy Cats (volunteers from Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research)
- Wild Singapore
Schools and Educational Institutions
- Anglo-Chinese School
- Catholic High School
- Nanyang Junior College
- Raffles Girls’ School
- Raffles Institution
- Singapore Polytechnic

Buddhist Fellowship President Henry Baey:
“Compassion and wisdom are like two wings on the same bird. One without the other is not only futile, it can even be dangerous. Though the Buddha had unlimited compassion, he also had the wisdom to know when to intervene, where to help, and when to leave things alone. Similarly, we need to exercise our judgment in the course of practicing kindness. Releasing animals may seem like a beautiful, kind, meritorious thing to do. However if it upsets the eco system and causes harm, not only to the animals released, but to all living things in the area, can that be called a genuine act of compassion?

As Buddhist Fellowship’s Spiritual Patron, Ajahn Brahm, puts it, “Before one releases a captive animal one must use one's wisdom and reflect whether one is doing more harm than good. If more harm is being done, such as sending that animal to a certain death, or destroying the local habitat, then releasing the animal is clearly bad karma. It should not be done. Compassion without wisdom can cause more harm than good.”

Related links
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