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Humane Society International Announces ‘Mercy Release’ Campaign

Calls on Buddhists to Rethink Practice of Capturing Animals in Order to Set Them Free

Humane Society International

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Humane Society International along with Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan launched a new campaign against "mercy release," calling on the Buddhist community to stop the misguided tradition. Mercy release is a Buddhist practice that, while intended as an act of kindness towards animals, actually results in the unnecessary entrapment of millions of animals. Many of the animals die before being released. 

The practice of mercy release is based on the belief that freeing a captured animal creates good karma. The tradition, which dates back several hundred years, originally consisted of a spontaneous act of kindness by an individual. A monk passing by a fish market and seeing a struggling fish, for example, might decide to buy that fish and release the fish into a lake.

The modern, commercialized version of mercy release, however, causes both enormous animal suffering and extensive damage to ecosystems. The vast majority of animals used in these rituals are not being "spared" because they were captured in the first place for the sole purpose of being released. The demand created by large-scale mercy release ceremonies has made the capture and supply of these animals a multi-million dollar industry. Some 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 to be released often die soon after from exhaustion, injury or disease.

Mercy release is also a serious threat to ecosystems. Some surviving animals turn out to be invasive species that flourish in their new habitat, threatening the survival of native species through competition for food and territory, interbreeding or the spread of new diseases.

While mercy release is most common in countries in Asia with large Buddhist populations, such as Taiwan, China and Thailand, it also takes place in countries around the world with significant Buddhist communities. Therefore, HSI is bringing the campaign against mercy release to the United States. Buddhist temples in the United States conduct mercy release ceremonies every year.

HSI intends to spread the word about the cruelty and environmental damage caused by mercy release, and to encourage those who take part to redirect their compassion for animals to the many activities and causes that can really help our fellow creatures and the environment.

"Most people who attend or hold mercy release ceremonies really do want to help animals," said HSI campaign manager Shu-Jen Chen. "We believe that if we can show them where the animals used in these events really come from and how much suffering and death goes on behind the scenes, they will not only stop taking part but will join us in fighting it."

To learn more about mercy release and how you can help, please go to hsi.org/mercyrelease.


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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.