Mercy release, or merit release, is a traditional and widely practiced ritual which captive animals are released as an act of compassion. However, as globalization has now improved transportation and trade between cities and countries, many animals are captured from the wild so as to meet the increasing demand for religious release and it leads to commercialization of such practice. Owing to the lack of ecological knowledge, mercy release activities nowadays can lead to serious ecological impacts on local biodiversity.
A study in Hong Kong estimated that around 470,000-770,000 birds were sold for release every year (Chan, 2006). As the captured birds were often transported in poor condition (i.e. cramped in small cages without food and water), many individuals died during transportation and the survival rate of post-release is low. Moreover, the released animals may carry disease that will be harmful to the local population, or they may even be exotic invasive species which will compete with native species for food and habitats and threaten their survival.
Ironically, wild animals are already living in the wild. There is no point in capturing them in order to free them. The current “catch and release” mode of mercy release totally violates the original intention of helping animals out of compassion. Compassion and wisdom should go hand in hand. With respect and through better communication, we hope more people can understand the traditional way of mercy release is not a wise way to help animals and it should be replaced by other skilful alternatives which can cultivate compassion towards living beings (e.g. switch to a vegetarian diet, protect and enhance wildlife habitats, become a volunteer in nature conservation organizations, etc.).
AFCD has recently published a new poster to promote proper understanding of mercy release activities and to raise public awareness on animal welfare. Feel free to share and spread the message!