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June 27, 2017

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'Freeing' an animal can be the same as killing it

On July 10, one day before the Central Weather Bureau issued a land warning for Typhoon Soulik, the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Pintung County decided to release back to the sea a whale shark that the aquarium had been raising for eight years.

It was supposed to be the best measure for the whale shark since it had outgrown the tank in which it was being kept. However, when the Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) released footage of the release performed by aquarium staff, the video actually documented how the whale shark was tortured as a result of the hasty manner of the procedure.

The footage shows aquarium staff choosing a location that was too close to the shore for the release of the shark. The shark became stranded twice before finally being able to go out to sea. It suffered multiple injuries from the first two release attempts.

The staff ignored the injuries the whale shark was receiving in the process of release, and dragged the shark to the sea when the shark stopped struggling, with its stomach facing toward the sky.

The aquarium's explanation for the difficulties of the release, which was conducted under the gaze of experts, was that much is still unknown about whale sharks, even after years of research.

This brought to mind a serious issue: do human beings have the right to randomly release any animal into the wild on the basis of the idea of "freeing it" or "doing merit?" The answer is no. There are too many things that people do not understand about the effects that releasing animals has on ecosystems, to say nothing of the animals themselves.

Many people or religious groups often purchase all kinds of animals, hoping to simply do a good deed by "freeing of the animal back into its wild habitat." However, without careful planning, releasing these animals back into the environment has the potential for the most dire of outcomes: the animal's demise. This is due to the fact that often such animals are neither used to nor prepared for the difficulties of a wild habitat.

The second problem is that where there is demand, there is supply. Some people must go and capture wild animals or breed animals in order to supply them to people who want to purchase them. When human beings actually have to produce or steal animals from the environment so certain people can conduct the action of "freeing animals," the entire actions of "freeing" or "saving lives" lose their true meanings.

According to an animal society research organization, the estimated number of animals released by religious organizations and temples is over 200 million — a threat to the animals already in the ecosystem.

Except for the massive release of animals by groups, there are also people who like to raise alien species out of curiosity. When they grow tired of the pets, they abandon them in the wild. Such species usually enjoy a high survival rate. They have arrived in an ecosystem which has not had time to account for them: there are few or even no natural threats. This leads to a situation in which these alien species proliferate with frightening and destabilizing speed.

Instead of intentionally releasing animals back to the environment, it is actually more important to protect and respect lives. What everyone can do is to promote the ideas of environmental protection in order to ensure all animals can have a great living environment.

Human beings should remember that we are also animals, coexisting with other animal. We should always respect all other species if we really consider ourselves the paragon of animals.

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