Sunday, 1 November 2015

The Sad Truth About Religious Releasing Animals

There's nothing sadder then seeing innocent life being wasted away for reasons that cannot be justified (if justifiable "life wasting" is ever acceptable in the first place). Barbaric practices like the bear bile industry, the ivory industry, animal skin and fur trading and much more...all very important, but these are all happening in another country. There's however one practice that is still happening in Hong Kong to this very day, which I feel is not only uncivilised, but also potentially catastrophic to local ecosystem. That is religious releasing, a practiced that's been going on for a long time in Hong Kong.

The day started at Shek Kong Catchment, an area at the foot of Tai Mo Shan, facing towards Kam Tin and Shek Kong. It was meant to be a casual stroll in the forested catchment road with Hoi Ling. Just as we began our walk, I noticed a flock of around 10 Red-billed Leiothrix fluttering about in the undergrowth, as I observed, I found that many looked scruffy if not unhealthy, with damaged feathers or even missing tail feathers all together! I immediately knew these were ex-captive caged birds, and seeing a flock of these left me little doubt about their origin, they were clearly released for religious purposes. 

Red-billed Leiothrix - a scruffy looking individual with very dirty feathers

Some people believe that by releasing captive animals into the wild is an act of "kindness" and is suppose to be good "Karma". Now, I am not going to challenge one's religious choice, but I do have to challenge a person's common sense. To buy a bunch of birds that are specially caught for the intension of religious releasing is to put the cart before the horse. There is simply no sense into how this is itself an act of "kindness" in the first place if you have to catch the birds in the wild, then for you to release them back into the WILD where they originally came from...Birds are just one type of animals people release, popular release animals includes: Red-eared Terrapin (Yes, very destructive invasive species world wide), Koi, Fish (salt water or fresh water), and various types of sea creatures and crustaceans. Sad thing is you sometime will see a Terrapin (freshwater) being released on a beach (salt water), or people throwing star fishes off the pier at Sai Kung, all do anything but good to the animals.

Anyway, as I was saying about the Leiothrix, I saw one of them flew down to the catchment and perched on the side of the steep wall and drank some water, clearly dehydrated from being kept in the cages for so long. However, as it flew away it somehow dropped directly into the water and struggled to get itself out of the water. At this point, the bird have caught the attention of me as well as numerous of passerby, all pointing at the poor bird. I was hoping it may finally find some strength to climb back up onto dry land that's only few feet away. After a minute have passed, when I saw that it laid motionlessly in the water with only it's head and beak above water, I could not take it anymore and pulled my shoes and socks off then climbed down to the catchment to fetch the poor creature out. By the time I got it out it was completely soaked through and started shivering very badly, it was likely in shock as well as going into hypothermia as the feathers no longer can trap any heat for it's tiny body. It looked very poorly and could not stand on it's own.

Right after we picked it up from the water, very poorly.

Drastic actions were taken after I took a minute to talk to the passerby about the sad truth about religious releasing. It's not everyday people get to see the effects of such uncivilised practices first hand. We took some time trying to dry the poor bird off (with one of my sock), and got it under the sun to hopefully give it some heat. But, it simply wasn't enough and the bird kept shivering badly, all the while it's claws were clenched.

Drying the feathers under the sun, could not stand unsupported.

I really thought it wouldn't make it. As I was praying for a hair drier to magically appear somewhere, I suddenly got the idea to turn on the car's heater so we can dry it quicker! So, off we went, and after around twenty minutes, the bird looked a lot better and gave a few light calls. Then, it suddenly opened it's eyes and fluttered off from my hands. It didn't go far though and found itself a comfortable spot under the tree to rest for a little bit more. 10 minutes later, it was awake and acted a bit more like a normal Leiothrix should, hopped along the undergrowth and slowly out of sight. We were both very relieved the bird managed to pull through, but sad at the same time to think hundreds if not thousands of birds may die like this every year. At least this one is now very clean after a thorough bath...

Taking a rest under the tree trunk, a lot drier but obviously still fairly weak.

If you really want to do something good for the world, start by stop purchasing these wild caught birds. Then use that money you were going to buy the birds and use it for something else, like meaningful donations or even just an act of kindness to a passerby on the street. I am sure it's a whole lot better then purchasing a bunch of animals only to let them die in the wild.

Back to some happier birding, the hills were pretty quiet when I was there and didn't produce much, two Asian Brown Flycatchers were very high up which I couldn't be bothered to take any photographs of. Grey Wagtails and White Wagtails frequents the catchment waterways. We finally caught up with a few small bird waves including some Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Minivets.

Grey Wagtail

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

The catchment is also good for fish watching, filled with beautiful Zacco platypus or the Freshwater Minnow / Pale Chub as it's more widely known, a fairly common native freshwater fish that is widespread in Hong Kong, though not as common as it's relative the Predacious Chub. Adults shows beautiful colouration and glimmers under the sun.

Zacco platypus - Freshwater Minnow

A short visit to Long Valley afterwards. Not many birds, but found a pair of Citrine Wagtails amongst some Little-ringed Plovers, not the commonest of mixtures.

Citrine Wagtail - Hello neighbour!

Little-ringed Plover

A dozen of Red-rumped Swallows circled the sky above. Couldn't manage a proper photo showing the "red rumps" though. Not a Falcon to be seen, still waiting for my Amur...

Red-rumped Swallow


  1. FWIW - like most birders I totally agree, but the bird releasers just aren't listening.

    1. It's sad to know that authority have not taken any responsibility in prohibiting these birds being sold, they are clearly labeled as "For release" at bird street.

    2. It's sad to know that authority have not taken any responsibility in prohibiting these birds being sold, they are clearly labeled as "For release" at bird street.