An employee of the Fu-shan Botanical Garden in Yilan County, Taiwan's largest botanical preserve, recently had a terrifyingexperience when she encountered several cobras on her way to work.
She was later surprised to find that her colleagues had had similar encounter with the highly venomous snakes, which do not generally inhabit cooler mountainous regions.
An answer to the bizarre phenomenon has now emerged: Self-claimed followers of Buddhist Master Hai Tao released more than 100 kg of the snakes in the county's Shuang-Lien-Pi area.
They even posted the release on the Web, admitting that they "have become addicted to the practice" and drawing criticism from environmental protection groups as well as netizens.
The following is a report from by the United Daily News on thepractice of releasing captive animals, which is common among someBuddhists:
"Releasing captive animals is good practice, but releasing snakes into the wild hurts society and contravenes the intention of mercy,"Master Hai Tao said.
He said his group makes legal applications whenever it stages such release activities. He said the cobra release was an individual act orthat of some follower acting in his name, and he stressed to hisfollowers that it is all right to save snakes but not to release them into the wild.
The follower had posted an article on a Buddhist website in mid-May, saying that if NT$36,000 (US$1,204) could be solicited, a wholesaler would be willing to sell 100 kg of snakes "at a cheap price."
One June 1, a blog article chronicled the process, saying that six people bought 117 kg of snakes and drove deep into the mountains of Yilan County that night to release them.
One follower even described the process as follows: "When I heard the exciting and frightening screams of one female follower, I smiled."
"You need to release the animals yourselves to feel the infectious sensation." "The sensation will be ingrained in your head and get you hooked," he wrote.
Lai Chien-cheng, a former head of the Yilan chapter of the Society of Wilderness, said he saw a listless snake on the road at Shuang-Lien-Pi,which he speculated could be one of the ones that were released recently."This was not giving the snake life, but death," he noted.
He said that a lot of such Buddhist groups release turtles and fishat night at Shuang-Lien-Pi, numbering in the thousands each time, which he said has caused an ecological disaster. The government, he went on,should regulate the practice.
Lin Kuo-chang, a section chief of the Forestry Bureau, said the bureau has asked police to investigate the matter.
Lin also said that the bureau is working on revising the Wildlife Conservation Act to regulate commercial and massive"release" activities.
However, as the proposed revised law will impact religious culture with steep fines of up to NT$2.5 million and criminalpunishment, religious groups have expressed opposition.
Lin noted that religious groups believe the practice is a form ofredemption, but said the bureau is hoping for rational communicationwith them.
"We hope to explain to the religious groups that the practice,while done with good intentions, actually creates negative effects," Lin said.
The bureau will base its rules on those regulating hunting byaboriginal people and will require those planning to releasecaptive animals to register the species, the areas and numbers ofanimals to be released.
"They will be barred from releasing them if they have no prior permission," Lin said.
At a forum on regulating captive animals earlier this week, religious figures said the practice is an important part ofBuddhism and that if the law prohibits it, believers will simplyrelease them secretly.
The religious figures said that balance should be sought between ecological conservation and cultural needs.
Master Hai Tao also said at the forum that the government should punish those who hurt animals.
"The government should curb killing, and not those who release animals," the master said.
Chu Tseng-hung, executive director of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, said religious groups often buy animals bred bydealers for the sole purpose of selling them to be released, which"contravenes the original intention of protecting the animals."
He called for the Council of Agriculture to revise the law and complete an environmental impact assessment of the practice.
He noted that religious groups believe the practice helps reduce the "negative karma" of an individual, and even argue that if one of their venomous snakes bites someone, it is the result of thatperson's karma.
He also said that the release of dangerous animals such ascobras should be strictly prohibited.
(By Lilian Wu)