Friday, March 15, 2013

What Mercy ? (II)

Continued from the previous posting.

Africa is no stranger to the sounds of automatic weapons fire and it is also no stranger to poaching.   Elephants are high on the list of those species slaughtered for profit and this continual massacre is prompted by the desire of some religious adherents to possess religious icons carved from elephant ivory.  

In 2012, the Religion and Conservation Research Collaborative of the Society for Conservation Biology turned its attention to this issue following an article in National Geographic by Bryan Christy titled Blood Ivory.  Christy places the responsibility for the slaughter at the door of Catholicism and Buddhism, in some parts of the world. It is the hope of the Advisory Committee of the Collaborative and others that some influence can be brought to bear on religion at the institutional stage to speak out to their co-religionists to help stop the use of ivory for religious icons and thus reduce the number of elephant who fall victim to the poacher AK-47.

Thinking of the gunshot, deflated, desiccating carcasses of these magnificent and highly intelligent creatures while religious adherents  moan and chant over their extracted molars makes for dark meditation and yet another sobering  indictment of religion.

For additional information on the use of poached ivory as religious icons and the subsequent impacts on elephants go to

(Unless otherwise noted images courtesy of Google Images)

Friday, March 1, 2013

What Mercy ? (I)

In July of 2007 I was given permission by the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) to form an exploratory committee to look into the relationships between conservation and religion.  A handful of society members rapidly grew to several hundred and we were granted Working Group status by the SCB ( Over the years the Working Group has involved itself in a number of tasks. Most recently those tasks have focused on a religious practice called mercy release and on the use of elephant ivory for religious objects.  I have served on the Advisory Committee for both efforts.

Fang sheng is a practice by Buddhists and Daoists for releasing captive wildlife as an act of compassion. According to SCB’s Religion and conservation Research collaborative, this type of animal release causes “…adverse effects on biodiversity including the spread of invasive species, genetic swamping, extreme animal suffering, competition, vulnerability to predation, disease, and human health concerns.”  The problem isn’t even very complex.  Animals are trapped with the usual high mortality, they are kept captive with the usual high mortality, they are inappropriately released (with the usual high mortality) with expectable impacts on existing wild populations.  All of this takes place in the name of mercy and some form of spiritual redemption.   Again, it doesn’t take great intellect to figure out that there is nothing good going on here…and not much mercy.  As usual, the animal traffickers involved in Fang shen are the only ones making  good on the deal.

For additional information on Fang sheng and SCB efforts to reduce the practice see

(Image courtesy of Buddhist Channel through Google Images.)

Continued in the next posting.