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It feels nice but freeing animals a poor idea
By Bai Yiting

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AFTER freeing some wild animals last month (July 14) as a humanitarian gesture, a woman in Guangdong Province posted photos on Weibo, depicting what she had done. What she didn’t expect was a wide range of criticism from the Internet community.

Some people recognized poisonous snakes from her photos and were concerned about a safety hazard. On the night of August 11, the criticism got so bad the woman deleted all her posts and apologized, saying that she freed the snakes on a mountain, not in a park.

After investigation, local police confirmed that the location was indeed in a mountain area and there had been no reports of snake bites. But animal-protection experts noted that safety problems were only one of many possible hazards caused by freeing wild animals without permission.

“You free them with the hope that they will survive, which is why whether they can actually survive and whether they might endanger other species are the key issues here,” said Yuan Xiao, head of the Shanghai Wildlife Conservation Management Station.

Bo Shunqi of the Shanghai station detailed the myriad possible consequences of freeing wild animals. To start with, it facilitates illegal wildlife trade, for there are mongers who take advantage of people’s sympathy and capture wild animals so they can sell them. This creates a scenario where animals suffer from repeated torture, because an animal just freed is highly likely to be captured again.

“For poachers, this is the best way to make money. For animals, this is a nightmare and a vicious circle,” said Bo.

Beyond that, because people lack relevant knowledge, they often free animals in the wrong place or in the wrong season — and end up killing them in the process. For instance, people might mistakenly free land tortoises in water.

“If you just dump them where you see fit, regardless of their living habitats and their current health condition, they will probably die,” Bo said.

He said that long-distance transporting of a group of animals may also lead to an outbreak of disease. What’s more, freeing animals without careful planning could give rise to an invasion of alien species, endangering the ecosystem, especially when there are no natural enemies of the freed animals. This would be a disaster for other wildlife in that habitat.

Another potential danger is gene contamination, which is caused by hybridization. For example, Rana rugulosa, a type of frog under national protection, is being sold illegally in Shanghai. Freeing this type of frog, which lives in southern China, would lead to gene contamination for local frogs.

Under the law, it is illegal to capture or sell wild animals without permission, which means most wild animals in markets are being sold illegally. When coming across mongers selling wild animals, it’s best to contact the local animal-protection agency, forestry bureau or even the police if you identify nationally protected animals or injured animals.

The most common wild animals in markets are snakes, frogs and birds, which are all being sold illegally, according to Bo.

“In Shanghai, a lot of people buy fish, shrimp and crabs from market and pour them into rivers, most of them end up dead,” he said.

For domesticated animals, Bo says it’s best to keep them as pets because they have long lost the ability to survive in the wild.

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