Rogue Crocodile Points to Illegal Life Release
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2017-04-25 06:25:27

To the surprise and horror of local residents, a live crocodile was spotted near a lake in Meishan, a city in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, on Saturday morning.

By the afternoon, the crocodile had been hunted down and shot by the city’s forestry bureau and police, local newspaper Huaxi Metropolitan Daily reported. A video showed the crocodile being dragged out of the lake with a net after a police officer had shot it with a rifle.

According to the forestry bureau, the crocodile is not a protected animal, and the local government added that it was killed both to ensure tourists’ safety in the wetland park and to protect the lake’s ecosystem from the threat presented by non-native species. The bureau suspects the animals were farm-raised and purchased specifically for life release, or fangsheng — the Buddhist practice of setting captive animals free to accrue karma points.

A day earlier, the 1.2-meter corpse of another crocodile was found rotting close to a hydropower station in Hongya County, which is administered by Meishan. Coincidentally, another dead crocodile was found near another power station in the county earlier this month.

In another recent case of fangsheng in the news, a tourist surnamed Wang, originally from Sichuan’s capital of Chengdu, last month bought a snapping turtle with friends in Xishuangbanna, a wildlife-rich region in Yunnan that borders Laos and Myanmar, because they were worried the creature would end up on someone’s dinner table.

The following day, Wang and his friends said they found their turtle in poor health. After consulting an employee surnamed Yang from a local travel agency, the group was led to a nearby river, where they set the turtle free.

Forestry bureau police, alerted after Yang posted pictures on social media, located the turtle following a 20-day search. Yang and the others were given a 2,000-yuan fine, in accordance with China’s Wildlife Protection Law.

Though life release is ostensibly intended to show compassion for captive creatures, its popularity has fueled a black market that does far more harm than good to wildlife. Fortunately, more and more Buddhists are becoming aware of this contradiction. Officials nevertheless estimate that around 200 million fish, snakes, turtles, birds, and ants are purchased and released into the wild each year in China, resulting in a boom in illegal wildlife trade.

In July 2016, China announced an amendment to the 1989 Wildlife Protection Law that restricts the practice of fangsheng. The amendment, which will go into effect in 2017, stipulates that “people will be held legally responsible for arbitrarily releasing wild animals if doing so causes damage or harm to humans, property, or the ecosystem.”

The turtle released by Wang and his friends, however, did not end up harming anyone. When the authorities finally located it, they could only identify it by its shell — which was all that remained of the animal. The day after its release, the turtle was captured in the lower reaches of the river by workers from a rubber factory, who celebrated their good fortune by cooking and eating it.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Bodies of confiscated crocodiles on display at the border police station in Fangchenggang, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, April 9, 2017. Wu Yan/CNS/VCG)