The practice of Tshe-thar (life release)—the pros and cons

The practice of Tshethar is prevalent in many Buddhist communities throughout the world, Bhutan included. While it is an act of compassion which I am in no wise condemning, at the same time individuals must open their eyes to the threat it poses to the animals themselves and the ecosystem at large if not done intelligently.

My first encounter with the practice was back in the year 2000. A group of monks and lamas had released hundreds of catfish in into the river. It might appear like a compassionate act, but in contrast, it could be crueller. Catfish are omnivorous, which means these shark-headed asholes feed on everything to the extent that they are considered a pest by many. They devour smaller fishes and anything that comes their way, including private parts of a naked swimmer (I am sure there is a recorded case somewhere). The catfish they had released in the river must have killed hundreds of thousands of other fishes in the river. It is like saving a Serial killer from a death sentence and releasing him into a peaceful community.

Scientifically speaking, releasing animals not native to the habitat causes a great deal of disharmony to the ecosystem. (There was a similar story in Perth, Australia where they released harmless Goldfish into the Vasse River. These midgets later grew up to be as big as four pounds; causing harm in the River by digging up vegetation, stirring up sediment and eating almost anything they see, including the eggs of native fish species.)

An entire Industry has been developed around this practice. In Bodhgaya, fishes are bought, released for Tshethar, caught again and sold to another unsuspecting pilgrim for the life-release.
In Bhutan too, there are similar stories about the Yak Tshe-thar where religious people set yaks that are about to be slaughtered free by paying a hefty amount as a ransom. The only problem is, there are rumours that they are caught again and marketed to another group of unsuspecting lamas for the same. (The truth of it is yet to be confirmed, though.)

When old cattle are released into the wild, they are exposed to possible wild animal attacks and other threats. The wild isn’t a safe for the domesticated animals anyway. They are not really doing them any favour if you look at it this waymost Bhutanese are against killing, in a worst-case scenario, they walk the animal to the edge of a cliff around the time of Losar and wait for them to fall to their death. So, all they are doing in the name of Tshe-thar is screening out old animals that are no longer useful to relieve themselves from the burden of feeding them under the pretence of saving them from a non-existent slaughter.

I am sure, this post is going to fuel public backlash, I am not condemning the practice, rather raising awareness so that people who do it do it intelligently. I wish forest officials be present to advise whenever tshe-thar is carried on.

let us save animals, let us also do it wisely. I condone, not condemn compassion. But being blind to the consequences in pursuit of it could be fatal.