In Thailand, many Buddhists believe that releasing animals back into the wild can help an individual to accrue merit. The act of releasing animals has its roots in the traditional rural communities. In the dry season, rice fields and small ponds would dry out and some fish, turtles and other aquatic creatures would become trapped in small pockets of water. Villagers would use some of these creatures for food, but the surplus would be taken to the nearest river or stream. This protected the future food supply and was also adhering to Buddhist principles.
In modern times, the act of releasing animals still goes on but it isn’t always with conservation in mind. When visiting Thailand, you are most likely to experience this just outside of a temple. If a person approaches you waving a bird cage in your general direction, they want you to release a bird and so make merit for yourself. Naturally, you will also be required to make a monetary donation for this privilege. It’s another one of the many contradictions in Thailand because the birds shouldn’t have been trapped in the first place and they will often be caught again after being released. This is Thailand (T.I.T.) so don’t be too surprised by anything you see here!
At weddings in Thailand and other notable events, fish or turtles may be released back into the water. Very often these creatures are commercially bred, but unfortunately some poachers have realized this is a quick way to make some easy money and have illegally taken certain protected species of terrapin and turtles from the wild. These are then sold on so that they can be used in merit-making ceremonies.