How animals suffer for Buddhists to earn spiritual points – in Cambodia ‘life release’ rituals decimate birds

The Buddhist practice of releasing animals for spiritual merit is widespread in Cambodia, but it kills or injures millions of birds. Species are in free fall.

Standing on the highest platform of Wat Phnom, a temple built on the mythical founding location of the Cambodian capital, a woman holds two munias close to her mouth and murmurs prayers into the birds’ feathers. Then, raising her hands to the sky, she releases her grasp and the birds flap their wings.

Like hundreds of people that day, she is practising “life release”, which involves setting free a captive animal to make merit, atone for one’s sins, right one’s karma. One of the munias makes its way towards Phnom Penh’s busy traffic below while its companion stalls, veers to the left and drops to the ground, breathing but motionless.

Without a glance, the woman turns away and leaves.

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