Qualitative interviews of practitioners of buddhist life release rituals residing in the United States: implications for reducing invasion risk.
The release of live organisms into the environment by Buddhists for religious reasons, known as "life release", is a less understood pathway of biological invasions. To better understand the activity as it is practiced in the United States, we contacted more than 400 Buddhist groups and interviewed 11 individuals during late 2018 and early 2019 to discuss the practice. The information obtained from this small sample included the nature of the ritual, their awareness of impacts and legality, potential low-risk alternatives to the practice, and how to best engage with this community moving forward. Practitioners' motivation and understanding of the practice are similar to previously published work, though with perhaps a stronger emphasis on saving lives. Practitioners use release animals that they believe are likely to survive, not harmful to the local environment, and are easy to obtain, including earthworms, crickets, and minnows. Release events are often held in places that give the animals the best probability of surviving and group release events are held in public spaces that may allow for fellowship afterwards. Practitioners were generally aware of potential negative impacts of the practice and the legality of the practice. With this in mind, it was often mentioned that effort was put into limiting these impacts. Promisingly, the interviewed practitioners thought more environmentally friendly methods of release were possible and would welcome further engagement with natural resource professionals and Buddhist opinion leaders to practice life release in an environmentally sustainable manner.