The bird traps gradually appeared before our eyes as our boat sailed along the Vàm Thuật River, near the Saigon River.
The self-made rectangular iron cage, with a trap door on top, hung next to the reed fields. In each trap were a few bait birds. As dawn broke, the birds would be lured into the trap by the calls of their own kind.
In the evening, the trapper would collect the birds to sell wholesale to dealers. The dealers would distribute them to smaller release points (usually concentrated in front of temples and shrines). The bird release market operates year-round and is particularly busy on the first and fifteenth of each lunar month, especially on the fifteenth of July.
As we approached a dried reed field, we met a man collecting birds from traps into a larger cage. I estimated there were about 100 birds, trampling on each other in a cage measuring only about 25*35 cm, but he said: “there are 70 birds”.
The birds are then wholesaled to dealers for about 4,500-5,000 VND/bird. At retail, the price is higher, ranging from 10,000-12,000 VND/bird. The trapper told me that some people make about 500,000 VND a day, meaning at least 100 birds are caught.
Releasing animals is originally a good practice of Buddhist teachings, but it has been distorted to the point of contradicting its original purpose. When release activities become bustling with “orders”, creating a real buying and selling market, the true meaning of release is not only lost but also promotes killing.
In a bustling city like Ho Chi Minh City, you not only encounter bird traps in reed fields along rivers but can easily see sparrow traps on tall trees in residential areas like Binh Tan’s Rocket City. In rural areas, bird trapping activities are even more rampant and bold.
When approaching a bird dealer at Thanh Hoa bird market in Long An province – known as “Bird Hell” – I was shocked when he committed to supplying tens of thousands of release birds at once and was ready to deliver to Hanoi. Through dealers like those at Thanh Hoa bird market, trapped birds from all over are collected and brought back to big cities for sale, mostly sparrows… In addition to birds, fish, eels, snails… are also released by humans.
They become victims of a cruel game covered by the humane concept of release by humans. People who set traps for people who release them.
Can “released” birds survive?
Bird trappers admit that trapped birds, stacked and trampled on each other in cramped cages will weaken very quickly. After being released, they can hardly fly far. Therefore, many people suspect that the birds have been caught and had their wings clipped. “Birds sold for release are counted by thousands (a thousand = 1,000), who can clip their wings”, he argued with me, insisting that there is no such thing as people like them clipping the wings of released birds for easy recapture.
Many unfortunate birds die right in the release cage without waiting for humans to play the “rescue” game – an action not originating from compassion but for profit (praying for longevity, fame, fortune…).
That afternoon when we returned to Vam Thuat River, I also saw some traps left behind by collectors. In one trap were two small birds still hopping next to about seven dead ones stacked on top of each other. Some died with their beaks still clamped onto the cage bars as if trying to bite through the iron bars in desperation.
Faced with this image, do you think your act of buying birds for release actually gives creatures a chance to continue living or creates an opportunity for them to be killed?
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Death in the Cage of Release