It is a Thai tradition and belief that one releases fish, birds, turtles and other animals as a symbol of discarding their sorrows and bad luck from the bodies and souls to be embedded into creatures that will bear them for you until eternity.
The animals are either released into inland waterways or the sea. But if that is not convenient, they release them into Buddhist temple ponds and grounds.
The birds fly off into the sky while fish and other animals live out their natural days in the temple grounds and ponds where they are cared for by the residing monks.
Amongst the more popular species of animals released into temple ponds are turtles, with some temple ponds holding hundreds of them varying in age and sizes from just babies to very large. Some can be more than 100 years old.
As revered as they are, these highly valued and revered turtles are not safe from the immoral eyes of criminals who invade the temple grounds and steal them to sell to unscrupulous animal merchants.
On June 7, Pra Khru Sangkaruk, abbot of Wat Samet in Chonburi, raised an alarm when he saw less than ten turtles left in the temple pond, which the day before had a population of more than a hundred.
Phra Khru Sangurak said, “The temple monks have been looking after the turtles for years and feed them with bananas every day. The merit-making ritual for releasing fish and animals has been performed by Thais for generations, whereby they conveyed their sorrow and suffering into the animals before releasing them into the temple pond. It is also a sign of showing mercy and kindness by giving life to the captive animals by setting them free.”
The monk went on to say, “Some of the turtles are huge and very heavy, so there must have been many thieves who came with a pickup truck to transport them away.”
He warned that the thieves were begetting back luck upon themselves because they will become possessed with all the pain and suffering imbedded in the turtles by those who released them.
The monk pleaded with the thieves saying, “If you want money for the return of the turtles, the temple is willing to pay. These turtles are sacred and are a source of spiritual strength and consolation for the devout who visit the temple to pray and seek enlightenment.”