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Buddhist Monks Protect Endangered Snow Leopards

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New research finds that endangered snow leopards are being protected by hundreds of Buddhist monasteries on the Tibetan plateau.

The study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, found that half of the 336 monasteries are within the snow leopards’ natural habitat and that monks regularly patrol the wilderness to prevent poachers from killing the majestic animals.

George Schaller, the study’s co-author and a biologist with the endangered cat conservation group Panthera, said in a statement, “Buddhism has as a basic tenet — the love, respect, and compassion for all living beings. This report illuminates how science and the spiritual values of Tibetan Buddhism can combine their visions and wisdom to help protect China’s natural heritage.”

About 60 percent of snow leopards live in the mountains of China. Poachers kill them for their thick, warm fur, as well as their internal organs and bones, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Herders also hunt them because the snow leopards often prey on their sheep or goats. As a result of poaching and hunting, the population has dropped by about 20 percent in the last two decades to between 3,500 – 7,000 leopards.

For two years, Schaller and other scientists studied the snow leopard population in the Sanjiangyuan region of China’s Qinghai Province.

Since 2009, several conservation groups have worked with four monasteries in the region to reduce conflicts among humans and leopards, and to train the monks to protect wildlife. To their surprise, the team found that many of the monks they had not worked with actively patrolled the region. The monks also taught the local people that killing the leopards was wrong.

The study found that a greater proportion of the snow leopards were being protected in the regions around monasteries than in the nature reserve set aside for them.

In a survey of 144 families, most people said they did not kill wildlife. Many of them cited Buddhism’s tenet of nonviolence as their reason.

The authors went on to say, “Our results indicate monasteries play an important role in snow leopard conservation. Monastery-based snow leopard conservation could be extended to other Tibetan Buddhist regions that in total would encompass about 80 percent of the global range of snow leopards.”

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Source: Huffington Post

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