A new study of the snow leopard’s habitat across the Tibetan plateau has found that Tibetan Buddhist monasteries may be better equipped than formal preservation programmes to protect the endangered cats from poaching, retaliatory killing by farmers and other deadly perils. The key is their ability to extend their influence across administrative boundaries and maintain safe space for the animals.
The research, led by Juan Li of Peking University and sponsored by the wildcat protection group Panthera, focused on the snow leopard’s habitat on the Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve, a 360,000 sq km area in north-western China that holds the headwaters of the Mekong, Yellow and Yangzte Rivers. Researchers found that the region’s more than 300 Tibetan monasteries lie close to important snow leopard habitats, and that monks are critical to protecting the cats. About 4,000 snow leopards remain in China, most living in the Sanjiangyuan region.
“Monks on the Tibetan plateau serve as de facto wildlife guardians,” Panthera said in a news release about the study. “Tibetan Buddhism considers the snow leopard and its habitats strictly sacred, and the monks patrol wild landscapes surrounding monasteries to enforce strict edicts against killing wildlife.”
Until recently Tibet had a thriving trade in wild animal skins. Tiger and leopard skins featured prominently in clothing. Monks were not allowed to kill animals, but they wore the skins. In January 2006 Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, put an end to all that, calling on Tibetans to stop buying, selling and wearing wild animal skins. The displays, he said, were counter to Buddhist principles and within weeks Tibetans were burning tiger skins in the streets and the trade was halted.
Today, conservationists say, land near monasteries provides safe haven and cats tend to stay in close proximity. More....