Endangered snow leopard has a natural ally, study finds: Buddhist monks

Being a snow leopard in the high, rugged mountains of western China is a tough rebirth. They’re rare, so their gorgeous pelts are even more coveted by those who covet such things; a few of their organs are highly sought after in traditional Chinese medical circles; and some herders would rather they weren’t around, to ensure the safety of their livestock. They’re on the endangered list, and their numbers are dropping alarmingly.

According to a recent study, however, the snow leopard seems to have a natural ally and protector among some other mountain denizens: Tibetan Buddhist monks residing in the hundreds of monasteries that share the leopard’s territory.

The livescience web site references the results of two years of snow leopard research on the Tibetan plateau, published last week in the journal Conservation Biology. It has some heartening things to say about to positive impact of Buddhism in conservation:

“‘Buddhism has as a basic tenet — the love, respect, and compassion for all living beings,’ said study co-author George Schaller, a biologist with the endangered cat conservation group Panthera, in a statement. ‘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…’

“Since 2009, several conservation organizations have worked with four monasteries in the region to reduce human-leopard conflicts and to train monks to protect wildlife.

“The team found that many Buddhist monks — not just those at the four monasteries they worked with — actively patrolled the areas to prevent the killing of snow leopards; the monks also taught the local people that killing the majestic creatures was wrong.

“In household surveys with 144 families, most people said they did not kill wildlife, with many citing Buddhism’s nonviolence as their reasoning.

“All told, a greater proportion of the snow leopards were being protected in regions around monasteries than in the core nature reserve set aside for the big cats, the study found.

“The findings suggest programs that work with Buddhist monasteries to promote snow leopard conservation could be remarkably effective.”

Read the full livescience article here and watch the ABC News Nightline feature on Panthera’s snow leopard program in Mongolia here.

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