Tibetan Monasteries Serve as Critical Allies for Snow Leopards (Panthera)

Released September 5, 2013

New York, NY – A Panthera co-authored study published last week confirms the critical role of  Tibetan-Buddhist monasteries in the fight to conserve the endangered snow leopard.

Snow Leopard

Snow leopard emerging from the shadows – Ladakh, India. Image courtesy Panthera.org.

Led by Dr. Li Juan of Peking University, the Panthera supported study confirms that over 300 monasteries  inhabit the same sky-high region as the snow leopards of the Tibetan Plateau, and protect more snow leopard habitat than local nature reserves. The study, Role of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries in Snow Leopard Conservation, was coauthored by Panthera’s Dr. George Schaller and Dr. Tom McCarthy, the leading Chinese conservation NGO Shan Shui and the Snow Leopard Trust. It showed that nearly half of the monasteries are found in snow leopard habitat, while 90% exist within 5 km of snow leopard range in the Plateau’s Sanjiangyuan region.

Snow  Leopard (image courtesy of Panthera.org)

A snow leopard scent-marking in the snow, China’s Qinghai province. (Image courtesy Panthera.org)

Monks on the Tibetan Plateau serve as de facto wildlife guardians. 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. Senior monks, including the Rinpoche and Khenpos, are important influencers in their communities, positively impacting followers’ attitudes and behavior towards wildlife. The study shows that Tibetan Buddhism is practiced across an extraordinary 80% of snow leopard range, and so monastery-based snow leopard conservation could apply over a much broader area than the Tibetan Plateau.

Panthera’s Vice President, Dr. George Schaller, explained, “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. Such an approach to environmental conservation needs to be emulated by all the world’s faiths.”

View photos from the Tibetan Plateau.

Co-author and Director of Shan Shui, Dr. Lu Zhi, shared, “With Buddhist education, Tibetan people  have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years. Now like everywhere else, the traditional culture on the Plateau is facing the challenge of modernization. Conservationists should work closer with social institutions, integrating scientific methodologies with cultural approaches for better solutions.”

A carefully camouflaged snow leopard in Khunjerab National Park, Pakistan (image courtesy Panthera.org)

A camouflaged snow leopard in Khunjerab National Park, Pakistan (image courtesy Panthera.org)

Between 3,500-7,000 snow leopards currently remain in 12 Asian countries, with an estimated 60% of their population and habitat occurring in China. Panthera, Shan Shui and the Snow Leopard Trust have been partnering with four Tibetan-Buddhist monasteries in the Yushu Prefecture of Qinghai Province since 2009. The program focuses on mitigating human-snow leopard conflict and training monks to monitor and protect wildlife. It also supports monasteries in teaching tens of thousands of people about the conservation value of snow leopards through festivals and educational programs. In three years there have been no reports of snow leopards being killed in the study area

Snow Leopard (Panthera.org)

Camera trap photo of Aztai, a male snow leopard, in Mongolia’s Tost Mountains (Image courtesy Panthera.org)

Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy, explained, “Snow leopards share their mountain habitat with poor herding families whose lives are dependent on livestock. When a snow leopard kills a sheep, goat, yak or even a young camel, it is a huge economic loss to the herder. Thanks to this unique program, we now have highly-respected community leaders mitigating conflict and acting as spokespeople for snow leopards by weaving the message of conservation with their religious convictions, and paving the road for the snow leopard’s future on the Tibetan Plateau and beyond.”

This study was published in Conservation Biology via Wiley Online Library. Earlier this week, the report was featured in Wiley’s bi-weekly News Round-Up, composed of the most newsworthy research reports published across the Library’s 1,500 peer-reviewed journals.


Contact for Panthera: Susie Weller 347-446-9904// [email protected]

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