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article imageBuddhist monks help snow leopards dodge extinction

By John Sevigny     Sep 10, 2013 in World
Endangered snow leopards are being protected by dozens of environmentally-savvy monks fanning out across the vast Tibetan plateau to teach locals the importance of protecting the animals.
The monks patrol areas sacred to Buddhists and teach that all creatures should be respected, according to a report by Conservation Biology this month. As a result, their spiritual beliefs contribute to the survival of the species.
The monks “may already be contributing substantially to snow leopard conservation on the Tibetan Plateau,” according to an abstract of the report.
Some 7,000 snow leopards live in the high plateaus of Asia, with most of them living in China.
Biologists for Conservation Biology found that monks who live within snow leopard territory patrol the areas around the monasteries to prevent poachers from killing the rare cats for their fur and internal organs, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
During the study, scientists found evidence of the presence of 331 snow leopards in an area where there are 81 monasteries. Ninety percent of the monasteries were five kilometers or less from snow leopards, suggesting the animals are protected within those zones from poachers and others.
During field interviews conducted over two years, scientists also learned that 42 percent of herders in the region said they did not kill wildlife because it was unethical according to Buddhist tenets.
The scientists hope to teach more monks to work to protect the animals in order to protect them over the vast majority of their natural habitat.
"Monastery-based snow leopard conservation could be extended to other Tibetan Buddhist regions that in total would encompass about 80% of the global range of snow leopards," according to the report.
Discovery News reports that the number of snow leopards has dropped 20 percent over the past two decades.
All told, there are 336 monasteries in the Sanjiangyuan region.
More about Snow leopard, tibe, Buddhism, Nature
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