Buddhist monks are protecting snow leopards from poachers

snow leopard photo
CC BY-ND 2.0 Land Rover Our Planet

A new study in the journal Conservation Biology found that snow leopards living near Buddhist monasteries in Tibet are being helped by monks who actively patrol the forests to prevent poachers from killing the endangered cats.

Tia Ghose at LiveScience reports:

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.

Like the demand for rhino horn and elephant tusks, the demand for snow leopards is largely fueled by traditional Chinese medicine, but in the snowy, Tibetan plateau, the leopard fur is also valued for warmth.

While it is true that Buddhism values non-violence and respect for nature, it is also true that all of the main religions of the world have teachings that would support animal and environmental conservation. Exploring these related, but distinct viewpoints was the purpose of our Green Spirit series. We wanted to see how religion and spirituality could help contribute to the environmental movement.

After hearing about the success the Buddhist monks have had in educating locals to not harm the snow leopards or other wildlife, I'm left wondering how similar approaches could work in places like India, Africa and Southeast Asia, where poaching remains a major crisis.

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