Buddhists stroll the mountains with leopards

By Melissa Platero, CCNN Writer

snow leopards
Baby snow leopards. Adorable!

Snow leopards really are beautiful creatures. They have thick, gray, silky fur coats to keep them warm against the frigid chills of mountaintops, and large paws that allow them to move stealthily up and down the snowy mountain face. The sleek felines are native to Asia and about 60% of all snow leopards reside in China.

As majestic as the large cats are, however, their population has decreased by around 20% in the last ten years. There are several organizations whose mission is to protect the snow leopards, but according to a study published in the journal Conservation Biology, few groups have done a better job than the Tibetan Buddhists.

“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. “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.”

Poachers – or hunters who illegally kill animals – make a sport of killing the big beautiful cat. Not only do they hunt the leopard for their luscious fur coats, but poachers also harvest their organs and bones. Why take their guts? Because Chinese culture considers them sacred for medicine, the snow leopard body parts sell for a lot of money.

In order to help the leopards with survival, Schaller and his team have been monitoring their population in Tibet. They found almost 217 of the 336 Buddhist monasteries – living quarters for monks – were within the leopard habitat, and of those, around 9 were within 3 miles of the territory. These feline-adoring Buddhist monks don’t just sit around in their rooms and pray for the safety of the cats, though. Many monks actively patrol the perimeter to fend off poachers. In addition, they also spend time teaching local residents that killing the poor animals is wrong. According to the study, the Buddhists are extremely effective. In fact, almost 200 households were surveyed, and most of the families claimed they didn’t hunt wildlife because of the practices they learned from the monks. Since more than 80% of the human population surrounding the cat’s territory practice Tibetan Buddhism, the researchers claims this is a significantly effective method to protect snow leopards from extinction.

Featured image courtesy of myheimu on Fotopedia.