From: Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published June 10, 2013 05:26 PM

Tibetan monks partner with conservationists to protect the snow leopard

Tibetan monks could be the key to safeguarding the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) from extinction, according to an innovative program by big cat NGO Panthera which is partnering with Buddhist monasteries deep in leopard territory. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, snow leopard populations have dropped by a fifth in the last 16 years or so. Large, beautiful, and almost never-seen, snow leopards are the apex predators of the high plateaus and mountains of central Asia, but their survival like so many big predators is in jeopardy. Tom McCarthy the head of the Snow Leopard Program at Panthera told mongabay.com that the high-altitude predators are facing three major threats: poaching for illegal snow leopard skins, fur, and parts; decline in natural prey; and revenge killing by locals over livestock losses. 

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"Snow leopards share their mountain habitat with poor herding families whose lives are highly dependent on livestock," McCarthy says. "When a snow leopard kills a sheep, goat, yak or even a young camel, it is a huge economic loss to the herder. It is hard to blame them for wanting to kill the snow leopard in retaliation."

To mitigate this conflict, Panthera has turned to Tibetan-Buddhist monasteries as allies. Inhabiting the same sky-high regions as snow leopards in China, Buddhist monks, who maintain a special status in the society, have become effective partners, working with local communities to mitigate conflict and killings while monitoring the cats' status. Moreover, this program could be expanded across snow leopard habitat.

"As a strategy, monastery-based snow leopard conservation could be extended to other Tibetan Buddhist regions, covering about 80 percent of global snow leopard range," explains Li Juan, who is the world's first female scientist with a PhD in zoology focusing on snow leopards and is currently a post-doctoral student at Peking University. She has played a key role in the work on the Tibetan Plateau, which is a collaboration between the Chinese conservation NGO Shan Shui, Panthera and the Snow Leopard Trust.

Article continues at Snow Leopard.

Leopard image via Wikipedia.

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