Science and religion have historically been at odds as they offered competing views of the world. But now, in the age of rapidly expanding human population and just as rapidly disappearing biodiversity some unlikely alliances are being formed in order to protect one of the world’s most charismatic felines – the snow leopard.
A study titled “Role of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries in Snow Leopard Conservation” led by Juan Li of Peking University and funded by the Panthera group has found that Buddhist monasteries are better positioned than conservation organizations to protect the leopard from poaching and killing by farmers in retaliation for loss of domestic stock. Researchers found that nearly half of the monasteries lie within snow leopard habitat and 90% are situated within 5 km of the leopard’s range in the Sanjiangyuan region.
Buddhism considers all life to be sacred and according to Panthera, monks routinely patrol the landscapes surrounding the monasteries to enforce Buddhist tenets against killing wildlife. There are approximately 4,000 leopards remaining in China, most of them living in the Sanjiangyuan region and conservationists report that the leopards fare better around the monasteries than in China’s nature reserves.
Panthera’s Snow Leopard Program Executive Director, Dr. Tom McCarthy explains that the snow leopard shares its habitat with rural families that subsist on livestock. When a leopard kills a sheep, a goat or a yak it represents a huge economic loss to the family and fuels the desire to retaliate against the predator. This is where the Buddhist monks serve as intermediaries in mitigating the conflict and speaking on behalf of the leopards propagating the message of conservation weaved into the religious teachings.