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Conservation Biology

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Vol 28 (6 Issues in 2014)
Edited by: Mark A. Burgman
Print ISSN: 0888-8892 Online ISSN: 1523-1739
Published on behalf of Society for Conservation Biology
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September 02, 2013

Sanctuary! How Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries Can Save the Snow Leopard

The range of the endangered snow leopard (Panthera uncial) covers several central Asian countries, including Chinese provinces on the Tibetan Plateau. A team of Chinese conservationists claim that isolated Buddhist monasteries, spread across 80% of snow leopard territory, could play a central role in the species’ conservation.

The team surveyed snow leopards in the Sanjiangyuan region of China’s Qinghai Province, which contains 89,602 km² of snow leopard habitat. They found that 46% of Buddhist monasteries were located in snow leopard habitat and 90% were within 5 km of snow leopard habitat.

The team proposes that the 336 monasteries in the Sanjiangyuan region could protect more snow leopard habitat (8342 km²) through social norms and active patrols than the nature reserve’s core zones.

“We conducted 144 household interviews to identify local herders’ attitudes and behavior toward snow leopards and other wildlife,” said Dr. Zhi Lu, from Peking University in Beijing. “Most local herders claimed that they did not kill wildlife, and 42% said they did not kill wildlife because it was a sin in Buddhism.”

"There is evidence that traditional culture and social institutions may play a critical role in changing people’s mind and behavior," said Dr. Lu. "With Buddhist education, Tibetan people have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years. Now like everywhere else, the traditional culture on the Plateau is facing the challenge of modernization. Conservationists should work closer with social institutions, integrating scientific methodologies with cultural approaches for better solutions. We are lucky to have such an opportunity.”