Monasteries protect snow leopards

Buddhist monasteries could play a vital role in protecting snow leopards, researchers suggest in Conservation Biology.

Snow leopards, which are endangered, prowl across mountains in Asia and the Tibetan Plateau. But in most of the countries where they live, only about a quarter or less of their habitat is protected.

The study authors surveyed the Sanjiangyuan region for snow leopards from 2009 to 2011 and found 313 signs of the animals, such as feces. They also located 81 Buddhist monasteries in the area using a combination of field surveys, photos, and online maps.

The team estimates that snow leopards cover nearly 90,000 square kilometers of the region, but only 7,674 square kilometers fall within core zones of the main nature reserve. Ninety percent of the mapped monasteries were located 5 kilometers or less from snow leopards, and the region’s 336 monasteries oversee an estimated 8,342 square kilometers of the animals’ habitat.

Since monks patrol their sacred areas and spread the belief that all living creatures should be respected, they “may already be contributing substantially to snow leopard conservation on the Tibetan Plateau,” the authors write. The team found just one downside to the monasteries: They also take in stray dogs, which eat the same sheep that snow leopards do. Roberta Kwok | 6 September 2013

Source: Li, J. et al. 2013. Role of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in snow leopard conservation. Conservation Biology doi: 10.1111/cobi.12135.

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