TRAVEL NEWS: Secret Weapons to Save Snow Leopards? The Dalai Lama, Buddhist Monks and the Kalachakra

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As the region in and around Ladahk, India prepares for influx of millions of tourists for this year’s Kalachakra initiation with the Dalai Lama, research suggests that the Buddhist monasteries of the region could play a key role in protecting endangered wildlife, in particular the Snow Leopard.  

Kalachakra with the Dalia Lama 2014

Kalachakra with the Dalia Lama 2014

At the Kalachakra Initiation in 2006, Tibet’s spiritual leader called on all his followers to stop buying, selling and wearing wild animal skins.  Animal skin displays, he said, were counter to Buddhist principles, despite a tradition of Himalayan monks wearing them.  The Dalai Lama’s words took effect.  Within weeks Tibetans were burning skins in the streets and the trade was halted.  This influence spread to other parts of the region, including into India and Mongolia.  As reported by The Economist:

“The movement quickly snowballed. People have been emerging from their homes, in the depth of winter, and burning furs and animal skins worth as much as £6,000 in the streets. Many have given up their chubas, traditional robes that can cost the equivalent of two years’ wages for the average Tibetan, and watched happily as they went up in smoke. Not only tiger skins, but also traditional Tibetan chubas lined with leopard, otter and fox fur. Reports from within Tibet say that over the past two weeks the price of skins and other furs has dropped drastically.

Among the animals most greatly affected by the shift in consciousness has been The Snow Leopard (Ladakhi: shan), a majestic creature that once ranged throughout the Himalaya, Tibet, and as far as the Sayan mountains on the Mongolian-Russian border. They are extremely shy and hard to spot.  The Hemis Wildlife Park in Ladahk –  the location to the the Hemis Monastery – is home about 200 snow leopards, which might represent as much as 10% of the world’s breeding population.

Baby Snow Leopard

Baby Snow Leopard

While this edict was a boon to protecting wildlife, it turns out that the mere presence of monks in Ladahk and other Himalayan regions helps the cause.  A new study of the snow leopard’s habitat across the Tibetan plateau has found that Buddhist monasteries in Tibet and Ladahk,, India may be better equipped than formal preservation programmes to protect the endangered cats from poaching, retaliatory killing by farmers and other deadly perils.  Buddhist monks will not intentionally kill the animals, creating a safety net on the Tibetan plateau.The key is their ability to extend their influence across administrative boundaries and maintain safe space for the animals.

Researchers found that the region’s more than 300 Tibetan monasteries lie close to important snow leopard habitats, and that monks are critical to protecting the cats.  The research, led by Juan Li of Peking University and sponsored by the wildcat protection group Panthera, stated, “Monks on the Tibetan plateau serve as de facto wildlife guardians. Tibetan Buddhism considers the snow leopard and its habitats strictly sacred, and the monks patrol wild landscapes surrounding monasteries to enforce strict edicts against killing wildlife.”

 To read more about the race to save the Snow Leopard, and the involvement of the Buddhist community, click here.

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EDITORS NOTE: Original World offers a once-in-a-lifetime cultural immersion tour to Ladahk, India for the Kalachakra in July, 2014.  This year’s tour will also take attendees to the Hemis Festival at the Hemis Monastery. The tour dates are July 4-19, 2014.

 

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