Role of Tibetan Buddhist Monasteries in Snow Leopard Conservation

Juan Li, Dajun Wang, Hang Yin, Duojie Zhaxi, Zhala Jiagong, George B. Schaller, Charudutt Mishra, Thomas M. Mccarthy, Hao Wang, Lan Wu, Lingyun Xiao, Lamao Basang, Yuguang Zhang, Yunyun Zhou, Zhi Lu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) inhabits the rugged mountains in 12 countries of Central Asia, including the Tibetan Plateau. Due to poaching, decreased abundance of prey, and habitat degradation, it was listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1972. Current conservation strategies, including nature reserves and incentive programs, have limited capacities to protect snow leopards. We investigated the role of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in snow leopard conservation in the Sanjiangyuan region in China's Qinghai Province on the Tibetan Plateau. From 2009 to 2011, we systematically surveyed snow leopards in the Sanjiangyuan region. We used the MaxEnt model to determine the relation of their presence to environmental variables (e.g., elevation, ruggedness) and to predict snow leopard distribution. Model results showed 89,602 km2 of snow leopard habitat in the Sanjiangyuan region, of which 7674 km2 lay within Sanjiangyuan Nature Reserve's core zones. We analyzed the spatial relation between snow leopard habitat and Buddhist monasteries and found that 46% of monasteries were located in snow leopard habitat and 90% were within 5 km of snow leopard habitat. 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. 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. Our results indicate monasteries play an important role in snow leopard conservation. Monastery-based snow leopard conservation could be extended to other Tibetan Buddhist regions that in total would encompass about 80% of the global range of snow leopards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-94
Number of pages8
JournalConservation Biology
Volume28
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Conservation strategy
  • Distribution
  • MaxEnt
  • Nature reserve
  • Panthera uncia
  • Sacred mountain

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