The endangered snow leopard has a new and unusual ally in its fight to survive on planet Earth — Tibetan-Buddhist monks. Tucked away in the remote and perilously high mountain reaches of the Sanjiangyuan region of China, four Tibetan monasteries have agreed to work cooperatively with conservationists from the nonprofit Panthera, local NGO Shan Shui and the Snow Leopard Trust to help save the snow leopard.
Only 3,500 to 7,000 snow leopards are left in the wild. They are listed as “endangered” by the IUCN List of Threatened Species. Unlike other big cats, snow leopards cannot roar. For this reason, in addition to their reclusive nature, they are known as “mountain ghosts.” Snow leopards live primarily in steep, ruggedly mountainous areas of Central Asia at altitudes between 9,800 and 17,000 feet. In these remote and lonely places, craggy cliffs and dangerous ravines help them hunt the wild goats and sheep they depend on to survive.
Snow leopards can be found in only twelve countries, including India, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. China, however, represents about 60 percent of their remaining range.
Fortunately, the same qualities that make such far-flung and dangerous terrain attractive to snow leopards also appeal to Buddhist monks. Realizing this, in 2009, Panthera initiated cooperative programs with four monasteries in China, partnering with them to better protect the snow leopard.
The monks undergo a training program and then systematically patrol the area surrounding their monasteries. They use cameras, binoculars and GPS systems provided by Panthera to observe, monitor and record the wildlife they see, including the snow leopard.