The Snow Leopards of Zhaxilawu Temple

(Translated from the Chinese)

According to Dr. Li Juan of Beijing University, the upper reaches of the Langcang River are home to the greatest continuous habitat of the snow leopard in all of China. This area covers parts of both Qinghai and Tibet, and the crisscrossing mountains and marshy grasslands provide the best environment to support both the snow leopard and Himalayan blue sheep. As it happens, Zhaxilawu temple is situated in the hinterland of this territory. Over the past few years, Beijing University and the Beijing Centre for Environmental Protection have been using infrared cameras to investigate the area, and have discovered that the population density of the snow leopard is relatively high.

The mountains around the temple are of great significance to the snow leopard. The upper reaches of the Langcang river are abundant in Chinese caterpillar fungus, and in May and June of each year, the area is flooded the the thousands of people searching for would amount to a year’s worth of income. The area surrounding the temple belongs to a range of mountains considered holy by the Buddhist monks who patrol, manage and protect the area; and as under their watchful gaze, people are not allowed to dig up the caterpillar fungus, so the area has become a refuge for wild animals.

The relationship between Zhaxilawu temple and the snow leopard is not accidental. Three million years ago, the snow leopard first originated in what is now known was Ngari prefecture in Tibet (Ali / 阿里 in Chinese); it gradually spread throughout all of the Tibetan-Qinghai plateau, as well as the surrounding areas. Three thousand years ago, Buddhism sprang up in India, and like the snow leopard before it, also spread to Ngari prefecture, before spreading across the whole of the Qinghai-Tibetan and Mongolian plateaus. Although separated by many thousands of years, the spread of both the snow leopard and Buddhism have similar aspects, and follow similar paths: unsurprisingly, then, they more or less spread to the same places. When it came to choosing a location for a temple, more often than not it would be identical to the place that the snow leopard would choose for its habitat, and Dr. Li Juan’s calculations revealed that 2 in 3 snow leopards have their habitat in areas of Tibetan Buddhism.

However, temples are also places where stray dogs gather together; other than hunting wild animals, stray dogs also spread diseases. Although there is little research data, we can make a sure judgement: that stray dogs are the Tibetan-Qinghai plateau’s most common carnivorous animals, and their effect on the wild animals there cannot be underestimated – or tolerated.




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