Who’s Protecting Endangered Species in China?

Research sponsored by wildcat protection group Panthera shows that the endangered snow leopard has found a safe space near Tibetan monasteries. From The Economist:

“Monks on the Tibetan plateau serve as de facto wildlife guardians,” Panthera said in a news release about the study. “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.”

Until recently Tibet had a thriving trade in wild animal skins. Tiger and leopard skins featured prominently in clothing. Monks were not allowed to kill animals, but they wore the skins. In January 2006 Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, put an end to all that, calling on Tibetans to stop buying, selling and wearing wild animal skins. The displays, he said, were counter to Buddhist principles and within weeks Tibetans were burning tiger skins in the streets and the trade was halted. [Source]

On the other hand, the role of zoos is questioned amid the rampant trade of stuffed rare animal carcasses. From Lu Minghe at China Dialogue:

Zhang Zhaoguo, boss of a State Forestry Administration-certified taxidermy firm, provides rich collectors with reliable and high quality services: his offerings of stuffed rare or endangered species are all legally-certified.  “Rest easy,” he says. “As long as the item comes with a certificate, you can buy and sell it legally within China.”

[...] According to insiders a Siberian tiger can be bought from a zoo for 50,000 or 60,000 yuan, but its skin goes on the black market for 350,000 to 600,000 yuan. A corpse of the rare South China tiger would cost something under 600,000 yuan, but sell for 3 million yuan as a finished product.

[...] “Natural death and loss” have therefore become common events in Chinese zoos. “The official price for a live tiger is sometimes less than 20,000 or 30,000 yuan. If you can have it die a “natural death”, you can make a lot more money,” explained the same source. [Source]

See also Monks Protect Snow Leopards; Restaurateur Saves Turtle, via CDT.