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"The wolf comes and kills, eats, and goes somewhere else," said the 64-year-old herder in a ragged sheepskin coat, "but snow leopards are always around. They have killed one or two animals in the pastures many times. This was the first problem at my home. Everybody wanted to finish this leopard."

The cats may claim only a small part of livestock herds, but the loss may be huge to the owner. Where losses mount, it's often because human hunting has made natural prey scarce. Overgrazing by livestock also reduces the natural capacity of rangelands to support native herds. Hungry leopards turn to the tame flocks for food, and angry herders kill the cats in retaliation. With little or no government enforcement of wildlife regulations in remote areas, a protection strategy has little chance of breaking these cycles unless it gains local support.

Religious leaders have recently spoken up on the leopards' behalf. Within the mountain ringed courtyard of the Rangdum monastery, between the Zanskar Range and the main Himalaya, Tsering Tundup, a Buddhist monk, said, "Whenever we have an opportunity, we talk to people and encourage them not to kill any being." Several people told me that the villagers listened when a lama farther up the valley condemned a spate of revenge shootings of snow leopards. Soon afterward, a new lotus-shaped shrine was built with the herders' guns cemented inside.

The Dalai Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who is widely followed in Central Asia, has specifically urged followers to safeguard snow leopards and avoid wearing their pelts as part of traditional festive clothing. "People depend upon animals, but we must not use them for our luxury," he told me during an interview in Washington. "Wild animals are the ornaments of our planet and have every right to exist peacefully. Some, including snow leopards, are quite rare and visible only at high altitudes. So we need to pay special attention to protect them."

Financial incentives can also make a difference. Jigmet Dadul's employer, Snow Leopard Conservancy–India, had helped set up Himalayan Homestays, a program that steers trekkers to the houses of herders who agree to protect snow leopards and their wild neighbors. For a clean room and bed, meals with the family, and a warm introduction to their culture, visitors pay about ten dollars a night and save carrying a tent and food. Having guests once every couple weeks through the tourist season provides the hosts with more than enough income to replace stock lost to predators.

The conservancy donates funds to cover livestock pens with stout wire mesh. Rodney Jackson, the pioneering snow leopard researcher who founded the conservancy, says, "We figure each project to predator-proof the corrals of a village this way saves an average of five leopards." The organization also launches small-scale livestock insurance programs and provides seed money for parachute cafés—trailside tea shops beneath an army surplus parachute pitched like a big tent. Meanwhile, teams conduct environmental classes at village schools and train Homestays members as nature guides, available for hire. Homestays families pool 10 percent of their profits for community projects that conserve cultural values, such as renovating a monastery, or improve habitat for wildlife.

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