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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 April, 2005, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Dalai Lama campaigns for wildlife
The Dalai Lama, Getty Images
The Dalai Lama's voice is likely to be heard
The Dalai Lama has called for an end to illegal wildlife trafficking between Nepal, Tibet, India and China.

He is appealing to exiled Tibetans, who are increasingly involved in the bloody trade, to remember their dedication to Buddhist non-violence.

Last year, Tibetan officials intercepted 32 tiger, 579 leopard and 665 otter skins in one single shipment.

This prompted the Dalai Lama and a pair of wildlife charities to launch an awareness drive around the Himalayas.

"We Tibetans are basically Buddhists, we preach love and compassion towards all other living beings on Earth," said the exiled Tibetan leader. "Therefore, it is the responsibility of all of us to realise the importance of wildlife conservation."

We must realise that because of our follies a large number of our animals are getting killed
The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is working with the charities Care for the Wild International (CWI), from the UK, and the Wildlife Trust of India, to promote an understanding of the damage illegal trading can cause.

The team plan to make videos and leaflets which they will take to Tibetan refugee settlements around India. They also hope to broadcast anti-poaching messages over the TV and radio.

"Thousands will be reached in this way," said Barbara Maas of CWI. "Eventually, we hope to reach every single one - we will go to schools, we will go to refugee camps, we will go to villages."

Urgent action

Dr Maas says the project has a sense of urgency because illegal wildlife trading is set to get worse, thanks to a new train line being constructed between the old Tibetan capital of Lhasa and Beijing, the capital of China.

This new transport link will make things easier for poachers wishing to shift animal body parts.

"You can imagine what will happen when the train link opens," said Dr Maas. "So we are trying to pour water on the flames as they are at the moment and also take pre-emptive action."

Other charities are in strong support of this new initiative.

"Our own investigation has shown that Tibetans are heavily involved in the organised smuggling of tiger and leopard skins between India and Tibet, and that Tibet is a major market and distribution point for these skins," said Debbie Banks, of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Leopard, AP
The illegal wildlife trade is devastating populations of endangered Himalayan wildlife
"We are encouraged that the Dalai Lama is taking action on this serious issue and hope that his message helps to prevent this disgusting trade from spiralling further out of control."

CWI claims that the illegal wildlife trade is devastating populations of endangered Himalayan and sub-Himalayan wildlife such as tigers, leopards, snow leopards, otters and bears.

Many of these animal body parts head for China, where they find their way into the traditional medicine market.

Wildlife organisations have long worried about this sad pilgrimage, but few have appealed to people's religious sensibilities to prevent it.

The Dalai Lama carries enormous weight, especially with Tibetans living in exile, so his voice is likely to be heard.

"It is in the Pali and Sanskrit tradition to show love and compassion for all living beings," he said at a press conference in New Delhi, India. "It is a shame that we kill these poor creatures to satisfy our own aggrandisement.

"We must realise that because of our follies a large number of our animals are getting killed and we must stop this."

Loud voice

The CWI is under no illusion about the importance of the Dalai Lama backing the campaign.

"This campaign starts and ends with him," said Dr Maas. "If it was just us saying: 'Oh please don't do it', I'm not sure it would do much good. But His Holiness will make all the difference."

Underpinning the whole campaign is the hope that, in the end, people all over the world will want to save endangered species not because we can benefit from them financially, but because it is wrong to kill them.

The Dalai Lama said: "Today more than ever before life must be characterised by a sense of universal responsibility not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life."

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