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Karmapa Appeals For Wildlife Conservation

Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Wasfia Nazreen by email

Dharamsala: June 29th: What better way to start the week than attending a talk by His Holiness the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa on the preservation of wildlife! That was how the day started for upper TCV students here on Monday, June 29th- an awareness event co-organized by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Care for the Wild International (CWI).

"Animals are not our enemies. We are all interdependent; every animal has a role to play in the ecology by being a part of the food chain. If you remove one layer, the entire chain is affected. Even while talking in the interest of human beings, by saving wildlife, you are ultimately helping yourself," said the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who just celebrated his 24th birthday on Friday.

Dr Barbara Maas, Chief Executive of CWI, who was supposed to be at the event but at the last moment had to cancel due to physical illness, said through a pre-recorded message, "One of the key principles of Buddhism is compassion towards all sentient beings. Yet, the life of each and every animal killed for its skin and body parts ends in an act of violence. Cumulatively, this violence has consequences not only for the fate of individuals but for that of whole species. The list of animal species threatened with extinctions as a result of human behaviour grows longer every year. It currently stands at over 7,200. If our own species continues to extinguish others, it will spell disaster for us too, because we are part of nature and cannot survive in isolation."

The event was a part of the Tibetan Conservation Awareness Campaign (TCAC), a WTI-CWI project aimed at spreading conservation awareness among Tibetans. The campaign was launched by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on April 6, 2005 to address the involvement of Tibetans in wildlife crimes and the use of wildlife articles in Tibetan medicines and traditional dresses.

The importance of this campaign has been highlighted by the recent arrest of four alleged Tibetan wildlife traders in eastern Nepal late last week. About 23 deer traps and parts of Impeyan pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus) - the national bird of Nepal listed in Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), were among the articles reportedly seized from their possession.

In 2006, a conservation message by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama had generated tremendous emotional response, culminating in several instances of wild animal skin burning by Tibetans across Tibet as well as in Dharamsala. The skin burning episodes- an indication of Tibetans shunning use of wild animal articles, continued sporadically, with latest incidents reported as recent as April this year.

School children listen to talks on Wildlife conservation in Dharamsala, India, on Monday June 29, 2009 (Photo by Wasfia Nazreen for Phayul.com) School children listen to talks on Wildlife conservation in Dharamsala, India, on Monday June 29, 2009 (Photo by Wasfia Nazreen for Phayul.com) Vouching farther support to the Dalai Lama's previous appeal, the Karmapa added: "From the Buddhist viewpoint, we say every sentient being is a mother sentient being. We believe in bringing no harm to others including animals, but the ground reality is that this is being neglected. Some may believe that the environment is so huge that it cannot be affected by the action of one person. However, individuals can make lots of differences; the kind of difference, whether positive or negative, depends on the character and belief of humans."

The organizers of the event feel that Tibetan leaders wield tremendous amount of influence on Tibetan people, therefore, they are approaching leaders of various Tibetan sects for their blessings and support on the campaign to conserve wildlife, as stated by Vice Chairman of WTI, Mr Ashok Kumar.

Over the years, TCAC field officers of Tibetan origin have visited urban areas as well as remote rural areas to spread the message of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to spread conservation awareness among Tibetans. Till date, the TCAC campaign has reached 53 Tibetan settlements, 68 schools and 106 monasteries across India, in addition to a few in Nepal.

"We have observed a visible increase in awareness levels within the Tibetan community, but obviously our work is far from complete (as proven by the arrest last week in Nepal). The words of His Holiness the Karmapa will help fortify our campaign and benefit the cause by leaving a lingering message in the minds of young Tibetans and adults alike," Kumar added.

The two-hour programme concluded with the phenomenal documentary "A shawl to die for" which traces the history of Shahtoosh weaving in Kashmir, India to its links to the Tibetan antelope Chiru found on the Chang Tang plateau of Tibet. In the past Chirus were killed so Shahtoosh, it's fleece, can be extracted to make the thousands of dollars worth shawls. The international ban on Shahtoosh was critical for the survival of the endangered Chiru, however, it gave birth to a new disaster- for the thousands of traditional Shahtoosh workers in Kashmir who are now failing to obtain a livelihood. While the film explores the struggle of conservation vs livelihood, it also documents interventions brought in by a community project initiated by Wildlife Trust of India and International Fund for Animal Welfare, supported by the British High Commission. Even though the solutions implemented by this project have been steadily implemented, the challenge now remains to ensure and measure its growth and success.

Ultimately, it very much depends on the commitment and awareness of the Tibetan community in general to finally and for good stop the smuggling of Shahtoosh. The documentary educates on promoting other alternatives for fashion such as the use of Pashmina shawls.

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