Nepalese Myths Surrounding Snow Leopards


snow lion drawing

The snow lion, who lives in the Glaciers of the Himalaya, is is a mythical creature of the Buddhist realm. Photo courtesy of the Ladakh Ecological Development Group.


From Observations on Conservation of Snow Leopards in Nepal, by Som B. Ale and Bhaskar S. Karky.

In the northerly societies of Nepal many indigenous beliefs and shamanistic practices, reflecting local pre-Buddhist traditions, were incorporated and subsequently reworked into the Buddhist pantheon and ritual system. One such ritual in Manang connected to the snow leopard and its depredation forbids alpine herders to roast meat, for otherwise the mountain god will send its “dog”, (i.e. snow leopard) and one has to suffer livestock losses.

In Dolpo there are stories of great lamas frequently making trips to Tibet in the form of snow leopards, in search of rare medicinal herbs. Other folklore describes the snow leopard as a “fence” for the crops, meaning that in the absence of snow leopards livestock would be free ranging and thus would invade crop fields.

Local inhabitants still believe that snow leopards (and domestic cats) are considered to have taken birth particularly to remove the sins of their past lives, and killing these animals means having their sins transferred to your own life.

In Mustang, killing a snow leopard is considered to be more sinful than its prey species (for instance blue sheep), because all sins it has committed during its lifetime by killing its prey will then be transferred to you.