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ARC and the Asian Buddhist Network

Joanne Robinson of ARC, Lambeth 2005:

The Cardomom Mountains of south-west Cambodia are among the last remaining great wilderness places in Asia. In over a million hectares it has several distinct natural habitats, each with their own wildlife communities. There are Indochinese tigers, Asian elephant and Siamese crocodile and in the rivers and marshes there are some rather unusual turtles.

They are unusual because their shells are painted, very colourfully, with Buddhist sutras. These act as protective talismans and when the turtles are seen by hunters they are usually left to swim free.

This is part of an innovative partnership between Buddhist monks and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The turtles are being illegally hunted and the meat sold openly at market. It started with poachers from outside using electro-fishing equipment, but then the villagers also realised how easy it was to hunt aquatic life in this way and stocks began to diminish.

"In northern Cambodia two large tracts of virgin forest have been protected simply because of the presence of forest monks who live in the forest for three to four months. They are there as teachers but they are also advocates and campaigners and their presence has controlled illegal logging and poaching."
However in this strongly Buddhist society the presence of the sutras is an instant reminder of Buddhist morality. To kill the turtles could bring misfortune to the individual and the community, and the measures are beginning to work.

As well as protecting the turtles the monks’ programme also focuses on the overall sustainable management of natural resources. It is currently run in 10 monasteries and training sessions are targeted at all local stakeholders including government departments, village and district committees.

This is one of many examples of how powerfully focussed environmental action can be in Buddhist areas when it arises from within the Buddhist tradition.

In northern Cambodia for example, two large tracts of virgin forest have been protected for several years simply because of the presence of forest monks who live in the forest for three to four months.

They are there as teachers but they are also advocates and campaigners and their presence has controlled illegal logging and poaching.

These are but two examples of the many projects and alliances that have sprung up across Asia of which we glad to be a part. But in the end the inspiration and commitment lies with the Buddhist communities themselves. Now let me introduce Tony Whitten, who will explain why and how ARC’s Asian projects have had such strong support from the World Bank.

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