30 Nov

Transcript of CNN Segment on Panthera’s ‘Faux Leopard Fur’ Project in South Africa


Just weeks ago, Panthera's 'faux leopard fur' project in South Africa, lead by Panthera Leopard Program Coordinator Tristan Dickerson, was featured on CNN's Saturday morning news program. CNN anchors T.J. Holmes and Nadia Bilchik discussed how Dickerson has developed an affordable and realistic faux leopard fur and is working with leaders of South Africa's Shembe Baptist Church to replace real leopard skins worn during cultural and religious celebrations by Shembe followers (approximately 5-11 million members currently exist). We are excited to share the following transcript of the CNN segment with you. Be sure to check back with us for a link to watch the CNN video.

See videos and photos from Shembe religious gatherings.

Learn about Panthera's Munyawana Leopard Project.


Transcript of CNN Segment on Panthera’s ‘Faux Leopard Fur’ Project in South Africa

HOLMES: Well it's 42 minutes pas the hour now. Let's say good morning to our Nadia Bilchik this morning for our "Morning Passport". And we're talking about fake furs here. We're not talking about the way people might think we're about to talk about. We're talking about the Zulus of South Africa. 

NADIA BILCHIK, CNN EDITORIAL PRODUCER: Well we're actually talking about a wildcat conservation group called Panthera.


BILCHIK: And they are focusing on the Shembe church which is actually a combination of Zulu culture and Christianity. 

And the Shembe as you can see wear the leopard skin in ceremonies and the concern by this very proactive conservation group is "we are concerned about the long-term survival of the African leopard". So as you can see, they wear these exquisite leopard skins. 

HOLMES: It's all genuine this is the real deal. 

BILCHIK: It's all genuine. And the Panthera has got together and said what can we do? Well, we can come up with an unbelievable product; a product that looks as close to leopard skin as leopard. And you know those dark dots on the leopard skin, they're known as rosettes, very beautiful in the way their actually situated.

So this group and -- particularly a young man called Tristan Dickerson who is a conservation biologist and the leopard program coordinator and I spoke to him literally four minutes ago. 

And he's so excited. Because what you're seeing there is real leopard skin and he said that right now within a week, they will come up with what is synthetic but looks -- he said from the where you and I are sitting you will not be able to see the difference.

HOLMES: So they -- they are still in the process of putting this together? 

BILCHIK: Well literally he said in two weeks the product will be out there. 

HOLMES: Two weeks.

BILCHIK: But now the question is how do you convince the Shembe church and remember the mixture of Zulu culture and Christianity and they're around five million in Africa. 

HOLMES: Oh wow.

BILCHIK: It's not only South Africa, it's in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. How do you convince them that the fake fur will have the power of the leopard skin? So think about a leopard pound for pound, has the most power of any other wildcat. They're very stealthy. They take their prey often double their weight up a tree so the leopard is a symbol of wisdom. So do you get the same effect wearing fake as you do real?

HOLMES: See that have we gotten any reaction from that side, from the Zulus, because like you say this is not just aesthetic for them. They're not just wearing it because they think it looks beautiful. There's a lot behind it.

BILCHIK: Well, Tristan said both. He said actually a lot of them do wear it because it's so exquisite. So one would think it's because of the wisdom. But he said having done numerous interviews part of it is that it is so incredibly magnificent when you look at the leopard skin and the sheen. 

So he really believes that if they come up with this product, that he will convince the leaders. Now, think about the price. A real leopard skin is around $500. You can have the fake for just 60. 


BILCHIK: Now there's a saying. I'll say it to you. 

HOLMES: All right.

BILCHIK: And may the power of the leopard be with you. 

HOLMES: All right, then. We got a couple of weeks. We can get a follow-up on this one in a couple of weeks, then. 

BILCHIK: Absolutely. I'll get you your own leopard skin something. 

HOLMES: How do you know I don't have a closet full of leopard skin? Just kidding. 

Nadia, thank you so much with our "Morning Passport". We'll talk to you again this morning.