Panthera’s Faux Fur Leopard Project

In November 2011, Panthera’s ‘faux leopard fur’ project was featured on CNN’s Saturday Morning News program. During the three minute segment, CNN anchors T.J. Holmes and Nadia Bilchik discussed the innovative work of Panthera's Leopard Program Coordinator, Tristan Dickerson, to reduce hunting of leopards and the demand for leopard skins among members of South Africa’s Shembe Baptist Church by creating an affordable and realistic faux leopard skin. Check back with us to watch the CNN video.

Read a transcript of the program – Urging Zulus to Wear Fake Fur.

Read more press coverage on Panthera’s ‘Faux Leopard Fur Project.’

Today, leopard skins are in increasing demand among members of South Africa’s Shembe Baptist Church, whose followers have adopted the Zulu practice of wearing spotted cat fur (mainly leopard) during religious celebrations. Although trade in leopard skins is illegal in South Africa, this cultural practice is decimating South Africa’s leopard populations, particularly due to the large number of Shembe followers in southern Africa, which is now estimated to be between 5-11 million individuals. Since 2010, Panthera’s Leopard Program Coordinator, Tristan Dickerson, has attended several Shembe gatherings to investigate the amount of leopard skins being used at these events. The photos and videos below were taken by Tristan at various Shembe gatherings. Tristan estimated that nearly 1,000 leopard skins were either worn or being sold at just one of these gatherings. However, the large number of fake leopard skins worn by children and elders, including impala skins and other pelts painted with spots, serves as a sign of hope for Africa's leopard populations.

In order to reduce the high demand for real leopard skins, Tristan has been working with international digital designers and clothing companies to create a high-quality and affordable faux leopard skin. He recently met with designers in China to learn more about the design process. Tristan has also developed partnerships with leaders of the Shembe Church to encourage the use of this faux skin amongst Shembe followers once it has been developed.

Check back with us for updates on the development of Panthera’s faux leopard skin and the project.

Learn more about Tristan’s work through Panthera's Munyawana Leopard Project.

Photos from Shembe Religious Gatherings

Videos from Shembe Religious Gatherings

Tristan Dickerson interviews a man selling leopard skins at a Shembe gathering

Tristan Dickerson interviews a man selling leopard skins at a Shembe gathering

Tristan Dickerson interviews a man selling fake leopard skins at a Shembe gathering

Young boys wearing fake leopard skins at a Shembe gathering

Musical procession at a Shembe gathering

Dance ceremony at a Shembe gathering

Young boys dancing at a Shembe gathering

Followers at a Shembe gathering

Panthera’s Faux Leopard Fur Campaign in the Press:

leopard Programs

leopard in the wild Munyawana Leopard Project | Informing Policy and Effecting Change
Furs for Life Furs For Life Leopard Project | About the Program

Panthera on the Ground

Several months ago, Tristan Dickerson, a field scientist with Panthera’s Munyawana Leopard Project (MLP) was asked to analyze DNA from a horde of leopard artifacts confiscated from a local Zulu man by the South African police. Tristan found that the artifacts came from at least 92 individual leopards. He is continuing to provide assistance to the South African police in the upcoming trial of this particular hunter.

How you can help leopards right now: