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, this cultural practice is impacting South Africa’s leopard populations, particularly due to the large number of Shembe followers now estimated to exceed 5 million members.
Panthera’s Leopard Program Coordinator, Tristan Dickerson, estimates that nearly 1,000 leopard skins are either worn or sold at every major Shembe gathering. However, the large number of fake leopard skins, including impala skins and other pelts painted with spots, is reason for hope.
To reduce the hunting of leopards and the high demand for real leopard skins among the Shembe community, Tristan worked with digital designers and clothing companies in China to create a high-quality, affordable and realistic fake leopard skin. Today, this fake leopard skin fabric is being produced in China and shipped to South Africa, where the garments are manufactured into capes, otherwise known as amambatha. Respecting the cultural traditions of the Shembe, Tristan has developed strong partnerships with leaders of the Shembe Church, who are now encouraging followers to purchase and utilize these fake skins, which last much longer than real skins, and are a fraction of the costs – under $30 (USD) a piece.
Panthera has recently partnered with DHL, the world’s leading logistics company, which is providing free delivery of the fake leopard furs from China to South Africa until at least May 2015. To date, 5,800 fake leopard furs have been donated to Shembe members throughout South Africa. Panthera’s Leopard Program Director, Dr. Guy Balme, estimates that 30% of furs worn at Shembe gatherings are now Panthera's amambatha, compared to just 10% of fake furs worn only a year ago.
In March of 2015, Panthera announced a new partnership with Peace Parks Foundation (PPF), supported by Cartier. The infusion of Cartier’s generous contribution will allow Panthera and PPF to significantly expand the Furs for Life Project and reduce the threat to wild leopards, with the goal of delivering approximately 18,000 fake furs by the close of 2017.
Read DHL’s press release for further information on the Panthera-DHL partnership.
Read DHL’s infographic for further facts on the usability of Panthera’s faux leopard furs compared to real leopard skins.
Panthera’s Furs For Life Leopard Project and Tristan’s innovative conservation work is now the subject of a documentary entitled To Skin A Cat. Watch the To Skin A Cat Trailer below.
To Skin A Cat Trailer
For further information contact Panthera’s Leopard Program Coordinator, Tristan Dickerson, at firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 82 490 2713.
All media inquiries should be directed to Panthera’s Media and Digital Marketing Director, Susie Weller, at email@example.com.
The Furs For Life Project website at www.fursforlife.com is currently under construction. Check back with us for updates on the site launch.