Furs For Life Leopard Project

In High Demand

Leopard skins have recently been in high demand among members of South Africa’s Shembe Baptist Church, whose followers have adopted the Zulu practice of wearing real spotted cat fur (mainly leopard) during religious celebrations.

Illegal Leopard Skin Trade

Although trade in leopard skins is illegal in South Africa, this cultural practice is negatively impacting 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.

Panthera’s Faux Leopard Furs

Panthera’s Leopard Program Coordinator, Tristan Dickerson, worked with digital designers and clothing companies in China to create a high-quality and realistic fake leopard skin to reduce both the demand for real leopard skins and the hunting of leopards in South Africa.
About the Program

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 indicate 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, 2,000 fake leopard furs have been delivered and are being used by the Shembe community, with a total of 4,500 fake furs expected to be shipped in 2013.

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.


Video Gallery

DHL and Panthera Partner to Conserve South Africa Leopards

To Skin A Cat Trailer


Photo Gallery


Additional Resources

For further information contact Panthera’s Leopard Program Coordinator, Tristan Dickerson, at tdickerson@panthera.org or +27 82 490 2713.

All media inquiries should be directed to Panthera’s Communications Manager, Susie Weller, at sweller@panthera.org.

The Furs For Life Project website at www.fursforlife.com is currently under construction. Check back with us for updates on the site launch.

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: