The leopard is known for its gorgeous spots—but its beautiful skin has also made it one of the world’s most persecuted big cats.
In southern Africa, as many as 2,500 leopards are killed each year for their skins. With fewer than 5,000 leopards remaining in South Africa, this illegal killing poses a significant threat to their survival.
Many leopards are killed so their skins can be used by local religious groups like the Nazareth Baptist (Shembe) Church for ceremonial garb. After discovering that Shembe followers were using as many as 15,000 illegal leopard skins, Panthera initiated the Furs for Life Leopard Project in 2013.
Working with digital designers, Panthera created high-quality and affordable faux leopard skin capes, known as amambatha. More than 14,000 capes have already been donated to the Shembe, and the support of the Peace Parks Foundation and Cartier will ensure another 4,000 capes are distributed by 2018.
Thanks to the support of Shembe leaders, the faux skins are gaining increased acceptance as viable alternatives to real leopard skins. Panthera’s research indicates that the faux furs have already reduced demand for real skins by 50%, preventing hundreds of leopard deaths each year.
Join us in protecting Africa’s leopards. For $30 you can save a leopard's life by funding the production of one faux fur.
Interviews with illegal wildlife traders have revealed that many skins used by the Shembe were not acquired from South Africa. In order to determine the origin of these skins—and therefore identify hot spots for leopard poaching—Panthera and its partners have developed a genetic database for leopards in southern Africa. With over 1,000 genetic samples from nine countries, this is the most comprehensive study of leopard genetics anywhere in the world.
By providing authorities with data about where these skins are coming from, we hope to raise awareness about the scale and impact of the illegal skin trade and, most importantly, compel decision-makers to prioritize law enforcement efforts to stop the poaching of Africa’s leopards.
In South Africa, Panthera's Furs for Life Leopard Project is providing an innovative and real solution to a threat that is decimating leopard populations. Very rarely in the world of conservation do you see a resolution this simple and respectful of cultural and religious traditions that is so swiftly accepted by local communities.