The leopard is known for its gorgeous spots—but its beautiful fur has also made it one of the world’s most persecuted big cats.
In southern Africa, as many as 800 leopards are killed each year for their furs. 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 furs can be used by local religious groups like the Nazareth Baptist Church eBuhleni, commonly known as Shembe Church, for ceremonial garb. After discovering that Shembe followers were using as many as 15,000 illegal leopard furs, Panthera initiated the Furs for Life Leopard Program in 2013.
Working with digital designers, Panthera created high-quality and affordable synthetic leopard fur capes, known as amambatha. More than 18,500 capes have already been donated to the Shembe with support from the Peace Parks Foundation and Cartier.
Thanks to the support of Shembe leaders, the synthetic furs are gaining increased acceptance as viable alternatives to real leopard furs. Panthera’s research indicates that use of real furs has already decreased 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 synthetic fur.
Panthera expanded its groundbreaking Furs For Life program in August 2019 with the launch of Saving Spots, a new culturally sensitive conservation partnership with the Lozi people of western Zambia. Through the project, Panthera has created synthetic fur garments known as “Heritage Furs” to replace real leopard, serval and lion furs used during Lozi festivals. Designed and endorsed by His Majesty the Lozi King and the Lozi Senior Chief, Panthera expects that the Heritage Furs will help to reduce the hunting of wild cats across southern Africa where the species are severely threatened.
Interviews with illegal wildlife traders have revealed that many furs used by the Shembe were not acquired from South Africa. In order to determine the origin of these furs—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 furs are coming from, we hope to raise awareness about the scale and impact of the illegal fur trade and, most importantly, compel decision-makers to prioritize law enforcement efforts to stop the poaching of Africa’s leopards.
Deputy Executive Director, Conservation Science; Director, Leopard Program
In South Africa, Panthera's Furs for Life Leopard Program 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.