Saving Spots is a conservation partnership with the Lozi people of western Zambia that seeks to reduce the killing of wild cats using synthetic leopard, serval and lion furs.
In August 2019, Panthera and the Barotse Royal Establishment of the Lozi people joined forces to launch Saving Spots - a conservation initiative in western Zambia that seeks to protect declining wild cat populations using synthetic leopard, serval and lion furs, known as ‘Heritage Furs’.
Every year, hundreds of Lozi community members participate as paddlers in the Kuomboka Festival, a massive gathering on the Zambezi River to escort His Majesty the Lozi King between palaces by barge. Traditionally, nearly 200 paddlers wear lipatelo, which are elaborate, full-length skirts made of leopard, serval and other animal furs, and lion-mane trimmed berets, known as mishukwe.
In 2019, with the launch of Saving Spots, the Barotse Royal Establishment received 200 Panthera-created synthetic leopard and serval fur lipatelo and 200 synthetic lion mishukwe, which will replace the use of real furs by paddlers and, we expect, will help to reduce the hunting of hundreds of wild cats across southern Africa where the species are already severely threatened.
Supported by Peace Parks Foundation and Cartier, Panthera worked closely with digital designers to develop the Heritage Furs, which were manufactured in China and tailored in South Africa. To ensure the synthetic furs are adopted by the Lozi people, they were designed and endorsed by His Majesty the Lozi King and the Senior Chief.
Through Saving Spots, Panthera is also conducting an educational conservation outreach program in the region and a robust leopard monitoring program in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
The Barotse Royal Establishment was concerned that leopard and other cat populations are dwindling in Zambia, and as a conservation-oriented establishment, worked with Panthera to devise a culturally appropriate solution to reduce the impact on wild cats.
Furs For Life
The Saving Spots project is operated through and modeled after Panthera’s Furs For Life program. With leopard populations in southern Africa declining at alarming rates, Furs For Life was formed in 2013 after Panthera scientists discovered that as many as 15,000 illegal leopard fur capes were being used by followers of the Nazareth Baptist Shembe Church during religious gatherings.
In six years, Furs For Life has donated more than 18,500 synthetic leopard fur capes to the Shembe community in South Africa, decreasing the use of real leopard furs at religious gatherings by half and preventing hundreds of leopard deaths each year.
Panthera Leopard Program Director and Conservation Science Deputy Director
The roll out of the Heritage Furs to the Lozi people offers a lifeline to leopards in Zambia and beyond. Innovative solutions such as this, that garner local support and can be implemented at scale, are needed to turn the tide for a species in desperate need of increased conservation attention.
Leopard Threats and Conservation
The leopard is likely the most persecuted large cat in the world. Extinct in six countries and possibly extinct in six more, leopards have vanished from at least 49 percent of their historic range in Africa. Many communities across Africa believe that the leopard’s enviable qualities, including strength, grace and stealth, are transferable to those wearing their furs. As a result, illegal killing of leopards is devastating the big cat’s populations across Africa, alongside bushmeat poaching, conflict with people, habitat loss and unsustainable trophy hunting operations.
Panthera’s scientists are dedicated to understanding where sustainable leopard populations currently exist or can be rebuilt, and implementing conservation actions to reduce leopard killings. In 2018, our Leopard Surveillance Network was adopted by CITES-CMS as the blueprint for monitoring and managing leopards in the KAZA region of Southern Africa. Also in 2018, Panthera kicked off a new project to genetically map all existing leopard populations, starting in Gabon. Our goal is to identify populations most targeted for trade and direct law enforcement to those areas to prevent further poaching.
Digital designers create replica leopard furs for ceremonial wear in southern Africa
LIVE: Panthera’s Synthetic Heritage Furs Replace Real Wild Cat Furs