Panthera’s Leopard Program Is Saving Lives
Two years ago we wrote about a new idea to help save the wild leopard, one of the world’s most persecuted big cats. The beautiful fur of the leopard is highly sought after and to make matters worse, today the demand for leopard skin is increasing among members of South Africa’s Shembe Baptist Church, which has adopted the Zulu practice of wearing spotted cat fur, mostly leopard, during religious celebrations. Even though trade in leopard skins is illegal in South Africa, the Shembe’s estimated 5 million members were spreading the practice.
Tristan Dickerson, Panthera’s Leopard Program Coordinator visited several Shembe gatherings to research the amount of leopard skins being used at these events. It was estimated that nearly 1,000 leopard skins were either worn or being sold at just one of the gatherings that he attended.
Tristan spent a year working with designers and clothing companies to create high quality and affordable fake leopard skins, which he presented at Shembe gatherings. At one event, there was a large number of fake leopard skins being worn by children and elders, and this was a sign of hope for Africa’s leopard populations.
If you are interested, here is a short video with more details of Tristan’s important work:
Two Years Later, Shembe Agrees to Use Fake Leopard Skins
Thanks to Panthera’s innovative program, an agreement has been reached. In an effort to reduce the number of leopards killed for making ceremonial attire of the members, the Shembe church has agreed to use fake leopard skins, thus helping to preserve South Africa’s leopard population.
Panthera developed the program to protect the leopard but also respect a long-time South African Shembe tradition. Panthera partnered with DHL, the logistics company, as part of its corporate responsibility program.
Shembe elder and legal adviser Lizwi Ncwane said that the community was receptive to the fake skins.
“Not only do they look and feel like real leopard skins, they last longer. We’re grateful that Panthera has worked with us in finding a solution that interweaves the conservation of leopards with the customs of the Shembe.”
According to Luke Hunter, Panthera president, 2,000 skins have already been shipped to the country. Hunter said;
“The Shembe have shown they are willing to embrace the use of our high-quality alternatives to real leopard skin- that translates to 2,000 leopards saved from poachers.”
Good News for the Big Cat!
Panthera’s mission is to ensure the future of wild cats through scientific leadership and global conservation action. This successful program to save leopards is just one of many programs designed to protect the world’s endangered wild cats. Good news for leopards and for all of us that care about all cats big and small.
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