The leopard, an emblematic species of Africa, is revered around the world for its gorgeous spotted coat. Tragically, leopard have vanished from at least 49% of their historic range in Africa.
Contributing greatly to this demise, is the use of leopard, and other wild cat, skins in traditional and religious ceremonies by various cultural groups throughout southern Africa.
We have joined forces with Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organisation, in a partnership to protect and revive southern Africa’s leopard populations. Supported by Cartier, PPF and Panthera are implementing two leopard protection projects:
Furs for Life, South Africa
In South Africa, leopard skins are coveted by members of the Nazareth Baptist ‘Shembe’ Church who wear the furs during religious celebrations and ceremonies. To reduce the high demand for leopard furs among the Shembe community, Panthera collaborated with digital designers and clothing companies to create a high-quality, durable and realistic fabric cape, known as an amambatha. Respecting the cultural traditions of the Shembe, Panthera and Peace Parks Foundation collaborated with church leaders to encourage their members to use these fabric capes at religious ceremonies.
As a leader of the Shembe community, I have seen firsthand how receptive my community is to using these fake skins. Not only do they look and feel like real leopard skins, they also 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.
Lizwi Ncwane, Shembe elder and legal adviser
Other initiatives supported through the Furs for Life project included:
- facilitating increased enforcement of laws regulating possession and trade of leopard skins in southern Africa;
- installing extensive leopard monitoring camera trap systems;
- training and equipping local wildlife rangers to initiate leopard population surveys at key sites in South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland; and
- establishing a conservation education programme among Shembe communities in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Since 2013, the Furs for Life project has distributed a total of 17 602 Amambatha, with a recorded ratio of one Panthera Amambatha worn for every real leopard skin cape worn at the most recent gathering.
The To Skin a Cat full length documentary produced by Scholars and Gentlemen – that tells the story of the origins of the Furs for Life project – has been screened at various local and international film festival, palming numerous accolades such as a 2017 SAFTA for best director, and Best Wildlife Crime Film at the 2017 Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York!
Saving Spots, Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area
Building on the success of Furs for Life in South Africa, and through continued support from Peace Parks Foundation and Cartier, the same concept will now be extended to other cultural groups that use leopard skins as part of traditional ceremonies, beginning with the Lozi in south-western Zambia. The Lozi, like the Shembe, wear leopard skins, together with the skins of many other wild cats, as a symbol of prestige – albeit as traditional skirts and not capes.
In addition, Saving Spots will focus on conducting extensive leopard population research to fill the gap of knowledge that currently exists on leopard populations in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area that spans protected space in Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This will enable conservation authorities in the region to make more informed decisions about leopard management policies and practises.