In southern 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 hunting of leopards and 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.
Says Lizwi Ncwane, an elder and legal adviser of the Nazareth Baptist 'Shembe' Church: "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."
- A total of 17 602 amambatha (fabric capes) were distributed among Shembe followers since the project’s inception;
- An educational video was shown to over 200 schoolchildren in northern Zululand;
- The numbers of Shembe dancers wearing amambatha has been greater than the numbers wearing real leopard skins at several gatherings, an encouraging sign that the fabric capes are successfully reducing the demand for leopard skins;
- Camera-trap surveys were undertaken at 10 sites in the Lubombo TFCA, and at 24 sites across South Africa;
- Increases in leopard density were recorded at several sites in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo province;
- The Camera CATalogue citizen science initiative successfully launched;
- 1 100 leopard DNA samples were collected across southern Africa, with preliminary findings of the genetic forensics study presented at CITES 17th Conference of Parties; and
- The moratorium on leopard trophy hunting in South Africa was maintained in 2017.
Extending a lifeline to Zambia's leopards
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 as a symbol of prestige. The actual number of leopard skins worn by the Lozi is yet to be determined, but comparisons between counts conducted at Lozi and Shembe gatherings suggest that it may run into the hundreds to thousands. The same factors that influenced the success of the Shembe project are also present in Zambia, so lessons learned from that project will go a long way in promoting its impact, ultimately contributing to ensuring the survival of leopards for future generations.
Read more about Panthera's #IFAKEIT social media campaign to raise awareness for one of fashion's most revered but underrepresented icons - the leopard - here.