IN an attempt to reduce the number of leopards killed for the making of ceremonial attire of Shembe church members, an agreement has been reached to use fake leopard skins.
They have agreed to this in the interest of preserving South Africa’s leopard population.
This innovative animal conservation initiative, designed to protect a species threatened with extinction, while at the same time maintaining a long-time South African tradition, was put together by US-based organisation, Panthera, whom logistics company DHL partnered with as part of its corporate- responsibility programme, DHL spokesperson Anita Gupta said in a statement.
Shembe elder and legal adviser Lizwi Ncwane said he had experienced first-hand how receptive his community was to the fake skins.
‘Not only do they look and feel like real leopard skins, they also last longer,’ he said.
‘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.’
Panthera focuses on saving wild cat species worldwide.
Panthera president Luke Hunter said 2 000 skins had already been shipped to the country.
‘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.
Leopard skins had become customary ceremonial attire worn by the over five million members of the Shembe church. The skins were used as ceremonial and religious dress by Zulu royalty and chiefs, symbolising beauty, power and prestige. -
Over 1 000 skins were worn at a single Shembe gathering.
‘Although many skins are old and are passed down from generation to generation, many new ones are a result of poaching, leading to shrinking leopard numbers,’ Gupta said.