AboutZoos, Since 2008


To Skin a Cat – about leop­ard con­ser­va­tion in South Africa

pub­lished 10 July 2011 | mod­i­fied 10 July 2011

A leop­ard con­ser­va­tion­ist starts a career in fash­ion to save South Africa’s remain­ing 4,000 leop­ards from being killed for their skins. Tris­tan Dick­er­son, who works for Pan­thera thinks that fake fur will make the dif­fer­ence in leop­ard con­ser­va­tion. He dis­cov­ered that one of the main threats to the leop­ard pop­u­la­tion in South Africa was due to poach­ing for leop­ard skin, which is accom­pa­nied by ille­gal skin trade, used as cer­e­mo­nial attire for the Shembe church.

This Nazareth Bap­tist chuch is only 100 years old, but already got four mil­lion fol­low­ers. This chuch picked up the Zulu tra­di­tion of wear­ing leop­ard skin. It is a well-​known fact that in this South African tribe cul­ture chief­tains used to dress-​up in leop­ard skin, but Dick­er­son became aware of this major con­ser­va­tion blindspot regard­ing the Shembe church when invited to attend a gath­er­ing of this church in Dur­ban. In one sit­ting he noticed 600 leop­ard skins.

For­tu­nately, authen­tic leop­ard furs are costly, and beyond the means of many Shembe fol­low­ers. There­fore, the poor will dress them­selves in cheap Chi­nese imi­ta­tions. As you might expect from a leop­ard con­ser­va­tion­ist who, in this world of var­i­ous threats to his beloved ani­mal, must be cre­ative and think of novel solu­tions to reach his goal, he came up with an unusual, inno­v­a­tive and diplo­matic idea. Why not make high-​quality, afford­able fake fur acces­si­ble to Shembe fol­low­ers? When not only the poor will adapt to this fash­ion, but the whole con­gre­ga­tion, this will reduce the need for real leop­ard furs.

In the doc­u­men­tary To Skin a Cat Dickerson’s jour­ney towards sav­ing endan­gered leop­ards by pro­duc­ing fake leop­ard skins is fea­tured. With his first furs due in July 2011, time will tell whether Dick­er­son can con­vince the Shembe church and its fol­low­ers to change their habits.

So, To Skin a Cat is the story of one man fight­ing against the odds and think­ing out of the box to save the big cat he loves. To pro­duce the doc­u­men­tary dona­tions are still required.

Watch the trailer of To Skin a Cat

(Source: web­site Pan­thera; web­site Mail&Guardian200 Young South Africans; web­site To Skin a Cat)

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