To Skin A Cat: Southern Africa’s Leopards In Peril by Gerhard Damm According to Bandile Mkhize, chief executive of, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, leopard skin regalia are traditionally reserved for chiefs but apparently now many members of the Shemba Church want them. Kings and chiefs, including President Jacob Zuma, are required to follow certain procedures and obtain permits if they wanted to wear the pelts of protected species. Each year, massive numbers of skins are procured by members of the Shembe Nazareth Baptist church for traditional ceremonies; most of these leopard pelts apparently are supplied through muti traders without permits. The church, only 100 years old, is deeply rooted in the Zulu culture. A witness who attended several Shembe events saw more than 2,000 members wearing real leopard skins Enoch Mthembu, the spokesperson for the Shembe church, sees nothing wrong with muti traders supplying church members. “God gave us the environment and control over the animals. We wear leopard skins to worship God, not to enrich ourselves,” he said according to an article by Fiona McLeod. The Shembes wear leopard regalia for dancing ceremonies, not for traditional purposes in the manner of Zulu nobility, he said. “It’s wrong to point fingers at the Shembe; this is part of our culture.” The religion, with an estimated 4.5-million followers, is based on reverence for nature and uses various animal skins for positive, peaceful purposes, Mthembu said. A ceremonial outfit made of leopard skin, which includes an apron, headdress and armbands, costs more than R6,000. Local leopard researchers said they respected the church’s traditional practices and that there is a need to win over Shembe Church leaders to protect Southern Africa’s leopard populations. Experts are exploring solutions which would not trample the Shembe’s traditional practices. “The approach has always been to find a solution-based approach and the strongest tradition that we have come up with is to produce a high quality fake fur at a reasonable price, which would then take the demand off people having to own the real thing,” said Greg Lomas, who is part of a team filming a documentary called To Skin a Cat. For more on this project visit www.toskinacat.org.