The image of a proud Zulu man wearing an animal skin is something that most South Africans are quite used to and wouldn’t really think twice about, but maybe it’s time that we did. The congregation of the Nazareth Baptist Church, commonly known as Shembes, use leopard skins in their ceremonies, which might have been acceptable when their numbers were small, but with close to five million Shembe followers, the demand for leopard skins now far outstrips the supply, putting one of Africa’s Big Five under serious threat from poachers. That was until South African zoologist, Tristan Dickerson, came along with a bright idea to save these great cats. Using digital photography and imaging, Dickerson has produced a replica of what a natural leopard skin would look like, and through negotiations with church leaders has managed to convince the Shembe people to try out this environmentally-friendly version of a leopard skin. It’s a great solution that allows the Shembes to continue respecting their tradition, while protecting these beautiful creatures and ensuring that their numbers stay at an acceptable level.
Click here to watch the trailer for To Skin a Cat, a documentary that follows the journey of Tristan Dickerson as he sets about trying to save one of South Africa’s greatest natural assets.