Ask anyone in South Africa if they’re aware of the problems with rhinos being poached, and you’re likely to get an emphatic ‘yes’, but question the same people about leopards, and you’ll probably get more of a non-committal answer. While these cats aren’t being targeted at the same rate as rhinos, they are unfortunately in danger of being added to the list of ‘vulnerable’ animals, which means that they could become endangered if the circumstances threatening their survival don’t improve. One of the large contributing factors to the poaching of leopards is the use of them in Shembe ceremonies, where church elders wear the cat skins around their necks. Animal skins have always formed a part of African ceremonies, but as membership of the Shembe church continues to grow at a rapid rate (some sources say there are as many as seven million Shembe followers), the issue of the leopard’s survival is becoming a very real problem.
To address this worrying situation Panthera, in collaboration with leaders of the Shembe church, have come up with an ingenious solution—realistic fake skins, which not only last much longer than real skins, but are also a fraction of the cost. The process of negotiations with the church, and the development of the fake skins, is a project that’s been years in the making. Local filmmakers, Greg Lomas and Colwyn Thomas, have tracked the progress of this story in the documentary, To Skin a Cat, which has its world premier at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) this month.
Go to the DIFF website to see details of where and when To Skin a Cat will be screened. A local story, with international relevance, which shows how alive culture is as it adapts and moves with the times.