Plan to save KZN leopards

2011-10-20 00:00

CONSERVATIONIST and Hluhluwe leopard researcher Tristan Dickerson has appealed for support from communities to make his fake leopard skin project a success.

Since setting up a factory in Pietermaritzburg Dickerson has sold at least six fake skins so far.

Dickerson started the project about two years ago after realising that the number of leopards in the province is declining rapidly amid increasing demand.

He said leopards are at risk of extinction in the province because of growing demand for leopard skins by members of the royal household and some religious denominations, mainly the Shembe church.

Dickerson said, “I would love to have the Shembe church as stakeholders in the project given their population and the fact that they use the skins for traditional attire.

“Last year I tried to engage their then executive committee, which is no longer in place due to the court battle.”

He was referring to feuding between factions over the leadership of the church, which has an estimated four million followers.

“The royal household will also be welcomed to support the project, which would produce affordable skins that are acceptable to them,” said Dickerson.

On the website www.toskinacat.com, Dickerson is quoted as saying it costs between R6 000 and R7 000 for the shoulder garments and other accoutrements worn by Shembe followers.

“People I have spoken to are embarrassed that they don’t have one of these. “Basically I would be producing the equivalent of a fake Rolex; if it is a good copy it will solve the social thing,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Zulu royal household, Prince Mbonisi Zulu, said the royal family would never agree to use fake leopard skins.

However, he added, “We will arrange for a delegation of local amakhosi near Pietermaritzburg to go and have a look at the factory and its produce. “Once that is done we will then inform the king [Goodwill Zwelithini] about this project …”

Vela Shembe of the Thembe­zinhle faction of the Shembe church, said they have not been approached or informed about the project, and he cannot comment.

“We can only comment intelligently once we sit down with the project officials and talk about the spin-offs,” said Shembe.

• chris.ndaliso@witness.co.za

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