Shembe followers change their spots

2013-08-04 22:04

(File, AFP)

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Mbombela - The Shembe church in KwaZulu-Natal has welcomed the donation of 4 500 fake leopard fur, which is aimed at lowering the illegal hunting and killing of leopards for their skins.

The donation was handed over to the Zulu church's leadership at the annual July Pilgrimage in the holy village of Ebuhleni near Inanda.

"A survey done in July had very positive results on two grounds. Firstly, the manner in which the skin is made matches the real thing almost exactly, while the fake skins also last longer," said Lizwe Mswane, a Shembe member and legal advisory.

Mswane added that the idea of fake furs had not yet been fully embraced by the Shembe leadership, but that the concept could save the leopard species.

“This will give an answer to the challenge we face with balancing conservation of leopards with our customs."

"The way we understand our denomination, they are all very keen to protect the species."

"From the excitement I saw on the faces of the people who received the skins, I definitely see this as something that will work," Mswane said.

The skins were received by 50 Shembe dancers from scientist Tristan Dickerson, who has been working to halt the illegal hunting of the threatened cats.

"The furs were accepted by all we spoke to. We have an open communication with the church in order to formalise a way whereby we can conserve tradition, culture and religion whilst conserving leopards," Dickerson said.

"Hopefully this is an example to the rest of the world."

Previously a symbol of Zulu royalty, leopard skins have become customary ceremonial attire for the Shembe Church’s four million followers. Illegal hunting of the animals in KwaZulu-Natal has seen the province’s population crash to an estimated 500 individuals.

During Shembe gatherings, trade in skins is done openly with no law enforcement, and full hides sell for up to R6 000.

Using digital photography and imaging, Dickerson managed to produce an exact synthetic replica of a leopard skin, and a bulk order was subsequently placed for mass production of the material in China.

The skins are then fashioned into the final product by South African company Furs for Life.
Read more on:    durban  |  animals

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