Zulu church embraces fake fur to protect leopards

2014-02-19 08:34

((AFP))

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

kalahari.com

Durban - Carrying Zulu warrior shields and draped in leopard skins, the men of South Africa's Shembe Church move hypnotically as they go through the steps of a traditional religious ritual.

But the striking spotted pelts around the dancers' chests are slowly being swapped for synthetic faux fur - thanks to a pact between conservationists and church leaders.

Leopard skins are a symbol of pride and royalty in the Shembe religion, which was founded a century ago in the country's eastern KwaZulu-Natal region with roots in Christianity and Zulu customs.

However, with the big cat populations threatened by loss of habitat and poaching, Shembe leaders have backed a cheaper and predator-friendly alternative that still upholds tradition.

"The leopard skin has got a significance because it shows power," said Lizwi Ncwane, spokesperson for the church officially known as the Nazareth Baptist Church.

Expensive skins

"For the past four months now, we have been using fake skins because we are trying to bring awareness among our people," he said.

Boasting more than five million members, tens of thousands of faithful flock to a special service every January where older men move to the rhythmic sound of drumbeats and low trumpets.

"That is the way we worship God, we worship through prayers as well as dances," said Ncwane.

But participants must wear the colourful ceremonial dress, which includes a loin cloth of monkey tails, a leopard skin belt, elaborate headgear with ostrich feathers and above all a cape of leopard skin slung across their naked chests.

"It represents being the king," explained mineworker Sphiwe Cele, who said he paid R4 500 for his legally-hunted authentic leopard skin - a fortune for the average South African.

"Of course we are not the king of the Zulu, but Shembe said we are the kings of our homes, so we must wear this today when we go to the traditional gathering," he added.

In a country where leopard hunting permits are only affordable for the very rich or foreign tourists, conservation groups dispute that the trophies worn at Shembe gatherings are legal.

"This is the biggest display of illegal wildlife contraband on earth," said Guy Balme, Africa leopard programme director with US-based conservation group Panthera.

Authentic-looking

"Everything you see here is totally illegal," he said at one of the dances as music rang out in the background.

Most of the skins come from poachers in South Africa and neighbouring Mozambique, Zimbabwe and nearby Malawi, he said.

Listed as "near threatened" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, leopards number between 5 000 and 7 000 in South Africa today, according to conservation group Landmarks Foundation director Bool Smuts.

"They certainly are on a distinct decline," he said, cautioning that no official figures exist.

To stem poaching, Panthera in recent years has worked to develop authentic-looking fake leopard skins and to convince the Shembe to use them.

Some less well-off dancers were already wearing a form of fake fur with cow and impala skins painted with leopard spots, said leopard programme coordinator Tristan Dickerson.

"So I thought, 'Well if I came up with a realistic version, maybe we can introduce it to the church'," said Dickerson.

The fabric is produced in China, then shipped to Durban where it is sewn into the final product.

"It has taken four years to get to the point where we are now, where they are accepting the furs and they are using them," said Dickerson.

Church initiative

Panthera aims to distribute 6 000 mantles by mid-2014 - free for now - and has already given out a third of that.

About 10% of members' furs are now estimated to be fake, since the church threw its weight behind the initiative.

Donning his own synthetic leopard fur, spokesperson Ncwane suggests that up to 70% of dancers will have given up real skins within two years.

Later, loin cloths, bracelets and belts will follow, costing much less than the full natural fur regalia which costs up to R15 000.

"It has become a kind of a trend," said Panthera volunteer John Smith.

"At the beginning, some were very rude and told me they didn't need those needless blankets. It was then endorsed by the church."
Read more on:    animals
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
5 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Africa
 

Device lets disabled people talk through their nose

A device that converts nose breaths into speech will open new doors for people with Parkinson’s or motor neuron disease.

 
 

For chic geeks...

It’s THIS easy for someone to steal your ATM pin!
This is why you should install iOS 8
17 photo illusions that look so real
Check out the speed of this robo-cheetah!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Pre-order your iPhone 6 at kalahari.com

Hurry and pre-order your own iPhone 6 now at SA’s favourite online store!

Bargain box – 60% off

Reduced prices, very limited stock. While stocks last. Hurry and shop now!

Mind blow low prices on electronics

Get either the Prestigio multiphone or Proline tablet 7” tablet for only R699. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off Barbie toys

Save 30% on all Barbie toys and accessories. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Baby extravanganza month at kalahari.com

Celebrate baby month with a wide range of awesome baby products. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Don`t judge so quickly or expect too much, be more accepting and understanding and make space for fun and spontaneity. ...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.