The idiom A leopard cannot change its spots means that a person’s nature cannot change. However, the story of how Shembe Church members are changing their leopard skin ceremonial dress belies this idea.
The Shembe Church, which is a mixture of Christianity and Zulu culture, is one of the biggest traditional religious groups in South Africa with around 5 million members.
Leopards are considered a symbol of pride, beauty and wealth.
Leopard skins are viewed as essential attire for church goers.
Thousands of leopards are slaughtered for their skins.
If this continues, Africa’s leopards, already listed as “near threatened” by the International Union Conservation of Nature (IUCN), will become extinct.
Thanks to the Furs for Life project run by a conservation group, Panthera, more than 6 000 faux leopard fur skins were donated to the Shembe. These are excellent replicas of the real skin with its distinctive pattern.
Lizwi Ncwane an elder of the Shembe church totally supports this project but acknowledges the difficulties in getting all the church members on board. He explains,”Some people are ignorant about the conservation of a species”. They want authentic leopard skins.
Despite this, the fact that some people are even willing to consider alternatives is remarkable and shows that attitudes can change.
As another saying goes, Where there is a will there is a way.
Dedicated to all nonhuman animals who live and die in captivity!