One of Africa’s iconic animals may be hunted to extinction by an emerging religion that honors them, CNN reports.
The Church elders of the Nazareth Baptist Church, also known as the Shembe, wear leopard skins as part of their rituals. A mixture of Christianity and traditional Zulu practice, the church has attracted some five million followers in South Africa and is growing quickly.
Thousands of leopard skins are sold openly at Shembe gatherings each year, despite it being a protected species. Leopards are already designated as “near threatened,” meaning they could be threatened with extinction in the near future.
The leopard is also hunted by people seeking trophies or wanting to use its body parts for traditional medicine.
Now conservationists are trying to get the Shembe devout to wear fake leopard skin imported from China rather than killing the animal they admire as a symbol of pride and status. While the church elders see how their faith’s growing popularity is threatening the leopard, so far they have not been convinced to make the switch to fake fur.
[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]