Fake it till you save it? Synthetic animal parts pose a conservation conundrum

Fake it till you save it? Synthetic animal parts pose a conservation conundrum

Twice a year, thousands of members of South Africa’s Nazareth Baptist Church clothe themselves in spots and walk to their holy grounds in KwaZulu-Natal province to take up a dance. Following the swell of horns and the pounding of a drum, more than 1,500 male dancers move together, their stamping feet and upraised arms swinging in perfect sync. On each dancer’s shoulders hangs an amambatha: a fur cape covered in dazzling leopard spots. They tie these dancers to Zulu royalty and chiefs, who have worn the capes for generations. Despite their ancient origins, many amambatha now have a modern update: increasingly, dancers’ furs are made from plastic, pleather, and vinyl. They were developed in collaboration with Furs for Life, a project of the global wild cat conservation organization Panthera. “The wearing of amambatha signifies the power and pride brought by the beauty of the cat,” Lizwi Ncwane, a Shembe elder, told Mongabay. However, in recent years, the church was made aware of significant local declines in leopard species. “All members are alive to the fact that there is a need to contribute to the conservation of the cat,” Ncwane said. “In so doing the teachings of the founder of the Church that we shall care about all species is upheld.” Shembe dancers in January 2018, all wearing synthetic amambatha. Image by Gareth Whittington-Jones/Panthera. According to Jeffrey Dunnick, the Furs for Life project coordinator, about half of the dancers at Shembe gatherings now wear a synthetic amambatha. The synthetic garments are…This article was originally published on Mongabay

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