DHL and Panthera partner to conserve South Africa's leopards

November 21st, 2013
DHL, the world's leading logistics company, has entered into an agreement with Panthera, the world's leading big-cat conservation organization, through the Furs For Life Leopard Project to ship faux leopard furs to Africa to help protect this endangered species whose fur is ceremonially worn by followers of the Shembe community in South Africa. On behalf of Panthera, DHL will be shipping on a pro bono basis faux leopard skins from manufacturers in China to South Africa, under a contract that extends to May 2015.

Charles Brewer, Managing Director of DHL Express Sub-Saharan Africa said, "Conservation is a major issue in Africa, and for DHL also in this part of the world. There is a lot of passion for the 'big five' African animals – elephant, rhinoceros, lion, Cape buffalo and leopard – and elephants and rhinos get a lot of attention. However, there are many endangered species such as the leopard that get little publicity or support."

This innovative animal conservation initiative - designed to protect a species threatened with extinction while at the same time maintaining a long-time South African tradition - was put together by US-based organization, Panthera, whom DHL partnered with as part of its corporate responsibility program. Under the contract, DHL will provide logistics support on a complimentary basis, thereby defraying costs associated with international shipping and distribution to Shembe members in Africa.

Brewer continued, "Panthera's initiative is fantastic and innovative – it respects human culture and traditions as well as the conservation of a magnificent animal – and so we are providing our logistics expertise and raising awareness of a complex issue through our own network and resources. This partnership between Panthera and DHL is a natural fit, as Panthera's big cat expertise combined with DHL's global reach is a winning solution for conservation."

Leopard fur has become customary ceremonial attire worn by the over five-million strong members of the Shembe church, which is part of the vibrant cultural landscape of South Africa for over 100 years. Previously worn by Zulu royalty and chiefs, the leopard furs, or amambatha as they are referred to locally, form a ceremonial, religious dress that symbolizes beauty, power and prestige. These amambatha are now desired by a growing number of male Shembe followers. At a single Shembe gathering, over 1,000 leopard skins are worn by members. Although many skins are old and are passed down from generation to generation, many new ones are a result of poaching, leading to shrinking leopard numbers.

Dr. Luke Hunter, President of Panthera, said, "By the end of this year, over 4000 faux leopard amambatha or traditional shoulder capes will have been shipped by DHL for our project. The Shembe have shown they are willing to embrace the use of our high-quality alternatives to real leopard skin – that translates to over 2,000 leopards saved from poachers. We could only have made such major strides in conserving the magnificent leopard with the cooperation of the Shembe and the support of DHL."

DHL is active in supporting animal conservation projects all over Africa from the movement of rhinos to Tanzania and gorillas to Gabon, as well as supporting other local causes, including an orphaned elephant, Mr Brrr.

Shembe elder and legal advisor, Lizwi Ncwane, stated, "As a leader of the Shembe community, I have seen firsthand how receptive my community is to using these fake skins. Not only do they look and feel like real leopard skins, they also last longer. We're grateful that Panthera has worked with us in finding a solution that interweaves the conservation of leopards with the customs of the Shembe."

Panthera has been working with Shembe leadership to educate its members about the leopard crisis across Southern Africa and has worked with digital designers and clothing companies to create a high-quality, affordable faux leopard skin for use in ceremonies. Panthera's project, which has won the support of Shembe leaders, has been praised by CNN and National Geographic, as an innovative conservation solution that respects local cultural practices.

Provided by Panthera

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