To Skin a Cat is a documentary film about one man’s mission to halt the alarming decline in southern Africa’s leopard populations due to a widespread skin trade.
Traditionally, only the Zulu royals have been allowed to wear leopard skins. However, in the last three decades the Shembe Church, a four million strong religious group, has adopted the skins into their ceremonial costume. The demand for leopard skins is now astronomical. Because the use of skins is so wide spread and culturally entrenched, law enforcement seems helpless to police this trade in a protected species. It has become, in one researchers words, ‘a major conservation blindspot’.
Leopard researcher Tristan Dickerson believes that you can’t save the leopard without the support of the Shembe people. The film follows Dickerson as he travels from the heart of leopard country to the heart of Shembe and Zulu culture in an effort to discover a solution that benefits all parties. His best solution turns out to be fake fur. Bad fakes are commonly used by church members while they save for the expensive real thing. Dickerson believes that if he can produce a high quality, affordable fake fur, and gain the endorsement of the powerful leader of the Church he can turn the tables in favor of the leopard.
The film has screened in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town & Tasmania. It is currently working its way through a circuit of Film Festival’s.