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.

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Dr. Luke Hunter, Panthera’s President, established the Panthera’s Munyawana Leopard Project in Phinda Private Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Tristan Dickerson heads up the project.

Panthera has brought together the world’s leading wild cat experts to direct and implement effective conservation strategies for the world’s largest and most endangered cats: tigers, lions, jaguars and snow leopards. Their approach to wild cat conservation is rooted in science and based upon decades of first hand field experience.

Panthera seeks a future in which the world's 37 wild cat species have the necessary and ongoing protection from human and environmental threats to persist and thrive in the wild. Their vision sees endangered wild cat populations rebounded, critical habitats and core populations connected by genetic and biological corridors, and a global commitment to protect these iconic species through near and distant futures.


WESSA, The Wildlife and Environment Society of SA, is a membership-based environmental organization that promotes public participation in caring for the Earth.

WESSA have endorsed the To Skin a Cat campaign and administer an account on our behalf. Wessa offers full financial transparency and annual audits, and all donors will be issued with Section 18 certificates on the behalf of WESSA.

&Beyond Africa

&Beyond was established alongside rising international demand for ecotourism and wilderness experiences, and in the belief that, through business enterprise, wildlife conservation could be placed on a sustainable economic footing.

Panthera’s Munyawana Leopard Project is situated in &Beyond’s Phinda Private Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.



Watch a selection of videos featuring interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, trailers and more. We plan to release a constant stream of footage during the production of the film to keep you up to date with the film.
→ Watch the Trailer

About Us

Read more about the filmmakers, the story, lead characters, synopsis and what inspired the documentary To Skin A Cat. You can also read FAQs about the film and how you can contribute to the making of the Film.
→ Read about the Film


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