Southern Africas leopard populations are on the decrease. In fact, leopards, bar the recent spree in rhino poaching, are the only one of the big five whose numbers are on the decrease. One of, if not the, primary cause of this is the gigantic demand for leopard skins created by the Nazareth Baptist (Shembe) church, which use the skins as part of their religious/traditional dance. Twice a year, thousands of men gather in leopard skins to dance at the holy village in Inanda. While the Shembe have a profound respect and love of the leopard, their adoration is ironically creating a crisis for the big cat.
The practice is now so wide spread and commonly accepted (Shembe numbers are currently over 4 million) that the law is completely ineffectual in dealing with this massive trade in a protected species. At the center of this film is the simple but powerful question, one that will constantly be returned to throughout the narrative: how do you strike a compromise between culture and conservation when the two seem to be at odds with one another?
The solution to this crisis will have to be an alternative one. Enter Tristan Dickerson, a leopard researcher based in Phinda Resource Reserve, and his (potentially) leopard saving idea. On visits to Shembe church gatherings Dickerson has noticed that certain members of the church wear fake furs. These are poor leopard print knock offs, or otherwise goat or springbok fur painted over with black spots. Men, and children wear these cheap skins until they can afford the real thing, which costs almost R3000. Dickerson believes that if he could offer the Shembe a high quality fake fur at a reasonable price, he could radically reduce the demand for the real thing. If, on top of the fake fur, he could gain the understanding and support of the The Shembe (the powerful leader of the church), Dickerson may be able to turn the tide in favour of the leopard.