African National Congress president Jacob Zuma wears real leopard fur as he takes part in Heritage Day celebrations in honor of former Zulu King Shaka in Stanger, South Africa.
South Africa's Zulu tribe is being urged to shed its customary leopard-skin garb for fake pelts in a bid to save the endangered animals.
Zulus, who are largely associated with the five-million-strong Nazareth Baptist Church are encouraged to wear the real thing by leaders such as South Africa President Jacob Zuma, according to Tristan Dickerson, a conservationist who studies leopards and is offering a fake version of the fur.
"I have used digital photography and imaging to produce an exact synthetic replica of a leopard-skin stole with all the dots in the right place," he told The Independent.
Church leaders seemed receptive to the idea.
"We are aware that we cannot keep killing this animal, and yet we cannot stop using leopard skins," said Mkululeko Mthathwe, a spokesman for the Nazareth Baptist Church. "[The synthetic fur] seems to be a good solution. Our church has grown phenomenally and it is true that nature cannot keep up with the demand from our followers."
No one knows how many leopards remain in Africa, but Dickerson says reasonable estimates place the population at under 4,000. Dickerson says the fake fur will boost the textile industry, provide a cheaper alternative to poached pelts and help save a species.