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South African Zulus asked to ditch traditional leopard pelts for animal's sake

Conservationists are urging Zulu people in South Africa to replace real leopard pelts used in ceremonies with fake ones in order to conserve the diminishing leopard population, NBC Chicago reports.

Tristan Dickerson, a South African leopard conservationist, is leading the movement to modify this Zulu tradition in a way that is in the animals' best interest. The Zulu tribe is largely associated with the Nazareth Baptist Church in the country, an organization that is five million strong and includes members such as President Jacob Zuma, who encourages people to wear the real thing.

Dickerson is planning on meeting with representatives of the church to finalize the terms of a package to start making and marketing a fake version of the textile to Zulus, The Independent reports.

Using digital photography and imaging, Dickerson says he has produced an exact replica of what a natural leopard skin would look like.

"We are aware that we cannot keep killing this animal, and yet we cannot stop using leopard skins," Mkululeko Mthathwe, a spokesman for the Nazareth Baptist Church, told the news source. "[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." 
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