A Leopard in Jeopardy
1. The status of the Zanzibar leopard
The Zanzibar leopard is a little known and possibly endemic subspecies found onUnguja Island, Zanzibar.
2. Current distribution
The current status of the Zanzibar leopard is controversial. Some authorities claimthat it is extinct. However, on the basis of recent interviews with a wide array ofinformants and the examination of hunting records, this study suggests that thoughon the brink of extinction, a small population of leopards remains extant.
Laws imposed during the British colonial era offered leopards and other wildlifesome measure of protection. Though such legislation has never been explicitlycontravened during post-colonial decades, the government of Zanzibar hasencouraged the extermination of the Zanzibar leopard, because it is defined as"vermin" and because of its association with witchcraft.
4. Leopard-keeping and witchcraft
It is a pervasive Zanzibari belief that some leopards are kept by witches, oftenorganised into "clubs," who magically control the leopards and use them to carry outevil errands. Motivations for leopard keeping by witches include:• to terrorise others, chiefly in order to gain "respect"• to get chickens, goats, and other foods• to guard wealth• to profit from stud fees and the sale of cubsThe beliefs that kept leopards are magically protected and that leopard-keepersretaliate against leopard hunters seems to have prevented some hunters from killingleopards; at the very least it has resulted in an under-reporting of leopard killings.Leopards are associated with some "sacred sites," another aspect of the role ofleopards in the local belief system.The authors argue that there is no real evidence for leopard keeping. We maintainthat leopards cannot be controlled through magical means.
5. Other reasons for killing leopards
Though there is some fear of retaliation by leopard keepers, Zanzibari hunters do killleopards, mainly to profit from the sale of skins and other leopard parts.