Nimeona kisutu, mwenye kisutu sijamwona

Sunday, 22 November 2009


Tourist guides and internet sites frequently describe the Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi) as "elusive". Much the same can be said of specimens of this rare and possibly extinct island endemic. When we starting working together in 1996 we knew of the existence of four museum specimens. In the course of investigating these we discovered another two, bringing the total to six. There are three specimens, including the type, in the Natural History Museum in London, two in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a single mounted skin in the Zanzibar Museum. In Autumn 2008 we published an article in the Newsletter of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group outlining what we know about each of the museum specimens and their provenance (Martin Walsh and Helle Goldman, 'Updating the Inventory of Zanzibar Leopard Specimens', CAT News, 49: 4-6). We also included a section on material to be found (and lost!) outside of museums, and this is reproduced below:

"All of the museum specimens that we have identified were collected in the first half of the 20th century, during the British colonial period. We know that significant numbers of leopards were killed in the second half of the century, many of them in a government-sanctioned campaign of leopard extermination that began after the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 (Walsh & Goldman 2007). What happened to all of the skins? In the 1970s at least some of them were delivered to the state shoe factory, which processed hides and skins (Halsted 1979), but their ultimate destination is obscure. Some pieces of skin and other leopard body parts believed to have magico-medicinal properties must have remained in Zanzibar (see below). Local leopard skins that found their way onto the international market were presumably mixed up with others from East Africa and the Horn. It is possible that complete skins found their way into private collections, but we have no evidence for this at present.

When we began our research on the Zanzibar leopard in the mid-1990s we occasionally heard of skins being offered for sale by local hunters, and of some being taken to the African mainland or the Persian Gulf (Marshall 1994, Selkow 1995, Goldman & Walsh 1997, Palmer 2005). In his dissertation for the College of African Wildlife Management at Mweka, Khamis A. Khamis (1995) claimed that he had photographed the skin and claws of a Zanzibar leopard killed (at an unspecified location) in September 1993, having paid for permission to do so. At least eleven leopards are reported to have been killed in Zanzibar in 1993 (Goldman & Walsh 2002), and it not possible using available records to determine which if any of these Khamis was referring to. We also do not know the current whereabouts of his photograph.

The only leopard skin that we have seen ourselves outside of a museum are two rectangular pieces in the possession of the former Secretary of the Zanzibar National Hunters (Wasasi wa Kitaifa), who assisted us in our research in July 1996. These two fragments were said to have been taken from a leopard that was killed by hunters at Muyuni, on the south-west coast of Unguja, in 1986. Photographs of the two pieces that appeared in our original report (Goldman & Walsh 1997) were later lost in the offices of the Jozani-Chwaka Bay Conservation Project (JCBCP), but pictures of one of the pieces [see photo] survive and have been used in subsequent publications (the pdf version of the report and Walsh & Goldman 2007).

A number of Zanzibari hunters claim to be able to identify leopard faeces, but efforts to collect and preserve specimens for later analysis have so far proved unsuccessful. On 12 March 1997 HVG collected dessicated scat, said to be leopard, in the vicinity of Hazungukwa cave in Kitogani, south-east of Jozani Forest. However, this specimen was also lost in JCBCP offices before it could be properly analyzed. A similar fate befell a relatively fresh specimen that was collected by forestry staff on 19 August 2001 at the site of a reputed leopard kill (or kills) at Wangwani within the boundaries of what is now Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park. A search for this specimen at Forestry headquarters in Zanzibar town, undertaken for MTW on 5 April 2002, proved fruitless, and it was presumed that a cleaner or other staff member had thrown it away.

It was suggested that these losses might not have been accidental, but a consequence of the fear that many Zanzibaris have for the leopard and anything associated with it. The Zanzibar leopard is widely believed to be used for nefarious purposes by witches, and unprotected contact with leopards and leopard parts is thought to cause serious illness, one of the symptoms of which is the vomiting or excretion of fur (Goldman & Walsh 1997). But hunters and others who have taken out magical insurance against this kind of harm are more relaxed about handling leopard products, which have their own magical and medicinal uses. An American student, Scott Marshall (1994), was shown the claws of a leopard said to have been killed three years earlier; and in September 1994 the adventurer Lajos Jozsa (a.k.a. Louis Palmer) photographed leopard claws in the possession of a man in a village near Jozani (pers. comm. 2005, Palmer 2005).

It may still be possible to obtain fragments of leopard skin and other material of local provenance in Zanzibar, if not complete specimens. Leopard products are no longer sold openly in the traditional herbalists’ shops in Zanzibar town, though they are alleged to be available in some of them ‘under the counter’. Our own experience suggests that Zanzibar leopard parts might be more readily obtained from hunters and herbalists in rural Unguja, though the possibility of securing fresh or near-contemporary material is surely diminishing, if it has not disappeared altogether."


Goldman, H. V. and Walsh M. T. 1997. A Leopard in Jeopardy: An Anthropological Survey of Practices and Beliefs which Threaten the Survival of the Zanzibar Leopard (Panthera pardus adersi). Zanzibar Forestry Technical Paper 63, Jozani Chwaka Bay Conservation Project, Commission for Natural Resources, Zanzibar. 59 pp.

Goldman, H. V. and Walsh M. T. 2002. Is the Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi) extinct? Journal of East African Natural History 91 (1/2), 15-25.

Halsted, D. C. 1979. Birds and larger mammals of Zanzibar. EANHS [East Africa Natural History Society] Bulletin (March-April), 41-45.

Khamis, K. A. 1995. Report on the Status of Zanzibar Leopards from 15th Dec. 1994 to June 1995 in Different Times at Zanzibar. Unpublished certificate student’s dissertation, College of African Wildlife Management, Mweka, Tanzania. 9 pp.

Marshall, S. 1994. The Status of the Zanzibar Leopard. Unpublished paper, School for International Training, Tanzania, and Commission for Natural Resources, Zanzibar. 17 pp.

Palmer, L. 2005. Verrückt nach dieser Welt: Abenteur zwischen Himmel und Erde. Delius Klasing Verlag, Bielefeld.

Selkow, B. 1995. A Survey of Villager Perceptions of the Zanzibar Leopard. Unpublished paper, School for International Training, Tanzania, and Commission for Natural Resources, Zanzibar. 28 pp.

Walsh, M. T. and Goldman, H. V. 2007. Killing the king: the demonization and extermination of the Zanzibar leopard / Tuer le roi: la diabolisation et l’extermination du leopard de Zanzibar. In Le symbolisme des animaux: L'animal, clef de voûte de la relation entre l'homme et la nature? / Animal symbolism: Animals, keystone in the relationship between man and nature? Dounias, E., Motte-Florac, É. and Dunham, M. (Eds.). Éditions de l’IRD, Paris. pp. 1133-1182.

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