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Friday, 8 June 2018


Our paper on 'Chasing imaginary leopards', originally published in 2012, was reprinted in 2017 in Iain Walker's edited volume on Contemporary Issues in Swahili Ethnography. Here's the title and abstract:

Chasing imaginary leopards: science, witchcraft and the politics of conservation in Zanzibar

Martin Walsh and Helle Goldman

Contemporary Issues in Swahili Ethnography (Hardback) book coverThe Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi) is (was) a little-known subspecies endemic to Unguja island. Rapid population growth and the expansion of farming in the twentieth century destroyed leopard habitat and decimated their natural prey, bringing them into increasing conflict with people. Villagers explained the growing number of attacks on their children and livestock by supposing that the leopards responsible for them were owned by witches and sent by them to do harm. Following the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, localised efforts to act on this theory culminated in an island-wide leopard eradication and witchfinding campaign, supported by the government. By the 1990s state-subsidised hunting had brought the leopard to the brink of extinction, and most zoologists now presume it to be extinct. However, many islanders believe that leopard keepers are still active in rural Unguja and sightings of leopards continue to be reported. Beguiled by such narratives, visiting researchers and local conservationists have continued to pursue these elusive felids. In this paper we describe and analyse a series of unsuccessful ‘‘kept leopard chases’’, including abortive calls by government officials for the capture and display of domesticated leopards. These quixotic efforts show no signs of abating, and the underlying conflicts of knowledge and practice remain unresolved, posing a challenge to the theory and practice of conservation not only in Zanzibar but also further afield.

The original journal paper can be viewed and downloaded here:

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