The fact that leopard coats currently sell for as high as $20,000 has been no deterrent for the ladies. For the poacher it is a major incentive. And for the leopard it means oblivion. The effect is circular: the scarcer the skin, the greater the demand; the greater the demand, the higher the price; the higher the price, the heavier the poaching activity; the heavier the poaching activity, the scarcer the skin.
"One solution," says Jacques Kaplan, "is to put every woman in spots." This is not by any means an about-face by Kaplan, whose stand on the side of the big cats drew some 20,000 letters of praise from the public and some multi-barreled blasts from other furriers. ("To put it mildly," says one Kaplan employee, "the other furriers sort of like hated our guts!") Rather, Kaplan has been hard at work developing new furs from domestically bred or plentiful animals which can be dyed and stenciled to duplicate the look and feel of cat fur.
Unlike Kaplan's informal showing of fun furs at the San Antonio conference—which featured such unendangered but spotless exotica as ermine, mink, golden Ethiopian monkey, gray African kid and Mongolian lamb—his next major showing, in September, will be entirely of spotted furs, not one of which is wild. According to Kaplan, his new pseudo-spots are so realistic they would fool even a leopard. At $800 to $1,000, their price tags are as realistically cool as the cats.
Kaplan's idea is one way to take pressure off wild cats. Another is action at government level. Most of the countries, including our own, that produce or trade in cat skins have been notoriously negligent about import-export regulations. In most cases it has been easier to look the other way than to take on a powerful and articulate fur lobby. But, first at Monaco and again at San Antonio, Game Conservation International, the nucleus of both conferences, has demonstrated that it, too, has a voice.
It was heard early this year, in the form of a cable to the heads of governments all over the world, outlining a six-point program to fight poaching of the big cats. Basically the program urges that: 1) the feline-skin trade in each supplying country be funneled through a single channel in that country; 2) profits from that channel be returned directly to wildlife management authorities of the countries; 3) individual furriers in all countries declare and mark their entire stocks of cat skins and products within a prescribed amnesty period; 4) cat-producing countries stop the import of feline skins and products into their countries, thus making the import and re-export of illegal skins impossible; 5) an advertising campaign be undertaken throughout the world aimed at discouraging the manufacture of articles made of cat skins and products; and 6) every hunter, and especially every hunter's wife, begin a personal campaign to stop the practice of using feline skins and products for decorations and clothing.
Similar proposals recommending trade bans on other endangered animals were sent to the governments of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Portugal, Belgium, France, China, the Soviet Union and the Tadzhik Soviet Socialist Republic. Exactly how closely even the most cooperative governments will listen to the recommendations of the council remains to be seen. But there was no question in the minds of the delegates as to the potential of the voice that was heard at the Texas meeting. What began only three years ago as the soft-spoken dream of a Texan named Harry Tennison and grew less than a year later into Game Conservation International—better known as Game Coin—drew some 900 delegates from 53 countries to San, Antonio and gave every indication of fast becoming a most vital and vibrant champion of the world's wildlife. Clearly it had already challenged the ladies in its midst and won. And if the ladies will listen, can the governments be far behind?