Columbus organizations work to conserve leopards in South Africa

Photo courtesy of Steve Winter

Longstride, a Columbus-based cause marketing agency for nonprofits and social enterprises, has expanded clientele from their local customers such as Hot Chicken Takeover to Panthera, a New York-based nonprofit for the conservation of big cats around the world.

Wanting to start a campaign for leopards, Panthera came to Longstride, which was able to concentrate the campaign on something people could wrap their heads around, or cape that is: using faux fur to save leopards.

The Shembe, a South African tribe, traditionally requires males to wear real leopard capes at religious ceremonies. Yet, with approximately 5,000 leopards left in South Africa, Panthera stepped in to make a business deal.

"Panthera started educating the Shembe ... they don't just say 'stop this' and don't give them a solution," says Anthony Trimpe, co-founder and creative director of Longstride.

The tribe members agreed that they would wear faux fur capes fabricated in China as long as Panthera would provide them.

Trimpe and the Longstride team built off of the cape agreement and initiated the I Fake It campaign. As a part of the campaign, the Peace Parks Foundation will donate 18,000 faux fur capes to the tribe, which is the number needed to provide all males in the tribe with capes. Anyone, however, can join the movement. Every #ifakeit post on social media accompanied by a photo of faux leopard print will serve as a thank you to the foundation and the tribe for "faking it."

For Trimpe, the social media strategy seemed to be a way to involve women everywhere due to the pervasiveness of leopard print.

Requiring a web developer for their campaign, Longstride reached out to Groundwork Group, a Columbus-based developer for technology use improvement in nonprofits.

Janet Vance-Fortener, a web designer for Groundwork Group, developed the I Fake It website and added features that Groundwork Group has never worked with before, such as a live feed of #ifakeit posts on various social networks and a live counter for the number of unique posts.

"Making the site as user-friendly as possible will save more big cats, and I'm a huge big cat fan," says Vance-Fortener. "Columbus is a small enough town that it feels cozy, and it's nice to know we are making such a huge impact."

Longstride and Groundwork Group aren't the only Columbus organizations connected with the cats. The Columbus Zoo has recently joined the campaign, though Trimpe says their specific involvement is yet to be determined.

- Julie France