The illegal trade of Jaguar is on the rise. According to the latest research, the increase in Chinese investment in Latin America seems to be related. Jaguars are designated as near threats by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the population is estimated to be about 173,000. The shooting of a jaguar that a rancher attacks a bovine also contributes to a decrease in population, but a major factor is a deforestation. Compared to the past, 50% of the land is suitable for the jaguar habitat.
In recent years, international illegal trade in the body of Jaguar has increased, and it is thought that it is spurring the decline in the number of individuals. According to a paper published in the journal Conservation Biology dated June 2, 2020, more than 800 jaguars were killed in Latin America in the first half of 2012-18, and teeth, fur and skulls were smuggled into China. Both are based on the number of cases seized by law enforcement and the number reported in the media, and there is a possibility that Jaguar’s lives were actually taken.
“I knew there was an illegal trade, but I didn’t know it was on the rise,” says Tayse Morcati, the author of the paper and a phD at Oxford Brooks University in the UK. “It’s really alarming.”
Morcati and colleagues collected and analyzed reports on the smuggling of Jaguar, Puma and Ocelot into China to understand the background to the illegal trade, which is a relatively new move. Conservation groups have already complained that smuggling is not related to Chinese workers who have been involved in huge projects for road laying and dam construction, rather than chinese communities that have long settled in Latin America. The paper also points out that, to support this hypothesis, investments from China to Latin America have increased tenfold in the past decade.
Vincent Nijuman, the author of the paper and an anthropologist who studies wildlife trading, said, “A country with strong ties to China, a weak governing power, and corruption. It’s a condition for an increase in the illegal trade in wildlife.” According to the research team, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru met this requirement.
Esteban Payan, a biologist who is the director of the South American Jaguar Program at Pansera, a conservation group for wild felines, said the researchers appreciated that the team had successfully derived these correlations. “You need to know whatever you can get. It’s a basis for deciding on a strategy and management approach to protect jaguars.”
Around 2010, conservation groups focused on the increase in jaguar poaching and thought that the parts of the jaguar’s body might have been touted in China as a substitute for the rare tiger.
In China, tigers have long been treated as goods. There is a breeding ground where the tiger is bred by relying on it, too. And wild tigers are still traded at high prices. The reason is that it is believed that it is rare value, and it is effective. Tiger bones are used as an old ointment, a tiger plaster material. Fur becomes furniture, clothes and accessories. And teeth are a symbol of financial strength and influence because they become jewelry and the rare items that are prohibited are available.
According to the paper, jaguar teeth are the most seized after smuggling into China was discovered. Nearly 2000 teeth were seized by the authorities in the first half of 2012-18. The paper concludes that the smuggling of Jaguars into China is not only for substitutes for tiger bones. If the goal is to substitute, you should be able to find more Jaguar bone smuggling, just like the lion’s bones taken out of South Africa. (Reference article: “The Bone Popularity of Asian Tigers Hunting Down Lions”)
“What the paper presents is part of the deal, not the whole picture,” said Pauline Burhai, a wildlife crime expert who examines Jaguar deals, and Mr. Payan, who warns of the paper’s conclusions based solely on the data from the seized goods.
Law enforcement agencies, including police in Latin America, “traditionally have focused on cracking down on guns and drugs,” Payan explained. On the other hand, illegal wildlife-derived exports, including bones and fur, are likely to have been overlooked. If that’s the case, it’s a hypothesis that Jaguar is a substitute for a tiger. “This is a reason to train customs to keep an eye on the export of animal parts,” Bayan says.
There is evidence to suggest that jaguars are an alternative to tigers, as in cases where jaguar bone ointments were smuggled from Suriname, a country in northern South America. According to Payan, customs officials have found a Chinese woman trying to board an international flight by pretending to be powdered milk on the bones of a powdered jaguar.