Jaguar poaching has increased 200-fold in the last 5 years, study shows as Chinese demands for big cats rises
These animals appear to be replacing tigers, whose numbers have declined to fewer than 4,000 in the wild
Chinese interests are putting the jaguars of South and Central America at risk. According to a new study, the demand for these animals has resulted in increased poaching in the region between 2014 and 2018. What is more, in just over five years, trafficking has increased 200-fold.
During this period, authorities have recovered hundreds of the animals' heads. Their teeth and claws are used to make jewelry. Their body parts are used in Chinese traditional medicine. For instance, jaguar paste – which requires boiling the wild cat's body for seven days – is used to cure excessive sleepiness.
“For the very first time, we have a big picture of what is happening in Central and South America regarding trade in jaguar body parts,” Thaís Morcatty, a doctoral student in anthropology at Oxford Brookes University in England, and lead author of the study, told The New York Times.
"What we can learn from this is that the patterns we saw in Asia and then in Africa are now starting to emerge in South America,” said Vincent Nijman, a co-author also at Oxford Brookes University. “If there is demand, it will be fulfilled, even if you go to another continent on the other side of the world.” These animals appear to be replacing tigers, whose numbers are declined to fewer than 4,000 animals in the wild.
Jaguars are near threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN). They inhabit Amazon rainforests and some parts of Central America. Deforestation and loss of prey are threatening them as they have lost 50 percent of their natural habitat. Many are killed because of human-animal conflict. Now, Chinese trade is putting an increased strain on the already fragile population.
In this study, Morcatty and her team combed through reports – news stories, police, and other technical records -- on seized parts of the wild cats between 2012 and 2018 across all 19 Central and South American countries. They found that authorities recovered the parts of 1,000 big cats during that period. Most were jaguars, but a small proportion of poached pumas and ocelots were also a part of the record.
The researchers explain that the number of recovered jaguar parts has increased over time. Around 34% of the jaguar‐part seizure reports were linked with China, and these seizures contained 13‐fold more individuals than those intended for domestic markets, the study said.
Among the countries, Brazil ranks highest in the number of reports. It is followed by Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, and Suriname, according to the study. Dr. Lemieux, who was not involved in the research, told The New York Times: “If you look at the conservation playing field, South America — of all the continents besides Antarctica — gets very little attention,” he said.
"I suspect for a long time it went unnoticed as authorities simply were not paying attention,” said Pauline Verheij, an independent wildlife crime specialist who has investigated the jaguar trade in Suriname and Bolivia in recent years. “Tackling wildlife crime in most if not all Latin American countries has had zero priority until only very recently.”
The complete study has been published in Conservation Biology.