Illegal trade in Jaguar parts to China threatens the survival of the species

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By Andrea Barretto/Diálogo
February 10, 2022

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Habitat loss due to deforestation, lack of natural prey, and revenge killings of ranchers for livestock predation have for decades been among the main causes of jaguar population declines in Central and South America. Since the mid-2010s, however, another factor has threatened the big cat species with extinction: the illegal trade in jaguar parts to China.

According to a National geographic report, based on a study by the Society for Conservation Biology, an international organization headquartered in Washington DC, “From 2012 to early 2018, in Central and South America, more than 800 jaguars were killed for their teeth, their skins and skulls were smuggled into China. This number only represents shipments that law enforcement intercepted and that were reported in the media, the report said. For example, on October 15, 2021, five Chinese nationals were arrested in Bolivia.Authorities found the criminals in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra with jaguar canines and skins, snakeskin belts and other items made from parts of wild animals.

“The findings suggest a parallel with poaching patterns seen in Southeast Asia and Africa, where a growing presence of Chinese companies working on large development projects coincides with increased legal and illegal trade in wild species, including big cats“, New York Times reported.

Jaguar canines and skins, as well as snakeskin belts, have been found in the possession of a group of Chinese nationals in Bolivia, who have been accused of illegal wildlife trade in jaguar parts and other wild animals, in October 2021. (Photo: Bolivian Ministry of Environment and Water)

The investigation that led to the arrest of the Chinese in Bolivia in October 2021 was carried out as part of Operation Jaguar, a joint project of three international environmental organizations: the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Earth League International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Well-being. The operation revealed that Chinese triads operate through Chinese citizens living in Latin America and communicate with buyers primarily through social media.

The criminals also operate through Asian cuisine restaurants established in different Latin American countries. In Bolivia, where the investigation focused, at least two restaurants selling jaguar meat have been identified. Operation Jaguar revealed that these organizations often bribe airport agents to send illegal shipments to China, particularly from Brazil, Suriname and Guyana.

The jaguar is the largest feline in the Americas. It is estimated that 90% of its population is found in the Amazon, and the remaining 10% are scattered in the forests from the US-Mexico border to northern Argentina. Jaguars are near threatened, however, in countries like El Salvador and Uruguay, their population declines have led to the species being considered extinct.

As a carnivore, the jaguar is at the top of the food chain, thus playing a fundamental role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem, since it helps to “regulate the population size of other animal species”, the plan d jaguar preservation action from the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment’s Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation says.

Jaguar parts, especially skin, teeth, meat, and bones, are used in China as decorative items and jewelry, and are also eaten as luxury foods and used in traditional medicine.

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