A review of wild cat specimens seized by law enforcement has revealed that trade in jaguar body parts has seen a sharp increase as the number of jaguars seized in South America shot up by 200 percent in five years. The study, published in Conservation Biology, found that jaguar canines were among the most commonly seized items with the highest amount of trade happening in low-income countries whose jaguar products were destined for China.
The researchers on the study collected data on seizures of trafficked big cat specimens from online news articles, technical reports, and police reports between January 2012 to March 2018. They discovered that in Central and South America, jaguar poaching has been increasing since 2012 largely driven by a spike in demand from Chinese consumers. In China, jaguar teeth are used for jewelry and their bones are ground up to make a medicinal paste. The law enforcement reports also revealed that claws, skins, skulls, and meat were being traded possibly to be used as off-menu delicacies in restaurants. The researchers state it's possible that jaguar parts are spiking in popularity as a substitution for tiger products, which are more expensive and difficult to come by.
Jaguars are on the decline globally, having lost half their natural habitat to human development in Central and South America. It’s estimated there are somewhere between 60,000 to 170,000 jaguars left in the world. As poaching increases in low-income countries, the rise in recent years of Chinese development projects across Latin America appears to have opened up new avenues of trade for illicit goods.
“Seizures linked to China contained significantly more jaguar individuals, meaning this demand may be more critical than the domestic demand and has great potential to reduce jaguar populations,” the researchers wrote in the study. “The positive relationship between the number of jaguars seized and the amount of Chinese private investment may indicate that the legal market chain may provide structure for the illegal chain. Once the supply chain is built, it facilitates the trade in other illegal wildlife products.”
A similar example was seen in the instance of African pangolin scales, which were initially traded to Asia for medicine. Soon after however the supply chain was exploited to provide pangolin meat also, increasing the hunting pressure on an already endangered animal. Pangolins have been considered a possible intermediary in the Covid-19 outbreak, and have recently been removed from the official list of traditional Chinese medicine in response to diminishing numbers.