Jaguars in South America are already facing a number of threats to their survival, but poaching as one of them has largely gone under the radar until now.
An undercover investigation conducted by World Animal Protection in Suriname has offered a more disturbing glimpse into how these trafficking operations work, and what’s happening to jaguars who become victims of this trade.
While jaguars are often killed as a result of conflicts with humans, they’re also being targeted by poachers who track and bait them, before brutally killing them. Investigators found that jaguars would be stalked for days and shot numerous times, injuring them until they’re too hurt to escape death.
While they’re killed for their parts, including teeth and claws, and also for their meat, the main driver behind this trade is the demand for jaguar paste, which is made by boiling them down for up to a week to make a thick, paste-like substance.
The paste is then illegally exported to China, where it’s sold on the black market for use in traditional medicine. Even though there’s zero evidence, it’s believed to have medicinal properties and is used to treat arthritis pain, improve sexual performance and improve overall health, among other things. According to World Animal Protection, a single jaguar can be used to make 20 to 30 tubs of this paste, which can be sold for as much as $3,000.
Sadly, being killed for their parts isn’t the only problem. The investigation also uncovered jaguar cubs being taken and sold for the pet trade, usually to wealthy individuals who keep them as a status symbol. Not only are they confined to inappropriate conditions, once they become too big and dangerous to handle, they’re often killed.
The findings are worrying for the future of jaguars, who are now listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. While they’re technically protected as endangered in Suriname, which makes it illegal to hunt them, they’re being killed and exploited at a rate that’s putting their survival on the line.
“This investigation has uncovered a shocking underground trade exploiting an iconic animal of the South American rainforests in a barbaric way for unproven traditional Asian medicine,” said World Animal Protection’s investigations advisor, Nicholas Bruschi. “Jaguars already face the challenges of habitat destruction and human animal conflicts. They are now cruelly and needlessly killed, left to die agonising deaths. It is extremely sad news for these incredible big cats whose numbers are already in decline. And, while jaguar cubs might seem very cute, they are still wild animals and belong in the wild, not in the illegal pet trade.”
World Animal Protection has since shared its findings with officials in Suriname, and hope that what was uncovered will lead to increased efforts to protect jaguars, educate local residents about their importance, and stop poaching.
This article was first published by Care2.com on 26 Sep 2018.