Yesterday I came across this disturbing article on the IUCN Cat Specialist Group’s Facebook page. It claims that increasing Chinese involvement in Latin American countries, specifically Bolivia, has led to an alarming rise in jaguar poaching. The cats are being killed for the Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM) trade: the same market that is largely responsible for tigers’ precipitous decline.
As of May 2015, six out of seven proven cases of illegal hunting in Bolivia directly involved Chinese citizens. One individual was arrested before shipping 105 jaguar teeth to China. That is equivalent to 26 illegally killed jaguars.
Chinese beliefs hold that jaguar body parts have special properties. They are said to cure arthritis and increase men’s sexual potency (Metalli, 2015). It is also believed that one can take on an animal’s energy by consuming substances made from its tissues (J. Gross, personal observation).
The jaguar plays a central role in the belief systems of indigenous Bolivians, and is an iconic animal throughout Latin America. So not only is this recent surge in poaching pushing Bolivian jaguars towards endangered status (as of May 2015 they were considered vulnerable), but it shows a lack of respect for the region’s culture and laws.
As Chinese involvement in Latina America intensifies, the threat posed to jaguars by TAM is likely to increase (R. Mahler, personal communication, June 17, 2015). Therefore it needs to be addressed before it gets out of hand. To that end, I propose the following actions:
- Those with the ability to do so should make a concerted effort to determine the scope of the threat posed to jaguars by TAM. That will allow governments and conservationists to decide how best to handle it.
- All of us should do our part to spread awareness of this worrisome trend. While it seems to be common knowledge that the TAM trade is a threat to tigers, fewer people are aware of the danger it poses to jaguars.
- We should make it clear that poaching of jaguars, for use in TAM or any other reason, is socially unacceptable.
I DO NOT support these behaviors:
- Openly stereotyping or discriminating against citizens of China or other Asian countries. Not everyone who comes from these regions approves of the killing of threatened species. Moreover, such actions would likely be perceived as attacks on one’s social identity. This might lead TAM practitioners to become more fervent in their beliefs.