I have previously written about the emergence of a worrying market for jaguar body parts. For centuries, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have believed that consuming products made from certain animals can imbue users with special benefits.
Tiger parts are supposed to be especially powerful; curing ailments like arthritis and increasing men’s sexual potency. Commodities such as tiger bone wine and skins also serve as status symbols for the elite. As more people in China and Vietnam are able to afford such luxuries, the demand for prized animals parts increases (Sharif, 2014).
Poaching for traditional Chinese medicine has helped to decimate tigers. According to Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, there are only around 3,900 tigers left in the wild. In addition, they have lost 96% of their historic range. Now that tigers are harder to find, Chinese medicine buyers have found a perfect substitute: jaguars.
Chinese involvement in Latin America is on the rise, which is bad news for the Western Hemisphere’s largest cat. Chinese citizens are paying large sums of money for jaguar fangs – providing local hunters with extra incentive to kill them. This black-market trade has the potential to turn into a serious problem, and needs to be addressed now.
Bolivian journalist Eduardo Franco Berton did just that. He undertook an intensive and dangerous investigation into the black-market trade for jaguar parts, journeying through three countries: Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil. He interviewed a diverse range of people along the way to get to the bottom of this new threat, and has presented his findings on a beautiful new website.
Berton clearly took this investigation seriously; his new website contains an in-depth account of the illicit trade in jaguar parts. He discusses: the history of traditional Chinese medicine, China’s expanding influence in Latin America, the rising scale of Chinese medicine-driven poaching, why Chinese citizens desire jaguar fangs, and the lack of meaningful consequences for selling jaguar parts.
Encouragingly, Berton did find some bright spots. He met Nicholas Mcphee, an Australian ex-marine who was so passionate about big cats that he moved to Bolivia. He also spoke with local people who expressed sympathy towards jaguars, including Bolivian rancher Bruno Bemes and Brazilian fisherman Carlos Souza. Then there is Thais Morcatty: a Brazilian PhD candidate who is the first person to formally study the black-market jaguar trade in her home country.
I cannot go into as much detail about Berton’s website as I would like, because I am busy with The Wildlife Society’s annual conference this week. As such, interested readers should follow this link and check it out for themselves.
We need to spread the word about the black-market trade in jaguar parts quickly, to spur action before it gets too severe.