Researchers A. M. Lemieux and Nicholas Bruschi recently published an insightful paper about one of the illicit products being sold for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine: jaguar paste. They constructed “crime scripts” to determine how this substance is produced and traded, and to provide informed suggestions on how to curtail this alarming practice.
Jaguars and Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is an ancient belief system which holds that certain animal parts have special properties. While not supported by science, these beliefs have helped to fuel the poaching of rhinos, elephants, pangolins, tigers, and other imperiled species.
As Chinese involvement in Latin America has expanded, jaguars have found themselves the targets of TCM-driven poaching.
While previous articles have reported jaguar teeth being smuggled from Latin America to China, Lemieux and Bruschi focused on jaguar paste. Some TCM practitioners believe that jaguar paste can treat arthritis, increase users’ sexual prowess, and boost overall health.
To learn how jaguar paste was produced and sold, Lemieux and Bruschi interviewed a range of people involved in the TCM business in Suriname: a small country in Northern South America that contains large swathes of tropical rainforest.
The authors then used their data to generate “crime scripts,” which describe the routine actions, objects, and people that are involved in criminal activities.
What Lemieux and Bruschi learned was both worrying and insightful.
Despite its relative lack of development, jaguar poaching in Suriname appears to be increasing. This is being facilitated by the growth of mining and logging operations, which make it easier for people to access previously remote areas.
While some jaguars are killed opportunistically in chance encounters, others are sought deliberately to fill the TCM demand.
In addition, there are many steps involved in the sale of jaguar paste. These include:
- Killing a jaguar,
- Selling the carcass,
- Boiling the carcass to make jaguar paste,
- Separating the paste into small pots,
- Selling the pots to members of the Chinese community,
- Sneaking the pots into China.
Fortunately, Lemieux and Bruschi identified possible ways to interrupt the jaguar paste trade at each step in their scripts. Bolstering patrols and surveillance – using both trained law enforcement and local people – could help throughout the process. The authors also suggested that outreach efforts in China might reduce the demand for jaguar paste in the first place.
Lemieux and Bruschi stress – quite rightly – that conservationists, authorities, and concerned citizens must be careful not to stigmatize the Chinese community in Suriname and elsewhere. Not only would this be unfair, but it won’t encourage cooperation in ending TCM-inspired poaching.
This post has been a brief summary of Lemieux and Bruschi’s work. For more information, please read their original paper.
Borrion, H. (2013). Quality assurance in crime scripting. Crime Science, 2(6).
Lemieux, A. M., & Bruschi, N. (2019). The production of jaguar paste in Suriname: a product-based crime script. Crime Science, 8(6).
Did you know that jaguar paste is the cause of a mysterious life-threatening – often deadly – illness?
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No, I hadn’t heard that. I’m not surprised though: the process of turning a jaguar carcass into paste doesn’t seem the least bit healthy.