Wildlife experts are worried that the illicit trade in jaguars appears to be growing — and they’ve connected it to Chinese construction projects. According to the journal a rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank” href=”https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-02314-5″>Nature, crackdowns on smuggling tiger parts for use in Chinese traditional medicine could be increasing the market for jaguars. Researchers pointed to recent killings in South America, including a dead jaguar discovered in a Belize drainage canal mostly intact, but missing its fangs.
Jaguars are in trouble, according to the World Wildlife Fund, imperiled by habitat loss from deforestation and hunting. And now traffickers may be turning to these big cats for Chinese traditional medicine. According to the Nature article, wildlife trafficking “often follows Chinese construction projects in other countries.”
Oxford Brookes University ecologist Vincent Nijman told Nature, “If there’s a demand [in China] for large-cat parts, and that demand can be fulfilled by people living in parts of Africa, other parts of Asia, or South America, then someone will step in to fill that demand. It’s often Chinese-to-Chinese trade, but it’s turning global.” The Guardian said according to experts, Chinese rail, power plant, and road projects in developing countries are stimulants of illicit trade in body parts of endangered animals. The Guardian quoted Nijman as saying the projects “act like giant vacuum cleaners of wildlife that suck everything back to China.”
Eight packages with 186 jaguar fangs were confiscated in Bolivia between August 2014 and February 2015, according to Nature, before they could make it to China. Chinese citizens residing in Bolivia had sent seven of the packages. Eight packages were reportedly intercepted in 2016, and then another in China with 120 fangs. Bolivian biologist Angela Núñez told Nature over 100 jaguars could have been killed for those packages, but it’s impossible to be certain.
In Brazil, there were over 50 seizures of packages with jaguar parts last year, according to Oxford Brookes University wildlife researcher Thaís Morcatty, with most packages destined for China or Asia. Nijman said few wildlife trafficking cases around the world end with criminal sentences. “The deterrent is when somebody ends up in jail,” he said, but that doesn’t often occur “because society as a whole in most countries is not interested.”