Many of the world’s wildlife species are under threat and, for some, like the magnificent Panthera onca, the most imminent dangers come not from predators or their natural environment, but from man. For anyone intending to embark on a dedicated Jaguar holiday to the Brazilian Pantanal (where the highest density of the species survives), being informed about conservation issues surrounding the big cat enables a greater understanding of its place in the scheme of our global ecology.
A New Threat in Bolivia
While the species’ population has been decimated over the past decades as a result of habitat loss and illegal poaching, conservationists have made encouraging inroads into its preservation. Initiatives like wildlife corridors, eco-tourism through Jaguar holiday itineraries, rewilding programmes and education on a local community level have all served to raise the animal’s profile and promote more a harmonious existence between humans and big cats within the Jaguar’s natural habitat.
Use in Asian Medicines
In 2016, however, a new report released by the Bolivian Environment Forum revealed the disturbing practice of the illegal hunting of the animal appears to be on the rise in Bolivia and is, in fact, worse than previously thought. The reason for the killings is based on a simple premise: demand.
The use of the big cat’s teeth, paws and other body parts in the production of traditional Asian medicines (TAM) stems from the cultural belief that they are imbibed with special properties that can assist in a range of ailments. These include improving sexual potency and relieving rheumatism, among others.
According to data released by the Environment Forum, in the two years prior to the report (2014-16) the government had apprehended poachers in possession of more than 800 Jaguar teeth in the region around the Madidi and Pilón Lajas natural reserves. This figure is equivalent to the deaths of at least 200 of the big cats.
The number of killings is now the highest since hunting of the species became illegal in the 1980s, destroying more than 30 years’ conservation efforts. Many of the poachers are Chinese nationals, who then smuggle the teeth and body parts back to China. The Environment Ministry reports that at least 60 cases of wildlife trafficking have been instigated in the past decade. With these figures only based on the traffic that has been intercepted, the overall effect of the Asian medicine trade could end up pushing the already ‘near threatened’ conservation status of the big cat to crisis point – and, potentially, extinction.
What’s Being Done?
The TAM and exotic food trade has already been responsible for decimating global Tiger populations, as well as other animal species. Now the Chinese and South American country’s governments (including Bolivia, Peru, Mexico and Ecuador) have acknowledged the problem of organised Chinese crime syndicates operating within the illegal trade of wildlife parts, and protocols have been set in place to stem the tide. However, faced with the growing demand, along with evidence that the Chinese Mafia has spread its reach throughout South America, the war on the world’s wildlife has become relentless.
Conservation agencies and the Chinese government have partnered in a high-profile media campaign aimed at discouraging their citizens from the use of such traditional medicines, which appears to be showing some headway. Along with harsh penalties (including lengthy jail terms) for Bolivians or Chinese nationals caught in the trafficking of wildlife parts, the Environment Forum is hopeful the number of big cat deaths will begin to reduce.
A Global Human Issue
Due to fewer numbers of the species and lack of infrastructure, Bolivia is not usually on the radar of Jaguar holiday operators. However, Bolivia’s population of the magnificent big cat is no less important in terms of conservation. It is vital that the world is made aware of this despicable trade before more of our priceless animal species disappear forever.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in Jaguar watching. As a passionate lover of big cats, Marissa chooses the expert-led Jaguar holiday itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.