The most prized item taken from jaguars were the teeth, of which more than 2,000 were captured by law enforcement, mostly en route to China where they’re used in jewelry.
They also found attempts to smuggle jaguar bones pulverized into a fine powder via powdered milk containers, presumably to be used in a medicinal paste popular in some parts of China.
Authorities also captured smuggled jaguar skins, skulls, claws, and even meat, which is sometimes sold as an off-menu delicacy in restaurants.
More than 2,000 jaguar teeth were captured, a popular item for jewelry in China, along with pulverized jaguar bones smuggled in powdered milk containers, which can be used to make a medicinal paste
In the 1950s and 1960s, big cats drove a thriving international trade industry – the US imported 23,000 jaguar skins in 1968 and 1969 – but the practice was banned in 1975 after big cat populations began to plummet.
Researchers estimate there are 173,000 jaguars left around the world, and in Central and South America, they’ve lost more than 50 per cent of their natural habitat due to human development.
Part of that development is believed to be driving the new rise in poaching, with an influx of Chinese development projects across Latin America opening up new trade links for illicit goods.
Jaguars have lost an estimated 50% of their natural habitat in South and Central America, and just 173,000 jaguars are believed to be alive worldwide
‘These countries that have stronger ties with China, combined with weak governance, combined with high levels of corruption—it’s almost like a recipe for an increase in illegal wildlife trade,’ co-author Vincent Njima said in an interview with National Geographic.
While the numbers of jaguars intercepted by law enforcement has skyrocketed, the team believes the real numbers are likely even higher as most make it out of the country without detection.
According to Esteban Payan, of the conservation group Pathera, South American and Central American governments have traditionally focused their customs and border control efforts on drugs and weapons trafficking, but it may be time for a change.
‘This whole phenomenon is really forcing us to train customs to look seriously at animal parts,’ Payan said.
This article was first published by The Mail Online on 15 June 2020. Lead Image:Researchers documented more than 800 poached jaguars intercepted by law enforcement in Central America and South America over the last five years, a 200-fold increase – Image by Roland Seitre / NaturePL.
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