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If you want to know why jaguars are disappearing from the wild in the Americas, you must look further for an answer. China, to be more precise.
Iconic big cats are being killed for their fangs and other body parts so they can be used in traditional Chinese medicine, conservationists say.
China's powerful economic influence has reached the entire planet to Central and South America, where the Asian nation is a major investor in its countries, with investments worth nearly $ 306 billion in 2018 alone. Chinese companies have been investing heavily in the countries of the region through the construction of their infrastructure, such as roads, ports, airports and pipelines.
"Essentially, these projects act like giant wildlife vacuums sucking everything into China," observes Vincent Nijmana, a conservation researcher at Oxford Brookes University.
This is because unreliable operators in the Asian nation have also gained access to the continent's exotic animals, through the global illegal wildlife trade, much of which can be traced back to consumers in China.
"These projects are run by Chinese workers and they come and go with local people and also send things to their families in China," Nijman explains. “Among the things they send are illicit bones, horns and skins valued by traditional medicine. There are not many signs that they use moderation. At the end of the day, almost everything that can be killed and changed will be. "
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that the body parts of exotic animals such as tigers, rhinos, and pangolins have healing properties. Such atavistic and unscientific beliefs have been a scourge on exotic wildlife across the planet, from Southeast Asia to Africa and South America.
Tiger bones, for example, are ground into a powder before being mixed with other ingredients. The mixture is consumed by people who believe that the resulting potion has powerful medicinal properties.
Tigers in the wild are on their last legs, with the total number of majestic predators at less than 5,000, compared to an estimated 100,000 just a century ago. With the tiger population plummeting, illegal wildlife smugglers are turning to other high-level predators like jaguars as alternatives.
Nijman and other researchers studying wildlife trafficking in Latin American countries have just published an article in the journalConservation Biology in which they examined factors such as corruption rates, the level of Chinese investment, and the income of citizens in 19 countries in Central and South America. Their results show that in countries that have higher rates of corruption and Chinese private investment but lower per capita income, there have been a much higher number of jaguar seizures than in other countries.
"About 34% (32 of 93) of the seizure reports from the jaguar side were linked to China, and these seizures contained 14 times more individuals than those destined for domestic markets," the researchers explain. "Countries of origin with relatively high levels of corruption and Chinese private investment and low per capita income had between 10 and 50 times more jaguar seizures than the rest of the countries included in the sample."
Thaís Morcatty, a wildlife researcher at Oxford Brookes University, notes that many seizures of jaguar parts have been linked to illegal wildlife markets in Asia. “Last year, there were more than 50 seizures of packages containing jaguar parts in Brazil,” Morcatty says. “Most of them seem to have been destined for Asia and China in particular. It is also worth noting that there are large Chinese communities in Brazil ”.
During the 20th century, jaguars almost became extinct due to the high demand for their skins and other body parts. Thanks to rigorous conservation efforts, the population of the top-tier carnivores has been slowly recovering, which is why there are now an estimated 64,000 jaguars currently roaming the wild.
However, jaguars continue to face a variety of threats throughout their ranges, from habitat loss and forest fragmentation to retaliatory killings by people for their attacks on livestock. The illicit trade in jaguar parts is now contributing greatly to the plight of these majestic creatures.
Article in English.