Jaguar experts find the big cats at risk from increasing demand for jaguar body parts and teeth
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A new report on jaguars from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) warns of a rising demand for teeth, claws, skins and other body parts which could imperil jaguars in the same way tigers are threatened across Asia.
Authors of the newly published paper titled “Recent observations on jaguar hunting and trafficking in Mesoamerica” say that the threat is clearly emerging in some range countries in the region. While all countries in Mesoamerica (Mexico through Panama) have laws to protect jaguars, many such laws are not enforced, leaving jaguars vulnerable to hunting for profit. The authors strongly recommend that all trade in jaguar parts, both local and international, needs to be strongly prohibited and laws enforced.
“Jaguar population numbers are holding strong in some parts of the species range—which stretches from the southwestern United States to northern Argentina—but in other places, numbers have been declining due to a combination of habitat loss, prey depletion and human-jaguar conflict, We now face the added threat of an increasing demand for their body parts” said report author Dr. John Polisar, Coordinator of WCS’s Jaguar Program.
WCS initiated a review of jaguar hunting and trade in Mesoamerica through a network of jaguar experts, following reports of the big cats being killed for body parts and teeth. A central focus of the review was to assess threats from hunting related to trade in jaguar parts, and the legal mechanisms to prevent illegal killing and trade.
International trade in jaguar parts has been prohibited since 1975, when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) entered into force and included the jaguar on its Appendix I, a listing that prohibits all international commercial trade in live specimens, body parts or derivatives of a species. In some areas, habitat and prey protection have led to natural population recovery, while in others, habitats have contracted and populations declined due to increasing human populations, deforestation, overhunting, and retaliation from ranchers where jaguars prey on livestock, or are mistakenly assumed to be doing so.
Said Adrian Reuter, WCS’s Latin American Wildlife Trafficking Coordinator: “While overall trade in jaguar parts in Mesoamerica is still limited, indications are that this is changing, so this is the moment to take preventative measures. The plight that Asian tiger populations have suffered due to trafficking in their bones and other parts illustrates the potential of renewed trade in jaguar parts to drive major declines. It is essential that we improve our knowledge about where, when, and how this threat may be re-emerging, and work with our government partners to combat it. This report is a major step in that direction.”
Leonardo Maffei, of the WCS Jaguar Conservation Program, commented: “we were fortunate to have a network of collaborative experts who shared their knowledge on jaguar hunting and trade. This report, the result of a group effort, represents a huge increase in knowledge and a call for informed actions to prevent trade in jaguar parts.”
The authors and contributors offered a number of recommendations that they say could help turn the tide on the growing threat to jaguars, including: bringing more attention to the trade; prioritizing gathering information and understanding the situation; and increasing enforcement and prosecutions, to combat poaching and trafficking in jaguar parts.
The authors also stressed the importance of working with ranchers and farmers to reduce conflicts with jaguars. One worrisome finding is that body parts of some jaguars killed by ranchers wind up in the illegal trade, raising the question of whether jaguars killed in supposed retaliation for livestock losses (actual or perceived) could become a pretext for supplying an increasingly profitable trade.
Polisar added: “The increase in the illegal trade in jaguar body parts could reverse the recent advances that have been made in protecting jaguar strongholds. Adding value to dead jaguars for their parts is an additional and unacceptable threat that needs to be prevented through coordinated national and international actions. We urge governmental authorities throughout the jaguar’s range to engage on this issue.”
This work was supported by The Overbrook Foundation and the Liz Claiborne and Art Ortenberg Foundation.