Researchers with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced the results of an international investigation finding that online trade of jaguar parts are openly detectable on multiple online platforms, representing an emerging and serious threat to jaguar populations across the range of this Latin American wildlife icon.

The results have been published as a detailed pre-print on bioRxiv, as well as being summarized in a brief publication available in Chinese, English, Spanish, and Portuguese. The announcement comes as nations gather in Panama City, Panama from November 14-25 for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna the 19th Conference of the Parties for (CITES CoP19).  

CITES CoP19 will be significant for jaguars for several reasons. Among the draft decisions anticipated to be adopted by the parties during the session is one that encourages parties to consider the jaguar a priority species in enforcement operations, measures, and controls deployed to address wildlife crime.  This study and the methods that it has developed can help implementation of that decision.  Another draft decision encourages the parties to adopt comprehensive legislation aimed at eliminating the poaching of jaguars and illegal trade in their parts and derivatives, including online sales of specimens. Implementing that decision can be facilitated by consulting the comprehensive review of national jaguar protection laws that WCS has published in the International Journal of Wildlife Law and Policy.

Two separate side events on jaguar conservation will take place during CoP19.  The first one, generated by the Coordinating Committee of the Jaguar 2030 Roadmap for the Americas (that includes UNDP, UNEP, Panthera, WWF, and WCS, CITES, and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS)), will focus on jaguars as Iconic Indicators of Biodiversity.  The second side event, organized by WCS, will present a synthesis of the threat that trade in jaguar parts represents, and the use of tools such as online investigations to combat those threats.

The overall range of the jaguar (Panthera onca) has shrunk by almost 50 percent over the last century. However, a combination of protected area commitments by the governments of Latin America, along with the 1975 prohibition of trade in spotted cats by CITES, has helped lead to the recovery of some strategically significant stronghold populations across the otherwise declining range of this species.  

Over the last decade, however, concerns have risen that renewed levels (or previously poorly detected levels) of illegal domestic and international trade in jaguar parts could derail the progress made in these strongholds.

The study involved 23 WCS researchers working across seven different languages (Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, French, Chinese, and Vietnamese) looking at 31 online platforms - including online marketplaces, video-sharing and social media sites and weblogs - using standardized search terms and methodologies.

The results revealed that between 2009 and 2019 trade in jaguar parts was openly detectable and particularly concentrated on jaguar fangs. A total of 230 posts were detected with possible jaguar parts for sale across over a dozen categories of body parts. A conservative screening of images found that, at minimum, 71 posts contained images of different jaguar parts, on 12 different platforms in four languages (50.7 percent posts in Spanish, 25.4 percent Portuguese, 22.5 percent Chinese and 1.4 percent French), including a total of 125 jaguar parts. Teeth were by far the most detected body part with 156 posts offering at least 367 teeth, 95 of which were accompanied by images visually verified by experts as jaguar teeth, and Mexico (19), China (18), Bolivia (12), and Brazil (9) were the leading countries offering visually verified jaguar teeth for sale.  Jaguar skins were the second most traded parts and included posts assessed to be linked to South America.

This research presents a snapshot of online jaguar trade and methods that may have utility for many species now traded online. The study took place within a longer-term project to assist law enforcement in host countries to better identify potential illegal trade online, with research findings informing hubs in Latin America for building such capacity.

The lead author of the study, Dr. John Polisar, said: “Our team is pleased to share this study in the hope that it will strengthen efforts to disrupt the currently widespread illegal trade in jaguar parts. The standardized methodology that we developed has already been productively applied to document visible online trade and combat wildlife trafficking across multiple diverse taxa in the region.”

In addition, the report provides another tool that management authorities in every jaguar range country can apply to combat illegal wildlife trade, and that these methods and results  complement international jaguar conservation cooperation efforts such as the 2030 Jaguar Road Map initiative and CITES in unified multi-national efforts to effectively advance jaguar conservation.

WCS holds ground for jaguars in a set of globally significant strategically located large jaguar conservation landscapes that contribute to jaguar conservation range wide.

Dr. Rob Wallace, Senior Conservation Scientist at WCS and one of the co-authors of the study remarked: “WCS remains committed to landscape-scale conservation, which is fundamental for naturally scarce and wide-ranging apex predators such as the jaguar. While on-the-ground conservation efforts with a plethora and diverse array of legitimate local actors in these global strongholds remains our core approach, WCS is proud to provide additional technical assistance to the governments of the region in the enormous and dynamic challenge of addressing the illegal trade in extremely vulnerable species in the region, including, and especially, the jaguar.”

The online jaguar illegal trade study was primarily supported by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Conservation Society, and broader WCS efforts to combat wildlife trafficking in Latin America are also supported by the European Union, the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund of the Darwin Initiative from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) at the U.S. Department of State.

Learn more about WCS’s efforts at CITES CoP19:

Study authors include: John Polisar 1,2, Charlotte Davies 3, Thais Morcatty 4,5, Mariana Da Silva 6, Song Zhang 7, Kurt Duchez 8, Julio Madrid 8, Ana Elisa Lambert 9, 10, Ana Gallegos 11, Marcela Delgado 12, Ha Nguyen 13, Robert Wallace 6, Melissa Arias 14, 15, Vincent Nijman 4, Jon Ramnarace 16, Roberta Pennell 16, Yamira Novelo 16, Damian Rumiz 17, Kathia Rivero 17, Yovana Murillo 11, Monica Nuñez Salas 18,19, Heidi E. Kretser 20,21, Adrian Reuter 22

1 Wildlife Conservation Society, Jaguar Conservation Program, Bronx, New York, USA

2 Department of Environment and Development, Zamorano Biodiversity Center, Zamorano University, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

3 Wildlife Conservation Society, Counter Wildlife Trafficking Program (Global)

4 Oxford Wildlife Trade Research Group, Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom

5 RedeFauna - Rede de Pesquisa em Diversidade, Conservação e Uso da Fauna da Amazônia, Brazil 

6 Wildlife Conservation Society, Bolivia Program, La Paz, Bolivia

7 Xianda College of Economics and Humanities, Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai

8 Wildlife Conservation Society, Guatemala Program, Flores, Guatemala

9 Wildlife Conservation Society, Latin America Illegal Wildlife Trade Program, Lima, Peru

10 School of Environment, Education, and Development, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK

11 Wildlife Conservation Society, Peru Program, Lima, Peru

12 Wildlife Conservation Society, Colombia Program, Cali, Colombia

13 Wildlife Conservation Society, Vietnam Program, Vietnam

14 WWF Amazon Coordination Unit, Quito, Ecuador

15 Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, Oxford-Martin Programme on Illegal Wildlife Trade, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

16 Wildlife Conservation Society, Belize Program, Belize City, Belize

17 Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado, Santa Cruz, Bolivia

18 Universidad del Pacífico, Lima, Perú

19 Department of Geography, Environment, and Society, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

20 Wildlife Conservation Society, Global Conservation Program, Bronx,New York, USA

21Cornell University, Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, Ithaca, New York, USA

22 Wildlife Conservation Society, Latin America Illegal Wildlife Trade Program, Mexico City, Mexico