Gangs in Latin America smuggle jaguar parts to China, report says

Jaguar in a tree, photo: Bibake Uppal on Unsplash
Jaguar in a tree, photo: Bibake Uppal on Unsplash

Criminal organizations in Latin America are bribing police and avoiding customs restrictions to smuggle pieces of jaguars to mainland China, an investigation by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in the Netherlands (IUCN NL) revealed.

Seventy-five intelligence sources across Latin America, including traffickers, confirmed in the report that criminals sometimes bribe high-ranking police officers to look the other way.

Jaguars, Latin America’s biggest cat, are classified on the IUCN’s red list as near-threatened. The animals are targeted by traffickers looking to sell their bones, genitals and teeth to clients in Asia.

“Jaguars are a very important species to protect,” Angela Nunez, an independent consultant in Bolivia and one of the authors of the report, told Reuters. “They are key within the ecosystems they live in. They are a species that regulate the other species that live alongside them.”

Investigations for the report were done by Earth League International (ELI), a group that uses intelligence-gathering techniques, the same government spy agencies work with, to track wildlife crime.

Criminal groups in Bolivia take advantage of inadequate law enforcement, corruption and not secure land borders and airports, the report found. Many jaguar parts are trafficked by plane, but international shipping and postal services have also been used.

The current whereabouts of hundreds of teeth seized in Bolivia between 2014 and 2019 are unknown, investigators said.

No jaguar parts have been seized since January 2019, with new trafficking routes and methodologies likely playing a role, the report added.

“We don’t even know the true extent (of trafficking),” said Valeria Boron, South America science and research coordinator for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization.

“The numbers in Bolivia point to hundreds of jaguar teeth being confiscated in the last few years, and that’s really only the tip of the iceberg,” she added.

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