A ten-month investigation by World Animal Protection revealed a harrowing illegal wildlife trade where Jaguars are killed for medicine in Suriname. The big cats are hunted, killed and boiled down into a paste then exported to China where there is a lucrative market capitalizing on the belief that the paste can cure a number of ailments.

China Moves Into Suriname

The highly under-reported poaching of Jaguars in Suriname, a South American country, is increasing as China’s investment in the country continues to grow. The Chinese came into Suriname to enact development projects, but have in the process encouraged poaching and provided a ready-made market for the jaguars.

The Guardian reported in 2015, that Chinese nationals own around 90 percent of Suriname’s grocery stores, small food shops and supermarkets. In the last ten years, the Chinese have also built restaurants, casinos, shops and established companies including a Mandarin-broadcasting television station in the country.

According to the United Nations, almost half of Suriname’s 558,000 population live in poverty and struggle to find work. This has made poaching a lucrative business for them. Notably, this is not the first time China has been implicated with fueling an illegal wildlife trade.

Poachers transporting a jaguar. Source: World Animal Protection

Illegal Wildlife Trade: Jaguars For Medicine

From their investigation, World Animal Protection uncovered what they called a “highly secretive hunting and trading chain.” The chain is a barbaric and cruel practice that involves local hunters, Chinese middlemen and processors who finally smuggle products processed from the cats’ carcasses to China.

To hunt the jaguars, hunters bait them with dogs or goats. They are then shot multiple times to immobilize them and once immobilized, a final bullet is delivered in the head to kill the animal. The jaguars endure a great deal of suffering before they die as the hunting can last from a few hours to a few days. In one instance, a jaguar was shot at least seven times before it died.

Once killed, the hunters sell the carcasses to Chinese middlemen for about $260 each. The sale of one jaguar is approximately equivalent for a local hunter to the down payment on a new car. The carcasses are then transported to urban centers where they’re given to processors for processing. Processors pay roughly $2,000 to $3,000 per animal.

The processors are mainly Chinese nationals who chop and boil the carcasses for at least seven days. The end product is a thick black and glue-like substance that is then packed into tubs and smuggled out of Suriname to China. Every carcass can produce 20-30 tubs and one tub fetches anywhere from $785 to $3,000 in China.

Teeth and claws are also plucked out and sold as beauty accessories. A plain tooth sells anywhere between $67 to $500 while a whole set in gold sells for at least $1,200.

Teeth and jaguar claws made into beauty accessories. Source: World Animal Protection

The carcasses are sometimes also sold for meat to Chinese and Filipino communities in Suriname. The demand for jaguar penises is also high as they believe it increases virility.

Despite Unproven Medical Benefits Jaguar Illegal Wildlife Trade Flourishes

The jaguar paste, when mixed with traditional Asian medical ingredients, is believed to cure arthritis, boost sexual performance and improve general body immune. There is no scientific proof that these big cats possess the said healing properties. Despite the lack of scientific backing to the medical claims and the existence of other effective, humane and legal medical alternatives to cure disease, jaguars are still being poached at worrisome rates.

It is not only jaguars that are killed but also tigers which belong to the same genus as jaguars and are also believed to possess the same healing properties.

Poaching of tigers for traditional medicine has led to a sharp decline in their population to the point that only 3,900 or fewer remain in the world today. It is this decline that has endangered jaguars, as hunters turned to them as tiger numbers dwindled. Currently, the global population of jaguars is around 173,000 which is a 25 percent drop from their population 21 years ago.

A poacher poses before with a dead jaguar before transportation. Source: World Animal Protection

Can The Jaguar Trade be Stopped?

Jaguars are listed as a “near threatened” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Within Suriname, French Guiana and Guyana tigers are listed as endangered, which makes hunting or trading the animals illegal, but the designation has done little to stop the illegal wildlife trade.

World Animal Protection says restoration of the jaguars’ habitat is vital and will encourage their multiplication. Current mining projects in Suriname have greatly destroyed their habitat pushing them out of the wild. This has fueled animal-human conflict and, in turn, increased poaching.

World Animal Protection is also working with the government agency in Suriname responsible for protecting jaguars. However, there also needs to be a widespread effort to increase education of the plight of the jaguars and encourage the use of proven medical alternatives to the jaguar paste.

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