Jaguar fangs: The Chinese connection in the Amazon MF

A study published by the Institute of Ecology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 2017 estimated that 90 percent of the 64,000 jaguars in Latin America live in the Amazon. The study concluded that 33 of 34 subpopulations of jaguars are endangered or in critical danger of extinction.


Many of these jaguar populations are declining due to the loss of their natural habitat and illegal hunting, the study warned.


As a journalist and documentary filmmaker, I have reported on environmental issues and indigenous communities in many parts of South America, from the Amazon rainforest to the dry Chaco forest and south to Patagonia.


My plan is to produce a multimedia project on a worrying new threat to jaguars, with an element of cross-border reporting, something new and original for the Amazon.


My focus will be on Bolivia’s natural areas where hunters are killing jaguars and also the black markets where smugglers are selling fangs and other jaguar body parts.


Recent years have seen a boom in Chinese investment in Bolivia. Bolivia's debt to China currently stands at $7 billion. This money is being used to build roads, bridges and hydroelectric plants in the Amazon. More than 30,000 Chinese citizens have arrived in the country since 2013.


This migration has increased the rising demand for jaguar fangs in many of Bolivia’s protected areas and also parts of Peru and Brazil, near where infrastructure projects are being built. Chinese culture believes tiger fangs can cure diseases and boost sexual potency. But considering the scarcity of Asian tigers, with a population estimated at just 3,200, the Asian demand seems to have found the perfect substitute: the jaguar.


During 2014-18 more than 200 jaguars were killed by hunters to extract their fangs. In 2015, a Chinese businessman who once lived in Bolivia was caught in the Beijing airport with 119 jaguar fangs. In 2018, they acknowledged the presence of a dangerous crime gang that is taking advantage of weak governmental oversight and scarce controls by bolivian authorities.


As in Bolivia, trafficking of jaguar parts has also increased in recent years in Peru and in some territories of the Brazilian Amazon, coinciding with the onset of major Chinese-led construction projects.


To make the public and opinion formers better informed about illegal jaguar hunting and the trade in jaguar parts, with the support of Press Start donors I will explore several avenues. What brings Chinese companies and workers to the Amazon? What is the evidence that infrastructure projects using Chinese workers are fueling the rise in jaguar hunting? How are local people getting involved in the trafficking?


I will approach environmental authorities in Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, national park directors, scientists and conservationists that are working towards jaguar conservation, local and indigenous communities, Chinese workers, managers of Chinese companies, and if possible, the local hunters who are killing the jaguars.

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