Jaguar on tree trunk (c) pexels

Poaching of jaguars in Suriname’s protected parks increased during COVID-19 pandemic

Poaching of jaguars is rife in Suriname’s protected areas. Poachers and opportunistic actors such as illegal miners and loggers kill the animals, strip them of their skin, bones and teeth, and boil the rest of the carcass down into a paste that’s then trafficked to Chinese buyers. Although poachers have long acted with impunity amid a general lack of monitoring and law enforcement by authorities, conservationists say the COVID-19 pandemic has made this situation worse. With our project Operation Jaguar we want to put an end to this wildlife crime.

Header photo: Jaguar on tree trunk © Pexels

IUCN NL works closely with Suriname’s Institute of Neotropical Wildlife and Environmental Studies (NeoWild). We support their research to study the jaguar in an area that is almost pristine, in order to compare it with jaguar ecology in disturbed areas. The results of this study are expected to prove the value of a pristine habitat with minimal human disturbance. Vanessa Kadosoe, biologist and researcher at NeoWild has been monitoring the jaguars inside Brownsberg Nature Park for almost a decade now. She found that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, gold miners and illegal loggers have been penetrating into the heart of protected areas, in many cases also hunting the jaguars.

The situation in Brownsberg Nature Park is complex. Created in 1970 and extending over about 12,200 hectares (30,000 acres), the park is used for ecotourism, research and educational purposes. Despite clearly posted signs throughout the protected area stating that prohibit hunting, logging and mining are prohibited, dozens of mining companies and casual workers are concentrated in the west of the park. The proximity of humans to jaguars is increasing the risk of conflicts, where ultimately the jaguar pays the price.

Challenges to curbing wildlife crime in Suriname

Suriname has a liberal regime for the export of wildlife and the country’s environmental and wildlife legislation is outdated. Illegal trade in jaguar parts is among the country’s key wildlife crime issues. Challenges to curbing wildlife crime in Suriname include inadequate law enforcement capacity and resources exacerbated by a failing economy; diverging regimes for wildlife export within the Guianas which are abused by traffickers and create incentives for cross-border smuggling; and corruption.

Jaguar paste

The illegal trade in jaguar products is driven by the demand in Asian markets. Next to jaguar fangs, skin and bones, jaguar paste is a product that encourages jaguar poaching in Suriname. Jaguar paste is a glue-like substance obtained from boiling down an entire jaguar carcass for at least five days. It’s in high demand in traditional Chinese medicine, where it’s said to relieve arthritis and improve sexual performance, among other health benefits, despite zero scientific evidence to support such claims.

Detection dogs

As part of the project Operation Jaguar, detection dogs are trained to support Suriname’s authorities in detecting jaguar products. With their amazing sense of smell, detection dogs play a vital role in detecting jaguar and other wildlife products at key transit points such as roads and airports.

This video shows how detection dogs help fight jaguar trafficking.

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Intelligence gathering

Intelligence gathering, led by Earth League International, forms another important element of the Operation Jaguar project. In the past years the project has collected information on what is happening in Suriname, the profiles of those involved, and the methods the smuggling networks use to reach Asia. The goal is to support the work of the justice system and enforcement agencies.

About Operation Jaguar

The jaguar is one of the five big cats. Although it is a protected species, in countries like Bolivia, Suriname and Guyana jaguars are increasingly being poached for their teeth, bones and other body parts. The project Operation Jaguar seeks to end this. Operation Jaguar is a joint project of IUCN NL, IFAW and Earth League International and is made possible by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.

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Liliana Jauregui
Liliana Jauregui
Senior Expert Environmental Justice
Marc Hoogeslag
Senior Expert Nature Conservation
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