Photo by Patrick Meier

Driven by the Asian market

Infrastructure developments and the influx of Chinese companies in recent years have been indirect drivers of the sharp increase in the jaguar trade. Previously inaccessible wilderness has been opened up and a new market interested in the jaguar was created: the trade in jaguars. Although there is also a domestic market for jaguar products, the demand for the animal’s fangs and bones has been driven by the Asian market.

‘American tiger’

Jaguar fangs are sold as substitutes for tiger fangs because of their large size. The difference is virtually indiscernible. To add to the confusion, in China jaguars are called ‘American tigers’. The reduced availability of tiger parts in Asia, combined with increasing demand in East and Southeast Asia and the growing Chinese presence in Latin America, appear to have created the perfect storm, resulting in a surge in the trade in jaguar products to China.

The fight against wildlife crime is in its infancy

At the same time, the fight against wildlife crime in South America is in its infancy. According to the latest figures, there are just 40 forest rangers in the whole of Suriname to protect wild animals, and in Bolivia – a country 25 times the size of the Netherlands – there are just 50 to cover the entire country. And when an arrest is made, the law does not provide adequate guidelines for an appropriate conviction. Therefore, poachers and illegal traders have free rein.

Want to know more about what we are doing to put an end to wildlife crime? Read our page on fighting wildlife crime.

A vital link in the ecosystem

As a predator at the top of the food chain, the jaguar is a vital link in the ecosystem. With Operation Jaguar we are doing our utmost to put an end to poaching and the illegal trade in jaguars. Operation Jaguar is a collaboration involving IUCN NL, IFAW and Earth League International, and is made possible thanks to the Nationale Postcode Loterij.

How did we combat jaguar poaching with Operation Jaguar?

  • Identifying networks. We can only do something about the illegal trade and poaching if we know where and when it takes place and who is involved. Together with our partner Earth League International (famous from the Netflix documentary The Ivory Game), we exposed smuggling routes and reveal networks and key figures in wildlife crime mafia.
  • Training local communities. Local communities can play an important role in the fight against poaching. We trained them to recognise and report (early signs of) poaching in their area. We shared the information this provides with major players across the borders, such as Interpol.
  • Making crime prevention more professional To tackle crime we must invest in reinforcing the South American investigative system: from the forest ranger who comes across traces of poaching, to the customs officer who confiscates a batch of teeth and the judge who sentences the criminal. Together with our partner IFAW, we trained forest rangers and local residents to collect and document evidence. We also supported the judicial authorities such as the Public Prosecution Service in formulating the indictment and building a strong case, so that the chance of a conviction is as high as possible.
  • Mobilising the public and politicians. Documentaries are a tried and tested means for opening the eyes of the public and politicians to the tragedy unfolding right under their nose. In association with film-maker Liz Unger, we’ve produced a documentary, called Madidi.

Project team

Marc Hoogeslag
Senior Expert Nature Conservation
Liliana Jauregui
Liliana Jauregui
Senior Expert Environmental Justice
Antoinette Sprenger
Senior Expert Environmental Justice
Elske Swets
Communications Manager
Phone: 020-3018251
Arjen Wisserhof
Arjen Wisserhof
No longer working at IUCN NL