Summary report: The criminal networks behind jaguar trafficking

Currently, the jaguar (Panthera onca) is listed on CITES Appendix I and is classified on the IUCN Red List as ‘near threatened,” with numbers continuing to decrease for a variety of reasons, including poaching and trafficking. To tackle jaguar trafficking, more information on the trade’s scale, nature and dynamics is needed. Therefore, as part of Operation Jaguar, our project partner Earth League International (ELI) conducted undercover investigations on jaguar trafficking in Latin America, focusing on some of the most important transnational trafficking networks in the region. The summary report based on this research provides a deeper look into jaguar trafficking and its convergence with other crimes in Bolivia, Suriname, Peru, and Ecuador.

Jaguar’s parts, mostly fangs and bones, are primarily destined for Chinese markets to be sold as a valid substitute for tiger parts. Chinese medicine has ascribed magical powers and medical properties to tiger bones and teeth for millennia. Thus, many Chinese refer to jaguars as ‘the American tiger’.

ELI has conducted undercover investigations on jaguar trafficking in Latin America as part of Operation Jaguar. Multiple missions have been undertaken to four Latin American countries: Bolivia, Suriname, Peru, and Ecuador. The focus of the intelligence-led operation was to unveil the central nodes, mechanisms, and structure of the entire criminal supply chain, focusing on the illegal wildlife goods providers, the traders, the transporters, and the sellers in China.

Unveiling jaguar trafficking networks

Through Operation Jaguar we have identified and investigated the most important jaguar trafficking networks in these four South American countries. ELI has researched the illegal wildlife supply chain to unveil the dynamics underneath jaguar trafficking in the region and identify the main players, trafficking routes, and destinations. Over the years more than a dozen trafficking networks operating regionally and internationally have been unveiled and information about these trafficking networks has been shared with several governmental and intergovernmental agencies.

Jaguar trafficking and its convergence with other serious crimes

This summary report provides an overview of the key findings regarding jaguar trafficking in the countries of Bolivia, Suriname, Peru, and Ecuador, followed by a case study of a top transnational jaguar trafficking network(s) identified through investigative fieldwork. From here, we share detailed evidence and first-hand information regarding jaguar trafficking and its convergence, or overlap, with other serious crimes, such as drug smuggling, human trafficking, gold trafficking, or money laundering. Finally, conclusions and recommendations are provided regarding actions and steps needed to continue addressing the illegal jaguar trade in Latin America.

The full report will be released in 2023.

Operation Jaguar

Operation Jaguar is a joint project between IUCN NL, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Earth League International (ELI) and is made possible by the Dutch Postcode Lottery.

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