Updated on 28 October 2022


Poaching and illegal trade a growing threat to jaguars: CITES study

Geneva, November 2 2021 – Jaguars (Panthera Onca) have been listed under CITES Appendix I since 1975, meaning international commercial trade in this species is prohibited. However, in recent years, illegal trade in jaguars has become a concern for the conservation of the species, following reports suggesting the emergence of international trafficking and the existence of active domestic markets for jaguar body parts.

In response to such concerns, the CITES Secretariat has published a study analysing the illegal trade in jaguars, which is available in English and Spanish.

The study maps illegal trade in the jaguar throughout its range, which stretches from the southwestern United States to northern Argentina, covering 8.42 million km² across 19 countries. It examines the uses of jaguar specimens, both domestically and in international markets, reviews the methods employed by actors involved in illegal trade and the possible drivers associated with it, and it characterizes its overall impact on jaguar populations. It also analyses the extent to which illegally sourced jaguar products are entering international trade.

CITES study on illegal trade in jaguar

The 1975 CITES listing, along with the establishment of national protection laws, successfully put an end to commercial-scale international trade in jaguars for more than four decades. Officially documented seizures of jaguar specimens seem to indicate this is still the case, as figures have remained relatively stable over the past two decades. However, there is confirmed evidence of recent illegal international trade from Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

The study identifies four illegal trade routes: from range States to the United States, from range States to the European Union, from the United States to the European Union and vice versa, and from range States to China, via Europe. Findings point to the predominance of domestic illegal trade in jaguar specimens, occurring throughout the jaguar range as almost all jaguar body parts, but particularly teeth, skins, skulls and fat, have cultural, decorative, medicinal and other functional uses at the domestic level.

The uses of jaguar body parts outside of range States are less well understood. Teeth are most likely used as status-granting collectibles and souvenirs, while products like jaguar "paste" have alleged medicinal properties.

The nature and multiplicity of drivers associated with illegal trade in jaguars is striking. They include domestic demand for jaguar body parts and local livelihoods, human-jaguar conflict, financial incentives, foreign demand for jaguar body parts, tourism-related demand, the illegal pet trade and private wildlife collections, and illegal trophy hunting.

The study suggests that the illegal trade in jaguar specimens is becoming more organized in some countries. Traffickers are taking advantage of online platforms and social media to advertise products and to consolidate larger illegal trade networks and consumer bases.

Regarding the impact of poaching and illegal trade, the study finds that current offtake levels may be affecting jaguar populations throughout the range. Small and fragmented populations are particularly at risk from poaching or illegal trade, and so are larger populations in countries with lower institutional and legal capacity to effectively combat poaching and illegal trade.

Overall, findings indicate that a better understanding of the impacts of the illegal trade on jaguar populations is urgently needed, which will require a collaborative effort between governments, communities, civil society and academia to build a system for the systematic collection, analysis, and reporting of information on jaguar killings and associated illegal trade.

CITES Secretary General, Ivonne Higuero, said: "Nearly five decades after the listing of jaguars under CITES Appendix I in 1975, illegal trade at the domestic and international levels has once again become a concern for jaguar conservation. This detailed study brings new insights in the scale and scope of the illegal trade in jaguars, in and outside the Americas. And the news is not good: poaching and illegal trade are a concern throughout the species’ range, and will need a concerted response from CITES Parties. All range States are to coordinate and work together to ensure proper enforcement, and to establish information-sharing systems to document, detect and deter this major threat to this iconic CITES species."

The CITES Standing Committee will consider the findings of the study on the illegal trade in jaguars at its 74th meeting (March 2022) and make recommendations as appropriate for consideration at the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, to be held in Panama from 14 to 25 November 2022.
The study was Commissioned in accordance with CoP18 Decision 18.251 and was made possible thanks to generous funding by the Government of Switzerland.