8 min read

People Are Tracking Down Jaguars To Make This Strange 'Medicine'

Ick 😬

The jaguar wasn’t just shot once — she was shot seven times in the head before she finally died — and for the worst reason. People wanted to use her body to make medicine and jewelry, which could be sold for large sums of money.

Earlier this year, the team at World Animal Protection (WAP) investigated the illegal poaching of jaguars in Suriname, a small country in South America, and what they learned was shocking. Jaguars, who are known for their elusive nature and beautiful markings, are being hunted out of the forests and sold to middlemen for about $260 each. Since many people live in extreme poverty in Suriname, this is a lot of money — for instance, it could be enough to make a down payment on a car. But the real profit is made by the middlemen, who sell the jaguars in Chinese shops and facilities for about $2,000 or $3,000 per animal.

Wild jaguar sitting inside forest
World Animal Protection

Sadly, jaguars are highly valued in traditional Chinese medicine. Their bodies are chopped up, boiled and dried to produce a strange paste believed to cure arthritis pain, increase sexual performance and generally enhance health.

Jaguar teeth and claws are also sold as jewelry and decorations, fetching prices as high as $1,200 for a single tooth set in gold.

Paste made out of jaguar bodies
Paste made out of jaguar body parts | World Animal Protection

In Chinese and Filipino communities within Suriname, even jaguar meat is coveted. It’s often made into soup, and jaguar bones can be used to make wine — the same thing is done with tigers, whose bodies are boiled and turned into tiger wine.

This hunger for jaguar parts is a huge animal welfare problem, according to Nicholas Bruschi, investigations advisor for WAP.

Jaguar teeth and claws
Jaguar teeth and claws | World Animal Protection

“They’re shot multiple times — three, four, five, six, seven times, and take a long time to die,” Bruschi told The Dodo. “I had no idea that they would have that level of suffering in their deaths, although I’ve heard of similar accounts with other big cats.”

Warning: Graphic photos below

Dead jaguar on back of vehicle
A jaguar who'd been poached by a local gold miner | World Animal Protection

If hunters kill a mother with a young cub, they’ll usually take that cub and sell him or her as a pet to wealthy businessmen, who like to keep them as status symbols. Not surprisingly, the jaguar cubs aren’t properly cared for in these captive situations — they’re fed inadequate foods like cow’s milk or sugar and water, and kept in tiny cages, according to WAP. When the jaguar cubs get too big to be handled, they’re usually killed for their meat.

Dead jaguar in back of canoe
A poached jaguar being transported via canoe | World Animal Protection

“Some hunters said they would shoot the jaguar to get the cub … because they would potentially make more from a cub than a jaguar carcass,” Bruschi said.

The illegal hunting of jaguars, which has been documented in Suriname, Guyana, Brazil and Bolivia, is having a detrimental effect on the species’ survival. It’s estimated that there are only about 173,000 jaguars living in the wild throughout Central and South America, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies jaguars as “near threatened.”

Woman posing with dead jaguar
World Animal Protection

“The scale of the problem is very worrying,” Bruschi said. “We were told by one hunter in one town in one part of Suriname that over the hunting season, they would have one carcass go through the town every three weeks. That felt very worrying.”

“We were then told by processors that they were finding it hard to find jaguars,” Bruschi added. “That was the most worrying thing of all, because they were saying, ‘Look, it’s harder to … find these animals nowadays.’”

Dead jaguar hanging on pole
World Animal Protection

Besides poaching, threats to the jaguar include habitat loss and deforestation, as well as retaliatory shootings when jaguars attack livestock for food.

If jaguars aren’t given the protections they deserve, and illegal hunting isn’t stopped, Bruschi fears that jaguar populations will continue to decline, similar to how tiger and lion populations have severely dwindled in the wild.

Baby jaguar hiding beneath blanket
D'Yaria, a baby jaguar shot by farmers in Ecuador who wanted to protect their cattle | Andres Ortega

“If we don’t work on it now, they could go the way of the tiger,” Bruschi said. “We’ve seen what happens to other big cats. The jaguar seems to be the next animal up for exploitation in this way. That’s why we should be worried. We’re at the turning point where it could go either way.”

While the problem of jaguar poaching is huge, Bruschi is hopeful that local people in Suriname will learn to protect jaguars.

Baby jaguar hiding beneath blanket
D'Yaria was rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild. | Andres Ortega

“People in the country were saying how proud they were of the jaguar, how it was culturally iconic and how it represented a lot of strength,” Bruschi said. “They’re emblematic of the forest, and they’re very proud of the forest and the animals, and they want people to see the animals and to experience them in the wild. And they don’t want to have this trade in the country. Even people engaged in the hunting — the ones who sadly did it.”

To help protect jaguars in Suriname and other parts of South America, you can make a donation to WAP.