Why Jaguars are Under Siege

Jaguar population numbers have been declining due to a combination of habitat loss, prey depletion and human-jaguar conflict.

Close-up of a jaguar resting on a branch.
Close-up of a jaguar resting on a branch in the Peruvian jungle.

 Kim Schandorff via Getty Images

Jaguars may be the new tigers — at least when it comes to the danger they face from poaching.

That's the finding of a report from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Rising demand for teeth, claws, skin, and other body parts could lead to the near-threatened Mesoamerican animal facing pressures similar to that of Asian tigers.

"Jaguar population numbers are holding strong in some parts of the species range — which stretches from the southwestern United States to northern Argentina — but in other places, numbers have been declining due to a combination of habitat loss, prey depletion and human-jaguar conflict. We now face the added threat of an increasing demand for their body parts," John Polisar, coordinator of WCS's Jaguar Program, wrote in the report.

Jaguar hunting is both a national and international concern, say the report's authors. In China, jaguar teeth are used as substitutes for tiger teeth, according to National Geographic. There are worries that a formal trade system is developing in Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama, with a specific emphasis on exporting jaguar parts to Asia. Those four countries, along with Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua, appear to be the locus of the trade, spurred on by poaching done to protect livestock.

To reduce the risks to jaguars, the WCS recommends a three-pronged approach:

  1. Bring more attention to the potential harm trade can do to the jaguar population.
  2. Work with farmers to reduce conflicts between livestock and jaguars.
  3. Increase the enforcement of laws that protect the big cats from poaching.

"The increase in the illegal trade in jaguar body parts could reverse the recent advances that have been made in protecting jaguar strongholds," Polisar said.

"Adding value to dead jaguars for their parts is an additional and unacceptable threat that needs to be prevented through coordinated national and international actions. We urge governmental authorities throughout the jaguar's range to engage on this issue."