Researchers investigating reports of illegal trading at Mocoví prison in Trinidad, Bolivia, have uncovered prisoners trading in jaguar skins and other wild animal body parts to produce fashion items for sale in local markets. The illegal trade poses a significant threat to jaguars, which are already facing declining numbers due to habitat loss and demand for their body parts, and highlights the need for improved law enforcement and political action to combat illegal wildlife trade.
Prisoners in Bolivia are trading in jaguar skins and other wild animal body parts to produce wallets, hats, and belts for sale in local markets. The fangs and bones of jaguars are being illegally exported for use as traditional Asian medicine.
The trade, which further threatens the future of this species, has been uncovered by researchers investigating reports of illegal trading at Mocoví prison, in Trinidad, Bolivia.
As the largest big cat in the Americas the jaguar (Panthera Onca) has ecological and cultural significance in the landlocked country of Bolivia, but numbers are declining fast due to reasons including habitat loss – as well as domestic and international demand for their body parts. The illegal market exists despite the fact that jaguars have been legally protected against commercial trade internationally since 1975 and nationally since 1986.
Inmates at the Bolivian prison have been buying skins of jaguars and other animals including boa constrictor snakes (Boa constrictor) directly from traders at local markets, and then selling fashion items back again at a profit in order to provide income for their daily sustenance.
According to the researchers, Neil D’Cruze, Angie Elwin, Eyob Asfaw and Roberto Vieto, writing in the Oryx, published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Fauna & Flora, large orders for the wildlife products are being received from non-Bolivian international clients.
Videos shared on social media as recently as February this year even show the director of Mocoví prison inviting the public to visit a craft fair held at the facility to buy wildlife products – including those from jaguar parts – made by the inmates.
Dr Neil D’Cruze, Head of Wildlife Research at the International NGO, World Animal Protection said: “Our research confirms that Bolivian inmates are paid to produce jaguar wallets, hats, belts and purses from their cells. Contrary to previous anecdotal reports, the footage provided showed no evidence of inmates being coerced into this illegal activity; instead, an inmate stated that they did so willingly to ‘earn a living for daily sustenance’.”
“Illegal wildlife trade is one of the most pressing threats to wildlife conservation. To support existing efforts to protect jaguars and other wildlife in Bolivia, there is a need for improved law enforcement and political will to take action against illegal activities. In addition, awareness must be raised on how wildlife products are being produced and the effect that such production has on the wildlife and the people involved.”
All the information gathered by the authors of the report, which is peer-reviewed and published in Oryx – The International Journal of Conservation, has been passed to the Bolivian authorities.
- Inmates at Mocoví prison in Bolivia are involved in the illegal trade of jaguar skins and other animal body parts to produce fashion items for sale.
- The trade further endangers the declining population of jaguars in Bolivia, despite legal protections against commercial trade.
- Large orders for wildlife products are received from international clients, highlighting the global reach of the illegal wildlife trade.
- Improved law enforcement, political action, and raising awareness about the impact of wildlife product production are needed to protect jaguars and combat illegal wildlife trade.