Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

How Ayahuasca Tourism Drives Jaguar Body Parts Trade

Popular
How Ayahuasca Tourism Drives Jaguar Body Parts Trade
A jaguar in Mato Grosso Sur, Brazil. Steve Winter / National Geographic

By Mike Gaworecki

Jaguars face a number of threats, from habitat destruction and fragmentation for agriculture to poaching, trophy hunting and retaliatory killings by ranchers. The cats are estimated to have lost nearly half of their historic range and to have declined by as much as 20 to 25 percent over the past three generations, which is why the species is listed as nearly threatened on the IUCN Red List.


According to research published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice earlier this month, there may be an overlooked threat facing this most iconic of species: the booming ayahuasca tourism industry.

The trade in jaguar body parts is growing across Latin America, particularly in Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru and Suriname. Over the past few years, the most serious new threat to jaguars that has emerged is the illegal trade in jaguar fangs for the Chinese market. But according to a team of researchers led by Alexander Braczkowski of Australia's University of Queensland, "commercialized ayahuasca tourism may be an undervalued contributor to the trade" in jaguar body parts.

Jaguar skin for sale in the Passage Paquito section of Belen market, Iquitos. Steve Winter / National Geographic

"In Southeast Asia, jaguar claws and teeth are worn as jewellery; their skins are bought for home decor; and a glue paste (made from boiled jaguar parts) is consumed to heal various ailments," Braczkowski and co-authors write in the paper. "Most organized trafficking appears to be by contractors working for foreign companies hired to hunt cats to export body parts. With Latin America's current ayahuasca and shamanic tourist boom there are additional demands for jaguar products."

Braczkowski and the team conducted an investigation between August 2016 and August 2019 into the jaguar parts trade in markets in three Peruvian cities that are considered top ayahuasca tourism destinations: Lima, Iquitos and Pucallpa. They found jaguar skins for sale at prices ranging from $49 to $152, paws that could be purchased for $9, jaguar skin purses available for $6, and stuffed jaguars heads for which the asking price was anywhere from $30 to $91. Jaguar canines can fetch between $61 and $122 each.

"Every single place we went to look for jaguar skins, jaguar teeth, we found them," Sharon Guynup, a co-author of the paper, told Mongabay.

Jaguar teeth for sale in the Passage Paquito section of Belen market, Iquitos. Steve Winter / National Geographic

Through discussions with street vendors, shamans and people working in the tourism industry, the researchers found that jaguar canine pendants, jaguar skin bracelets and other jaguar products are being sold to tourists under the pretense that they somehow enhance the ayahuasca experience. Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew made from the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and chakruna leaves (Psychotria viridis). It has traditionally been used for spiritual and physical healing in ritual shamanic ceremonies, but has also become popular among recreational users in recent decades.

"This appears to be a case of rebranding, specifically using 'ayahuasca marketing' for sellers to charge a premium on jaguar parts," the researchers write in the paper. "Local indigenous shamans and healers from the Pucallpa area (Shipibo, Conibo, and Ashaninka ethnicities) denied the notion that jaguar parts enhance the ayahuasca experience for visiting tourists, and suggested that this practice is being marketed by 'charlatan shamans' seeking financial gain from the ayahuasca boom."

The researchers suggest that one way to effectively halt this growing illicit trade is to more formally regulate ayahuasca tourism and educate both tourists and tour operators. "The shamans we encountered in Iquitos and Pucallpa stressed the importance of the jaguar to the Amazon ecosystem and as a powerful totem in the spiritual world," they write in the paper. "The leadership of ayahuasca retreats could be important champions for jaguar conservation in Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, and other regions where ayahuasca is used, and they could discourage tourists from using jaguar parts."

Jaguar teeth and a jaguar skull for sale in a craft market in Yarinacocha Market, Pucallpa. Alex Braczkowski / Mongabay

Peru already has a national anti‐wildlife trafficking policy in place that punishes traffickers with a prison sentence of 3 to 5 years. Guynup said that, during their investigation of local markets, the researchers found a number of purveyors of jaguar products who exercised caution in their dealings with would-be buyers, suggesting that there has been some enforcement of anti-wildlife trafficking laws. But she called for the government of Peru to be more aggressive in enforcing its laws.

"The Peruvian government needs to recognize that this is happening and address it. There are good wildlife laws in Peru, I think they need to be better enforced and if they're not, there's very little reason for this trade to end," Guynup said.

"A big factor here is also education, for ayahuasca tourists and for tourists in general, not only on the plight of jaguars but the plight of endangered species in general. It's not that this trade is specifically [due to] ayahuasca tourism, there's a much broader trade that does include trade to Asia. But this is a piece of the puzzle and it's really important for potential consumers to be aware of this and not participate."

Jaguars in Mato Grosso Sur, Brazil. Steve Winter / National Geographic

Note: A co-author of the paper, Romi Castagnino, works for Mongabay LatAm. She had no editorial input on this article.

Reposted with permission from our media partner Mongabay.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A resident works in the vegetable garden of the Favela Nova Esperanca – a "green favela" which reuses everything and is subject to the ethics of permaculture – in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Feb. 14, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP via Getty Images

Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.

Read More Show Less
Once the virus escapes into the air inside a building, you have two options: bring in fresh air from outside or remove the virus from the air inside the building. Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

By Shelly Miller

The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.

Read More Show Less
California Senator Kamala Harris endorses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a historic announcement Tuesday when he named California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

A northern mockingbird on June 24, 2016. Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0

Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).

Read More Show Less
A spiny dogfish shark swims in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A "vessel of opportunity" skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. NOAA / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun

After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less