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Prisoners in Bolivia are being trafficked in jaguar skins and other wild animal parts to make wallets, hats and belts for sale in local markets. Jaguar claws and bones are being illegally exported for traditional Asian medicine.
The trade, which further threatens the future of the species, was discovered by researchers who reported on the illegal trade at the Mocovi prison in Trinidad, Bolivia.
The jaguar (Panthera onca) is the largest big cat in the Americas and is of ecological and cultural importance in landlocked Bolivia, but its numbers are rapidly declining due to habitat loss – as well as domestic and international demand for organs. Although jaguars have been legally protected from trade internationally since 1975 and nationally since 1986, the illegal market exists.
Prisoners in a Bolivian prison have been buying jaguar and other animal skins directly from local market traders, buying boa constrictor snakes, and then reselling fashion items to make ends meet.
As researchers Neil D’Cruz, Angie Elwin, Ayoob Asfaw and Roberto Vietto wrote in the journal. Oryxare receiving large orders for wildlife products from non-Bolivian international customers.
In February of this year, videos shared on social media show the director of Mokovi Prison inviting the public to visit a craft fair held at the facility to buy wildlife products, including wildlife products made by inmates.
Dr. Neil DeCruz, head of wildlife research at the international non-governmental organization Animal Protection, said: “Our research shows that Bolivian prisoners are paid to produce jaguar bags, hats, belts and purses from their cells. Contrary to previous reports, the footage provided shows no evidence that prisoners were forced into this illegal activity. Instead, one prisoner said they did it voluntarily to ‘earn a living’.
“Illegal wildlife trade is one of the most serious threats to wildlife conservation. To support current efforts to protect jaguars and other wildlife in Bolivia, improved law enforcement and political will are needed to take action against illegal activities. Also awareness. It should be based on how wildlife products are being produced and the impact such production has on wildlife and the people involved.”
All information collected by the report’s authors has been handed over to the Bolivian authorities.
Going Beyond the Wall: Insights into Illegal Jaguar Production in a Bolivian Prison; Oryx (2023) DOI: 10.1017/S0030605323000492