By Yuhan Li, Melissa Arias, Amy Hinsley and E.J. Milner-Gulland

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The jaguar (Panthera onca), is the iconic big cat of the Americas. Though it is a predator to be reckoned with, it is still under threat. Historically, the jaguar was threatened by the fashion industry for its skins. More recently a wide range of jaguar body parts have been traded within Latin America and globally. The trade in jaguar body parts has caught the attention of the media, and as researchers, we are interested in whether the media’s reporting of the trade differed across continents and languages. This is important because the media shapes public attitudes and policy-making.

We focused on the jaguar trade from and within Bolivia, because this is a known hotspot. We analysed 298 media articles in the Chinese, English and Spanish languages, which were published between 2015 and 2019. A total of 15 jaguar body part types were reported as traded. However, media reports only presented evidence of seizures for four of the 15 body parts (teeth, skins, claws and heads). Other body parts, such as bones and testicles, may possibly be traded as well, but the articles provided no evidence from seizures, nor did they state that there were uncertainties behind their reporting.

Among 298 articles, 190 articles mentioned Chinese involvement in the trade, including jaguar traders of Chinese descent who were either living in or travelling back from Bolivia. Articles in English and Spanish languages generally stated that Chinese jaguar traders were possibly from the Chinese companies carrying out infrastructure projects, and that medicinal use in China was the main reason for trade. However, these assumptions need to be examined carefully, as the evidence that was presented does not show that there is actually a link to Chinese companies or that Chinese medicine uses jaguar body parts.

The voices of two key groups were very limited in the media reports. Firstly, there was very little discussion of the perspectives of Chinese people (either from China or those living or working in Bolivia). Secondly, people living closely with the jaguars were also rarely quoted, even though they were at the frontline of jaguar conservation and were most likely to interact with them (e.g.  through jaguars killing their livestock or their killing of jaguars). The insights of these two groups could potentially deepen the public’s understanding of the complexities of the trade, which is still full of uncertainty.

In conclusion, our results stress the need for evidence-based media reporting and the importance of resolving communication gaps, in order to ensure that the public and decision-makers are as well-informed as possible on the steps needed to conserve this iconic big cat.