National Geographic : 2017 Dec
93 Bolivia’s Madidi National Park is home to several hundred jaguars. Park director Marcos Uzquiano (at left) and his rangers have seen an uptick in interest from Chinese buyers looking for jaguar teeth to sell on the black market in their country. As Chinese investment floods into Bolivia, the spotted cats are under siege because of a booming market for their teeth and skulls. A downpour during the night had turned the greenish water of Río Quendeque angry and red with fresh mud, and the clouds looked ready to burst again any moment. Thankfully, we had the good boat, the one with the “roof ”—an awning where giant Amazonian spiders and iridescent beetles were hanging out. I was on patrol with rangers from Madidi Nation- al Park in Bolivia, who were searching for clues about a growing problem in the rain forest. Madidi, a bit smaller than New Jersey, is a stunning natural trove, with more than 11 per- cent of the world’s bird species and 200 species of mammals. Even in the rainy season, when waist- deep mud can hobble you and insects seem hell- bent on eating you alive, it’s magical. Scarlet macaws swoop overhead, swarms of green-blue Urania moths blanket mud puddles, and the giant trees that loom over all are so lush they block out the sky. The park is also home to the jaguar, the myste- rious spotted cat of the jungle that once roamed from the southwestern U.S. through Argentina. Jaguars have lost swaths of forest habitat to ranchland, farmland, and illegal logging, and they’re often shot by people who fear them (even though jaguars very rarely attack humans) or who worry that the cats will kill their cattle (which they sometimes do). And now jaguars are facing a new threat: poaching for the illegal trade in wildlife. Nowhere, perhaps, is this threat more evident than in Bolivia, where postal service employees have confiscated hundreds of jaguar teeth being smuggled to China. In separate court cases, two Chinese men are being tried on charges related to jaguar trafficking. And in towns across northern Bolivia, radio stations air advertisements by men with Chinese accents offering to buy jaguar parts from local people.