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The production of jaguar paste in Suriname: a product-based crime script


As apex predators, jaguars have significant cultural importance in the Americas and are a key species for monitoring the health of ecosystems. Threats to jaguar populations include human-wildlife conflict, habitat destruction, and poaching driven by markets for jaguar products including trophies and traditional Chinese medicine. Using semi-structured interviews and participant observations, this short contribution provides a product-based crime script for the production of jaguar paste in Suriname. The findings indicate demand for jaguar paste facilitates opportunistic and organized hunting in and around protected areas, and near extractive industries such as mining and logging. A number of actors, and locations, are involved in the production of paste from live jaguars; the final product is often exported to China after being sold in medicinal shops in Suriname. Possible interventions are included alongside each step in the crime script. The short contribution highlights the potential for using crime scripts in wildlife protection to aid prevention efforts.


As apex predators, jaguars have significant cultural importance in the Americas and are a key species for monitoring the health of ecosystems (Cristancho and Vining 2004; Ripple et al. 2014). There are approximately 173,000 jaguars left in the wild, spread across a wide range that connects the southwestern U.S. to Central and South America (Jedrzejewski et al. 2018). The cat has been listed on CITES Appendix I since 1975 and is classified as Near Threatened under the IUCN Red List, with subpopulations outside of Amazonia considered to be the most isolated and threatened (de la Torre et al. 2017). Jaguars face multiple threats, including migration difficulty, human-wildlife conflict and habitat destruction. A particular challenge is the trade in jaguar parts, such as fangs, skulls, claws and skins, which are sold as trophies and traditional Chinese medicine across the Americas and in Asia (Fraser 2018). There are reports that jaguar products are used as a substitute for tiger parts (Bale 2017), but this is just one source of demand. As international demand for jaguar products increases, incentives to hunt these animals illegally do as well. This short contribution presents crime scripts that give insight into the motivation and opportunity structures that facilitate jaguar poaching in Suriname; a country where the killing, possession, transportation, and sale of jaguar products in Suriname is prohibited (Verheij 2019).

Data and methodology

Crime scripts were developed from semi-structured interviews and participant observations conducted between September 2017 and July 2018 as part of a larger effort to bring attention to jaguar poaching in Suriname through advocacy and research. To capture information on the current supply and demand dynamics of the trade, and the steps involved with processing and selling jaguar products, interviews focused on the prevalence of poaching and trading, the modus operandi of offenders, and consumer profiles. During the first field visit, interviews were conducted with hunters (n = 3), local academics leading conservation projects (n = 3), law enforcement officials (n = 2), and a government representative (n = 1). The opportunistic sample was identified through an established network built during previous projects in Suriname; interviewees were considered reliable because of prior collaborations and their established roles/expertise. Research assistants also visited curiosity and jewellery shops selling jaguar products, three in Apoera and five in the capital, Paramaribo (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1
figure 1

Map of Suriname

During a second field visit, research assistants met with a snowball sample of individuals from the Chinese community in Paramaribo involved with the processing and trading of jaguar products (n = 7) for an offender’s perspective of the trade. Triangulation of field notes, interviews, and additional information obtained through informal/follow-up conversations was used to develop crime scripts (Cornish 1994). The information was coded so that different stages in the production of jaguar products, i.e. procure/transport/process/sell, were separated and analysed individually to find commonalities across respondents. A product-based approach (Moreto and Lemieux 2015) was used to develop a script showing the production of a specific product, namely jaguar paste, while an actor-based script was developed for the hunting of jaguars. By following the product, a product-based script highlights the different actors/locations involved rather than the crime process of an individual offender.


Interviews and field observations suggest there is an emerging market for jaguar ‘paste’ or ‘glue’ in Suriname; this has been reported previously but no crime scripts with associated interventions are available (Bale 2018). The respondents indicated demand for this product comes from members of the local Chinese community, as well as a market in mainland China. This is different from the traditional products found in curio shops such as fangs, skulls and skins. The paste is said to be produced by boiling down an entire jaguar carcass in large pans for 5 days, skimming off the top, and letting it simmer for an additional 2 days. This process creates a black, glue-like substance that resembles molasses; it is used for arthritis pain, enhancing general health, and increasing sexual potency. A jaguar is processed into approximately 20–30 tubs that respondents explained could be placed into the hold luggage of individuals going back to China and sold amongst closed, friend-to-friend networks; the product-based script is presented in Table 1.

Table 1 Product-based crime script for production of jaguar paste from live animals

The poaching element of the trade is complex. Some animals are killed randomly or opportunistically, for example in self-defence or to protect dogs/cattle/goats, with the knowledge that the carcass can be sold to the Chinese market. Others are killed to fulfil specific commissions for international export; see Table 2. There are reports that in these instances a price is generally circulated on the internet (via specific groups for poachers and hunters) or via phone calls from Paramaribo, with buyers willing to pay highly for a “big tiger”. This is not said to be very regular but is believed to be increasing. With both types of poaching, income generation is a clear benefit for hunters.

Table 2 Crime scripts for hunting live jaguars

Poaching events were reported to have predominantly occurred near logging operations, mining sites, and close to farming regions. These industries reduce or degrade jaguar habitat, increase access for hunters with new roads, and increase human-jaguar interactions when camps are deep in the forest. Most camps have a shotgun for protection, further increasing opportunities to hunt.


Our findings align with previous work on carnivore poaching in the region showing jaguars are killed as a result of human-wildlife conflict and to supply illegal markets (Paviolo et al. 2008). Moreover, our findings also corroborate the growing literature showing extractive industries, such as logging and mining, create poaching opportunities by bringing humans in contact with wildlife and/or making it easier to access wild areas (Espinosa et al. 2018). As Chinese investment in the region increases (Bernal 2016), in combination with a growing local Chinese population in Suriname (Ellis 2012), the threat to jaguar populations may increase due to greater demand for products and more opportunities to access deep forest habitat using new infrastructure.

The findings of this preliminary research have limitations related to the small, opportunistic sample used for interviews. We believe a more systematic approach to crime script production would be beneficial, to increase the reliability and robustness of the scripts presented (Borrion 2013). Further research is needed to confirm if our findings are unique to a specific network of offenders or generalizable across jaguar paste production in Suriname. Questions persist about how the structure/size/organisation of poachers differ, the number of jaguars taken annually, and the proportion of kills that are opportunistic or to order. Finally, to avoid the Chinese community being stigmatised, respectful outreach is advised to understand the nuances of demand in more depth.

Product-based crime scripts are a unique avenue for future research in wildlife crime. By creating multiple scripts for products originating from the same area, it may be possible to identify patterns in actors, transportation routes and/or consumers. The value of crime scripting lies in the potential for this methodology to identify the dynamic relationships between offenders/places/targets, pinch points and vulnerabilities in the process, and help law enforcement agencies build interagency groups when wildlife products cross jurisdictional boundaries.

Potential interventions based on our current findings are listed in Table 3. These interventions are largely focused on opportunity reduction given a lack of specific information on how offender motivation could be addressed given the variety of actors and locations.

Table 3 Product-based crime script for production of jaguar paste from live animals with associated responses

Availability of data and materials

The raw data will not be deposited in a publically available repository because it contains personally identifiable information. Requests for data access should be sent to the Nicholas Bruschi.


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The authors would like to thank William Slattery of World Animal Protection for assisting with fieldwork planning and logistics, and for useful comments on the crime script.


World Animal Protection funded this project.

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AML was responsible for the writing the main text, including the figures, and helping synthesize field reports into a crime script. NB was responsible for managing the fieldwork, preparing field reports from raw data, and writing the main text. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to A. M. Lemieux.

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Lemieux, A.M., Bruschi, N. The production of jaguar paste in Suriname: a product-based crime script. Crime Sci 8, 6 (2019).

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