Wildlife traffickers in South America have been exposed killing protected species for body parts to sell in Asia.
Conservationists uncovered an increasing illegal trade, with experts claiming that Chinese construction workers are interested in purchasing animal bones, horns, and other body parts for their medical properties.
Last week, Vincent Nijman from Oxford Brookes University, told Nature: "Essentially, these projects act like giant vacuum cleaners of wildlife that suck everything back to China. It is a real worry."
Nature reports on two recent jaguar deaths in Belize City, Belize, where both bodies were found floating in the same canal.
One was discovered with its body and head intact but with its fangs missing, while the other turned up headless, both of which Nature suggests point to a growing illicit trade in jaguars.
Although this outlines just two cases, apparently over 100 jaguars could've been killed in less than a year to supply parts to China.
Nijman went on to describe how trafficking often links Chinese construction projects to other countries, because workers can take items home.
"If there's a demand [in China] for large-cat parts, and that demand can be fulfilled by people living in parts of Africa, other parts of Asia or South America, then someone will step in to fill that demand.
"It's often Chinese-to-Chinese trade, but it's turning global."
According to a report published in Mongabay, residents in Bolivia's Sena community say that they can sell a jaguar canine for up to $215 to Chinese buyers, making them valued in the Asian market at the same price as cocaine.
In Bolivia, 186 jaguar fangs were confiscated between August 2014 and February 2015 - seven of the packages had been sent by Chinese citizens living in Bolivia. Eight more were seized in 2016.
Meanwhile, Thaís Morcatty - a wildlife researcher based at Oxford Brookes University who has worked in South America - outlined the extent of the trade in recent times.
"Last year, there were more than 50 seizures of packages that contained jaguar parts in Brazil. Most of them appear to have been destined for Asia and China in particular," Thaís told Nature.
"It is also worth noting there are major Chinese communities in Brazil."
Overall, it's a bleak outlook for the future of the species, which once roamed across the southern US, Central America and South America regions.
Several reasons have contributed to its diminishment, including deforestation and farmers shooting jaguars for killing their livestock.
The illegal fang trade and the prospect of these animals being killed to supplement Chinese traditional medicine is only set to worsen the situation.
Sadly, conservation organizations are no match for the money and scale of wildlife traffickers.
Nijman added: "At the end of the day, almost anything that can be killed and traded will be."
Featured Image Credit: PA