The High Cost Of Ayahuasca For Jaguars
The popularity of ayahuasca has surged in the last decade, in large part to an increased awareness of and acceptance towards alternative treatments for mental health issues. The psychotherapeutic benefits, while anecdotal, are hard to dispute, as are the stories of the people who have experienced them. Its Amazonian origins have spurred many to embark on a sort of pilgrimage to Peru, amongst other countries, to embark on “journeys” under the guidance of a shaman or other spiritual leader. While this international travel has provided a tangible boost to the Peruvian economy, there are significant environmental costs attached, especially to local wildlife.
A recent study undertaken by a team of researchers from numerous countries and universities across the world found that ayahuasca tourism in three Peruvian cities is an under-the-radar driver of the black market for Jaguar parts. This is yet another challenge for the long-term survival of these big cats, an already critically endangered species. Although the lion’s share of demand for Jaguar parts stems from China in the forms of memorabilia and herbal medicine, the authors identify ayahuasca tourism as a unique factor in exacerbating the strain on Jaguars. Indeed, “charlatan shamans” claim that Jaguar pendants, necklaces, and other trinkets will enhance one’s experience of the ceremony, despite a vocal pushback from most of the shamanic community. Moreover, as these hucksters are marketing to international tourists, they charge at a premium for the Jaguar-based items, thus further inflating the market.
Importantly, the researchers identify several ways to mitigate the worst of this trend. Specifically, they offer four suggestions:
- To redouble national efforts to drive down poaching by intensifying punishments and pursuing offenders more extensively.
- To roll out a formal and professional media campaign to educate and dissuade tourists from buying anything marketed as Jaguar and reporting vendors if safe to do so.
- To formally regulate shamanic rituals via credentialing or otherwise centralizing the practice such that charlatans have less of a market share.
- To better enforce existing laws by uniting relevant but typically distant government agencies and private-sector manufacturers to cooperate.
For animal advocates, this study shows yet another avenue for which wildlife are trafficked, traded, and exploited. It also shows a clear path forward to reduce these needless impacts. While the mental health benefits of ayahuasca are still debated, the cost to jaguars is undeniable, and can be stopped.