Endangered species in countries such as Belize, Bolivia, and Peru are being poached to supply a demand for their body parts, which are used as ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine, according to a paper published by scientific journal Nature.
The intensity of the poaching is thought to be higher in areas where Chinese construction workers are stationed.
Vincent Nijman, an ecologist at Oxford Brookes University, said: "If there’s a demand 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."
Between August 2014 and February 2015, Bolivia intercepted 186 jaguar fangs on their way to China. Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities stopped a package of 120 fangs from entering the country.
Jaguars fangs are uses as a substitute for tiger fangs, which are more vigorously protected.
Esteban Payán from Panthera, a global wild-cat conservation organisation, said there was an organised crime syndicate operating in the wildlife trade: "This is just the tip of the iceberg. The potential threat is huge."
Image: A jaguar (Wikimedia Commons/Marcus Obal)