LIMA, Peru—A beer brand known for its roaring jaguar has enlisted a bunch of ordinary-looking dogs and pigs to help educate its customers about the risk of animal extinction.
Cerveza San Juan, a crisp lager from the jungle city of Pucallpa, has long featured a fierce jaguar on its beer bottle labels. But recently the company decided to replace the large cat for barnyard animals to alert beer drinkers about a sobering situation: The disappearance of real life jaguars from Peru’s chunk of the Amazon rainforest.
"We had never messed with our packaging so drastically,” brand manager Giuliana Dongo told me when we met up in a bar that the company runs for its employees in Lima. “But we thought that this was the best tool we had to generate awareness about otorongos,” she said, using the local word for jaguars.
The company rolled out it’s otorongo campaign in late February to coincide with the carnival in Pucallpa, its main beer-selling event of the year. Out of two million bottles brewed before the event, only 6,000 were stamped with jaguar labels, to represent the number of otorongos that are still living in the wild inside the Peruvian jungle.
San Juan also hired promoters to hand out leaflets that explained why the jaguar was disappearing from the bottles. It was all part of an effort to collect thousands of signatures for a petition that asks the local government to declare the giant feline part of the region’s cultural heritage, which would lead to tighter regulations to protect the species.
San Juan, which competes for market share in Pucallpa with a couple other local beer brands, said that it has already collected 40,000 signatures. It aims to gather 10,000 more before it returns the jaguar to its label later this month.
“There has been a lot of illegal hunting of jaguars in Pucallpa. People killed them to trade their fur,” said Humberto Polar, an ad agency executive who worked with San Juan on the campaign. “Our brand wants to help recover Amazonian values and keep them alive.”
The jaguar has long been a sacred animal for Amazonian tribes, who see it as a symbol of power and strength.
But its numbers have been severely diminished in Peru and other countries by poachers, settlers and farmers who clear-cut the jungle to make way for agriculture and livestock.
According to various studies conducted over the past decade, the world's jaguar population has been reduced to as few as 15,000 to 30,000 cats. That's a ten-fold drop in the jaguar's population since the 1950s, when the giant felines roamed through South America, Central America, Mexico and even parts of Arizona.
San Juan says it's still considering what other steps to take to protect the animal that has been on its logo since 1974. Company representatives said one option is to support jaguar conservation projects by partnering with environmental NGO’s or sharing the company’s “expertise” on jaguars with a local zoo. The company already runs a jaguar nursery on its Pucallpa property.
“Our next step will be a campaign called Pucallpa Land of Otorongos, where we want to talk about the benefits of having a healthy jungle with jaguars in it,” Dongo said, as we inspected some campaign merchandise.
Though the company's beer is sold mostly in the Peruvian jungle, San Juan has global connections too. The brand is owned by AB-Inbev, the same international conglomerate that also owns Budweiser, Becks and Corona.
While some of the multinational’s Latin American brands still promote themselves through sports events, or with the typical ads featuring hot women in bikinis, San Juan says that it is trying to make a difference by supporting the jaguar. The company is hoping that this strategy is good for business as well as the environment.
“This isn’t just about telling people about how tasty our beer is,” said ad executive Humberto Polar. “We want to represent a culture that needs to be preserved.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.