Understanding spatial patterns of poaching pressure using ranger logbook data to optimize future patrolling strategies

Abstract

Poaching is driving many species toward extinction, and as a result, lowering poaching pressure is a conservation priority. This requires understanding where poaching pressure is high and which factors determine these spatial patterns. However, the cryptic and illegal nature of poaching makes this difficult. Ranger patrol data, typically recorded in protected area logbooks, contain information on patrolling efforts and poaching detection and should thus provide opportunities for a better understanding of poaching pressure. However, these data are seldom analyzed and rarely used to inform adaptive management strategies. We developed a novel approach to making use of analog logbook records to map poaching pressure and to test environmental criminology and predator–prey relationship hypotheses explaining poaching patterns. We showcase this approach for Golestan National Park in Iran, where poaching has substantially depleted ungulate populations. We digitized data from >4800 ranger patrols from 2014 to 2016 and used an occupancy modeling framework to relate poaching to (1) accessibility, (2) law enforcement, and (3) prey availability factors. Based on predicted poaching pressure and patrolling intensity, we provide suggestions for future patrol allocation strategies. Our results revealed a low probability (12%) of poacher detection during patrols. Poaching distribution was best explained by prey availability, indicating that poachers target areas with high concentrations of ungulates. Poaching pressure was estimated to be high (>0.49) in 39% of our study area. To alleviate poaching pressure, we recommend ramping up patrolling intensity in 12% of the national park, which could be achievable by reducing excess patrols in about 20% of the park. However, our results suggest that for 27% of the park, it is necessary to improve patrolling quality to increase detection probability of poaching, for example, by closing temporal patrolling gaps or expanding informant networks. Our approach illustrates that analog ranger logbooks are an untapped resource for evidence-based and adaptive planning of protected area management. Using this wealth of data can open up new avenues to better understand poaching and its determinants, to expand effectiveness assessments to the past, and, more generally, to allow for strategic conservation planning in protected areas.

Publication
Ecological Applications, 32(5) e2601
Arash Ghoddousi
Arash Ghoddousi
Senior Researcher
Mahmood Soofi
Mahmood Soofi
Postdoctoral scientist
Benjamin Bleyhl
PhD student & Postdoctoral Researcher
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab