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Game theory -- does the rhino poacher or the gamekeeper win?

Conservationists at the University of Kent have used game theory to look at the likely outcome of the battle between rhino poachers and the gamekeeper or rhino manager

University of Kent

Conservationists at the University of Kent have used game theory to look at the likely outcome of the battle between rhino poachers and the gamekeeper or rhino manager.

Dr David Roberts, of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) in the University's School of Anthropology, and Dr Tamsin Lee, of The Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford, looked at the interaction between poachers and a gamekeeper using game theory, which was developed by the Noble Prize winner John Nash.

The game has two players, who each have two strategies: the gamekeeper/rhino manager may devalue horns or not (e.g. dehorning), and poachers may only target rhinos with full horns, or behave indiscriminately.

The manager wins when devaluing deters poachers, and poachers move to another ranch. Poachers win when the value of the stump left after dehorning is still worth the kill, so the manager may as well conserve his/her resources and not devalue horns. A key feature is that poachers can choose their strategy instantaneously. The value of a rhino horn is so great - greater per unit weight than gold, diamonds or cocaine - that the risk for the poacher has little influence.

The researchers conclude the game shows anti-poaching measures should not seek to tilt the game in the manager's favour, but instead change the game. For example, the trade could be legalised or campaigns started to change behaviour, although the latter may take some time to impact on rhino populations.

Devaluing rhino horns as a theoretical game, is presented now online in the journal Ecological Modelling.


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Notes to editors

Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It has been ranked: third for overall student satisfaction in the 2014 National Student Survey; 23rd in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.

In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.

The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

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