A team of scientists from WCS, University of York, and Uganda Wildlife Authority have developed a new method of detecting illegal activities in protected areas by as much as 250 percent.
Using ranger-collected data from SMART, the team developed a method to improve ranger patrol allocation, targeting different combinations of conservation priorities. As a result, they were able to predict where illegal activities were occurring and concentrate resources accordingly.
In a field test in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth Protected Area (QEPA), detections of illegal activities such as cattle encroachment and wildlife poaching increased by as much as 250 percent without a change in ranger resources.
The breakthrough methodology owes its success to the use of SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool), a free downloadable tool that combines software, training materials, and patrolling standards to conservation and protected area managers to improve patrolling methods. The tool is being increasingly used around the world and has already been implemented in 43 countries and in more than 120 protected areas.
The authors, Rob Critchlow and Colin Beale of the University of York; Andrew Plumptre and Mustapha Nsubuga of WCS; and B. Andira, M. Driciru, and A. Rwetsiba of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) published their results in the early online edition of Conservation Letters.
The authors say that the easily implemented method can be used in any protected area where data on the distribution of illegal activities are collected, and improve law-enforcement efficiency in resource-limited settings.
"This is the first indication that altering ranger patrols on the ground can result in considerable benefits for conservation," said Dr Rob Critchlow, Research Associate in the University of York's Biology department. "We are keen to test this approach across other protected areas to assess its applicability to different types of protected areas."
Co-author Dr. Andrew Plumptre, Senior Scientist for WCS's Africa Program, said: "SMART is now being used in more than 120 protected areas across the globe and we strongly encourage the use of technology to aid biodiversity conservation. The method shows how such data can be used effectively to strengthen patrolling. Importantly this improvement is made at the same cost and results in a more efficient and effective deployment of rangers."
As shown in a previous analysis published in Conservation Biology, different illegal activities often occur in different areas and this has implications for managing and directing ranger patrols.
Said Dr. Colin Beale of University of York said: "In addition to targeting particular types of illegal activity, such as poaching for elephant, our new method can also incorporate different conservation priorities such as focusing on both cattle encroachment and firewood collection. It shows there are trade-offs to be made in which illegal activities are targeted and where."
Said Margaret Driciru, UWA Warden for Monitoring and Research of the QEPA: "One of the approaches used by UWA for managing the protected areas is based on the principle of Threat Reduction which involves: identification of threats to the protected areas, ranking the threats, identifying strategies for reducing the threats, implementing these strategies and monitoring the effectiveness of the threat reduction strategies. Hence the Ranger Based Data Collection system is a means of quantifying how the threat levels are changing as well as the effectiveness of our threat reduction strategies. We are happy that the analysis of these data will help us to improve in our ranger patrol effectiveness."
The scientists and practitioners encourage the collection and analysis of ranger-collected data to inform changes to existing ranger patrols for improving patrol efficiency and effectiveness and are grateful for all UWA rangers and staff involved for allowing the testing in the QEPA.
The study comes less than a month away from the kick-off of the IUCN World Conservation - a once-every-four-year gathering of conservationists and world leaders. This year's Congress will be held in Hawaii from Sept. 1-10.
This work was funded by the UK Government Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund through WCS.
WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)
MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world's oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: newsroom.wcs.org Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.
The University of York is a member of the Russell Group and features regularly in the ranks of the UK's foremost universities. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, York ranked tenth out of 155 UK universities for the impact of its research and placed Biology at York in the Top 10 in the UK and in 1st place for impact outside academia with our research having major influence on environmental policy, industry and health. In 2010 the university was named Times Higher Education University for its drive to combine academic excellence with social inclusion, and its record in scientific discovery and investment in the arts and humanities. For more information about the University of York's Department of Biology, visit: http://www.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA)
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is a semi-autonomous government agency that conserves and manages Uganda's wildlife for the people of Uganda and the whole world. This agency was established in 1996 after the merger of the Uganda National Parks and the Game Department, and the enactment of the Uganda Wildlife Statute, which became an Act in 2000. UWA is mandated to ensure sustainable management of wildlife resources and supervise wildlife activities in Uganda both within and outside the protected areas.