TAWIRI,York University researchers expose patterns elephant poaching

27Dec 2017
The Guardian
TAWIRI,York University researchers expose patterns elephant poaching

ELEPHANT poaching is an ongoing problem throughout Africa as poachers develop sneakier tactics for collecting their trophies, according to researchers from the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) and University of York.

On the other hand, efforts to deter elephant poaching or at least catch the villains in the act remain as strong as ever, the researchers say.

According to their report, animal conservationists need to stay one step ahead of the bad guys for their deterrents to work, but doing so requires a bevy of resources.

“One way to make the job easier is to deploy modern technologies like drones or GPS tracking devices, just to name a few,” they claim.

The researchers teamed up to learn more about East African elephant poaching activity, and their results were published in the journal Biological Conservation last week.

As a part of their study, the team took a closer look at aerial survey data collected between 2013 and 2015. It is understood that within this time window, the Ruaha-Rungwa elephant population dropped from approximately 20,000 to 15,800 because of illegal poaching.

While they were sifting through the data, the researchers paid close attention to where most of the elephant carcasses ended up, and when. This information uncovered a handful of particular patterns that seem to provide valuable insight regarding how, when, and where poachers attack.

“As it would seem, poaching was most common during the region’s wet season when tourists were less frequent, and most incidents took place far away from ranger posts where poachers would be more likely to get caught,” the report says.

Interestingly, three of the 13 ranger posts included in the aerial surveys exhibited more nearby poaching activity than others. The study seemed to put a particularly heavy focus on potential ethical problems concerning poachers and rangers at the time.

Explained study lead author Dr Colin Beale from the University of York’s department of biology: "Since the Environmental Investigations Agency produced a key report in 2014, there has been concern about past collusion between rangers and poachers. Our study substantiates those concerns and puts them within the wider context of extremely heavy poaching at the time."

"We assumed most carcasses were poached and expected the poachers to avoid ranger posts, but instead we found avoidance patterns were very variable from post to post."

"When we looked at individual ranger posts, we found some posts including the national park headquarters showed a strong effect on reducing poaching, but three of 13 outlying posts were associated with clusters of elephant carcasses within a radius of 10 kilometres."

The report says a lot has changed since the 2013-2015 era, and elephant poaching has dropped substantially. It attributes much of this success to efforts made by local government authorities in support of elephant conservation, so many of the potential ethical issues from the past shouldn’t exist anymore.