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What is the effect of poaching activity on wildlife species?

July 1, 2021

Poaching is a pervasive threat to wildlife, yet quantifying the direct effect of poaching on wildlife is rarely possible because both wildlife and threat data are infrequently collected concurrently. In this study, we used poaching data collected through the Management Information System (MIST) and wildlife camera trap data collected by the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) network from 2014 to 2017 in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. We implemented co-occurrence multi-season occupancy models that accounted for imperfect detection to investigate the effect of poaching on initial occupancy, colonization, and extinction of 5 mammal species. Specifically, we focused on 2 species of conservation concern (mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) and golden money (Cercopithecus mitis kandti)), and 3 species targeted by poachers (black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus nigrifrons), bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), and African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)). We found that the probability of local extinction was highest in sites with poaching activity for golden monkey and bushbuck. In addition, the probability of initial occupancy for golden monkey was highest in sites without poaching activity. We only found weak evidence of effects of poaching on parameters governing the occupancy dynamics of the other species. All species showed evidence of poaching presence affecting the probability of detection of the wildlife species. This is the first study to our knowledge to combine direct threat observations from ranger-based monitoring data with camera trap wildlife observations to quantify the effect of poaching on wildlife. Given the widespread collection of ranger-based monitoring and camera trap data, our approach is broadly applicable to numerous protected areas and has the potential to significantly improve conservation management. Specifically, the relationship between poaching activity and wildlife population dynamics (this paper) can be combined with information on the relationship between ranger patrols and poaching activity (Moore et al. 2017) to develop models useful for making wise decisions about ranger patrol deployment.