Seminar Title: Wildlife poaching, ranger patrols, and chimps informing conservation practices in Rwanda
Jennifer Moore is a WEC PhD candidate. She studied poaching and ways to mitigate its negative impacts in wildlife in the Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda. This is her exit seminar.
Summary by Maria Paula Mugnani
One of biggest threats to wildlife in Africa, poaching has negatively affected species across all trophic levels, even contributing to their risk of extinction. Jennifer Moore, a PhD candidate at the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, discussed her work on the impacts of poaching and ranger patrols on wildlife in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park, an area of montane forest that hosts 20% of all primates found in Africa. With several tourism and trade route roads intersecting the park, poachers can access even remote forest to set hunting snares that can lead to the death of even non-target species like the endangered Eastern Chimpanzee.
Although hired rangers conduct daily park patrols, it is difficult to detect snares in the thick undergrowth and for them to cover enough of the mountainous terrain in the 1000 square kilometer park to efficiently deter poachers. To determine the effectiveness of ranger patrols throughout the park, Moore had rangers record any poaching, poacher campsites and wildlife sightings detected during their daily patrols over several years. She used these long-term data and occupancy models to predict the incidence of poaching throughout park and create a map identifying high poaching risk areas where rangers should focus their patrol efforts. Moore collaborated with rangers to determine wildlife species richness throughout the park, using 3 km line transects to record sightings and signs of wildlife species, especially the endangered Eastern Chimpanzee. Several groups of chimpanzees were also tracked to estimate their core home ranges and diet. The team found that chimpanzee diets changed seasonally depending on the fruiting trees and their movement was related to food availability.
For continued management, Moore recommended using occupancy modeling to predict poaching spatial patterns and target ranger patrol to areas where poaching risks are higher and species richness is lower. To mitigate the negative impacts on the chimpanzees, she has advised rangers to focus on removing snares and protecting tree species that are vital food sources on the species. Since poaching detection increased over time as rangers became more experienced, senior rangers would be invaluable assets to train new recruits and maximize patrol effectiveness. Finally, since chimpanzee tourism is the primary source of revenue for the park, Moore concluded that varying human contact among different groups and focusing on more stable populations would minimize any negative impacts and ensure that Nyungwe National Park continues to be a safe haven for wildlife.