A spatial approach to combatting wildlife crime

25 Jun 2018

Poaching can have devastating impacts on animal and plant numbers, and in many countries has reached crisis levels, with illegal hunters employing increasingly sophisticated techniques. We used data from an 8‐year study in Savé Valley Conservancy, Zimbabwe, to show how geographic profiling—a mathematical technique originally developed in criminology and recently applied to animal foraging and epidemiology—can be adapted for use in investigations of wildlife crime. The data set contained information on over 10,000 incidents of illegal hunting and the deaths of 6,454 wild animals. We used a subset of data for which the illegal hunters’ identities were known. Our model identified the illegal hunters’ home villages based on the spatial locations of the hunting incidences (e.g., snares). Identification of the villages was improved by manipulating the probability surface inside the conservancy to reflect the fact that although the illegal hunters mostly live outside the conservancy, the majority of hunting occurs inside the conservancy (in criminology terms, commuter crime). These results combined with rigorous simulations showed for the first time how geographic profiling can be combined with GIS data and applied to situations with more complex spatial patterns, for example, where landscape heterogeneity means some parts of the study area are less likely to be used (e.g., aquatic areas for terrestrial animals) or where landscape permeability differs (e.g., forest bats tend not to fly over open areas). More broadly, these results show how geographic profiling can be used to target antipoaching interventions more effectively and more efficiently and to develop management strategies and conservation plans in a range of conservation scenarios.