Threats To Biodiversity: A Review From Uganda
A joint research effort from the U.K., Uganda, and the U.S. had scientists study extensive data that park rangers collected from 1999-2012 in protected areas of a mixed forest and savannah grassland area in southwestern Uganda. They developed statistical models to better understand the patterns and extent of illegal activities. The ultimate goal was to improve the effectiveness of law enforcement and to prevent future biodiversity loss.
The scientists remind us that global biodiversity is in decline and the drivers of this phenomenon, such as climate change and illegal resource extraction, are increasing. Of special concern are tropical areas, where human-driven habitat loss threatens biodiversity hotspots. Indeed, previous research suggests that poachers kill nearly 10% of the Serengeti (Tanzania and Kenya) wildebeest population each year, while hunting animals for bushmeat during the 1970s reduced large ungulate (hoofed animal) populations by 90%. Similarly, research estimates that the area of illegally-logged forest in protected areas of Kalimantan (Borneo, Indonesia) was at almost 10% per year two decades ago.
This study revealed that park encroachment (mostly in the form of illegal cattle grazing) and poaching of non-commercial animals (e.g., trapping for bushmeat) were the most prevalent illegal activities. Meanwhile, both commercial (i.e., for timber and charcoal) and non-commercial (i.e., for non-timber resources) plant harvesting was predicted to happen most in a restricted area in the southeastern forests of Uganda.
The target animal density in a given area strongly influenced the occurrence of commercial animal poaching but did not influence non-commercial poaching. The type of land cover also influenced patterns of animal poaching—the probability of all animal poaching was greatest in the savannah habitats. Non-commercial animal poaching was mostly present in wet forest areas, possibly because of the difficulty of concealing simple traps and funnels on open land. Of the illegal activities that had increased significantly, the researchers found park encroachment to represent the most probable immediate threat to the local ecological integrity.
The scientists found the lack of change in animal poaching trends to be a positive sign, especially considering recent reports of continent-wide increases in demand for both bushmeat and ivory. This result is encouraging and demonstrates that traditional law enforcement activities can be effective at protecting local sites and preventing further increases in poaching.
There are some limitations to the study; for example, the study excludes covariates for both human and livestock densities surrounding the studied area. It also excludes indicators of how the demand for certain products changes over time. But the study still offers a powerful tool for effectively analyzing ranger patrol data. Actually, the study finds that past illegal activities and their locations are indeed the best predictors of future illegal activities. The fact that our understanding of illegal activities is improving should please animal advocates, and future researchers will hopefully use this new method of analysis to improve the efficacy of future biodiversity conservation efforts.