Wild animal meat (“bushmeat”) is important for the livelihood of forest-dependent people in the Congo basin. Commercialized bushmeat hunting however has dramatically increased harvest rates, reduced many game species populations, and altered forest structure and composition in many parts of the African tropical forest zone. Conservation efforts have largely been unable to curtail the intense, pervasive, and illegal commercial bushmeat hunting within the region’s most important tropical forest protected areas, which are strongholds of many threatened species and – importantly – serve as critical “source” populations for species legally hunted in surrounding forest “sinks”. Poaching within these protected areas therefore undermines the sustainable and equitable sharing of wildlife benefits by local communities and threatens the food security of the rural poor who mostly depend on bushmeat for protein.
The objective of this project is to develop an evidence-based anti-poaching patrol design and evaluation protocol that will dramatically increase the capacity and efficiency of protected area managers across Central Africa to combat poaching with the resources available to them. The protocol is currently developed in Cameroon’s Korup National Park and is centred on the novel use of bioacoustics monitoring techniques to provide unprecedented year-round feedback on the spatial and temporal patterns of gun hunting within the park. Although anti-poaching patrols are widely used, utilizing substantial conservation resources, the lack of a robust mechanism to critically evaluate their performance over time renders park managers practically “blindfolded” when designing them.
A monitoring grid of twelve acoustic sensors (Wildlife Acoustics SM2+ sensors) has been collecting baseline data on poaching and wildlife activity in Korup National Park since June 2013 providing already unique insight on overall gun hunting pressure and patterns in the park. As of August 2014, the Korup NP management has increased total patrol effort within the area monitored by our sensors. By comparing the baseline first-year gun hunting data to those of year two, we will be able to gauge the impact off the increased patrol effort on levels of poaching.
We are currently analysing the data so as to develop algorithms for optimal anti-poaching deployments. We are also concurrently monitoring the level of bushmeat utilization and prices in local communities to be better able to interpret the socioeconomic effects of increased anti-poaching strategies in the region.
Our project’s legacy depends on successfully rolling-out the anti-poaching decision-support protocol throughout Central Africa, effectively multiplying the project’s benefits. We recently secured funds to introduce the acoustic monitoring grid in Rumpi Hills Forest Reserve of Cameroon – a site recognized internationally for its high levels of floral/faunal endemism and biodiversity. We look forward to hearing from protected area managers from other parts of Central Africa about ways of introducing the protocol at their site, and to discuss their possible participation in the training workshop scheduled for the final year of our project (2015-2016).