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New ranger patrol method shows significant improvements in detection of illegal activities


Method will make patrols more effective for the same cost and will save funds spent on patrolling

A paper just published in Conservation Letters describes a new method that can make ranger patrols in protected areas more effective. Building on a previous paper that described a way to predict where illegal activities will be most abundant, this paper reports on a test of these predictions. The results show that the method can significantly increase the detection of illegal activities.

Biodiversity in protected areas is increasingly threatened from illegal activities such as  cattle ,encroaching and hunting. Ranger patrols are commonly deployed to try to stop such activities across many protected areas around the World and these patrols require significant financial inputs to maintain them, often more than 50% of a parks annual budget. Now a collaboration between the University of York, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has successfully demonstrated for the first time that altering ranger patrols on the ground can successfully improve detections of illegal activities without the need for any additional resources.

In a study published in Conservation Letters, the analysis provides a method to improve ranger patrol effectiveness and tests this method within the Queen Elizabeth Protected Area (QEPA), a stronghold for elephant in Uganda, by encouraging patrols to target areas predicted to have a high probability of illegal activity.

“This is first indication that altering ranger patrols on the ground can result in considerable benefits for conservation” said Dr Rob Critchlow, Research Associate in the University of York’s Biology department “we are keen to test this approach across other protected areas to assess its applicability to different types of protected areas”.

This research owes its success to the use of SMART software to store ranger-collected data and provide accurate locations of patrols and illegal activities. Dr Andrew Plumptre from the Wildlife Conservation Society said “SMART is now being used in more than 120 protected areas across the globe and we strongly encourage the use of technology to aid biodiversity conservation. The method shows how such data can be used effectively to strengthen patrolling. Importantly this improvement is made at the same cost and results in a more efficient and effective deployment of rangers”.

As shown in the previous analysis published in Conservation Biology, different illegal activities often occur in different areas and this has implications for managing and directing ranger patrols. “In addition to targeting particular types of illegal activity, such as poaching for elephant, our new method can also incorporate different conservation priorities such as focusing on both cattle encroachment and firewood collection. It shows there are trade-offs to be made in which illegal activities are targeted and where”, Dr Colin Beale of University of York observed.

The researchers encourage the collection and analysis of ranger-collected data to inform changes to existing ranger patrols for improving patrol efficiency and effectiveness and are grateful for all UWA rangers and staff involved for allowing the testing in the QEPA.

The paper is available at:

This work was funded by the WYSS Foundation and the UK Government Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund through WCS.


WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in nearly 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.


University of York


Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA)

Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is a semi-autonomous government agency that conserves and manages Uganda’s wildlife for the people of Uganda and the whole world. This agency was established in 1996 after the merger of the Uganda National Parks and the Game Department, and the enactment of the Uganda Wildlife Statute, which became an Act in 2000. UWA is mandated to ensure sustainable management of wildlife resources and supervise wildlife activities in Uganda both within and outside the protected areas.

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