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Hippo Foraging and Poaching Using Agent Based Modelling

22 March 2013


Joanna Hill

Wildlife poaching is a serious and growing problem in many developing countries. Methods to reduce poaching normally rely upon spatially referenced data collected by anti-poaching patrol units to identify ‘poaching hotspots’ areas.  These space time patterns of poaching reflect the dynamic interactions of at least three sets of individuals; the animals, the poachers and those who wish to prevent poaching (i.e. the patrols). This makes wildlife poaching an interesting case study for computer simulation modelling; particularly agent based modelling, which is able to explore the dynamic non-linear mechanisms that occur between interacting heterogeneous agents within complex systems. Whilst simulation has been previously utilised to explore the effects of poaching on animal populations, there is great potential for using it to explore the mechanisms which may create these spatial and temporal poaching hotspots. As a first step, this exploratory study developed a conceptual and computational spatially-explicit agent based model of hippo foraging and trail emergence within in a natural environment using the Overview, Design, Concepts, Details (ODD) framework and Netlogo software. The key finding was that trail emergence is a highly sensitive spatial and temporal phenomenon, the formation and stability of which depend upon the complex interaction between seasonal rainfall, previous grazing pressure, and the time taken for over-grazed areas to recover from excessive trampling. The results are discussed in the context of previous research on trail formation, and there is also a discussion of the variables and data that will need to be collected in the field in order to develop more realistic and ecologically valid poaching hotspot models.