Maximizing the benefits of patrol systems in protected areas : using area coverage as a foundation for effective patrol planning in the uMkhuze Game Reserve.
The uMkhuze Game Reserve in South Africa is a key biodiversity asset which protects diverse natural resources of regional, national and international importance. The park has a notorious history of poaching, which is considered to be the second most important threat to biodiversity. Paramilitary patrol operations are crucial to regulating poaching in the park, and to the collection of data important for the monitoring of the state of biodiversity. The effectiveness of the patrol system as a whole is gauged primarily from enforcement-related data, and it was the intention of this study to present a landscape level perspective that would bolster current evaluation metrics. Home range and use-availability analyses of patrol data collected in 2009 and 2010 were used to construct area coverage boundaries, and to understand whether the distribution of patrol effort within patrol areas was influenced by habitat type. Results suggest that average monthly patrol area coverage ranged from 8.38 km² to 23.15 km². This indicates that although designated patrol areas could be covered with relative ease within a few months, information gaps were consistently occurring in the system. To determine how differences in the amount of area covered by patrol units influenced the quantity of information collected, annual area coverage was correlated with the number of biological sightings, illegal incidents and snares reported. Results show that differences in the size of the area covered did not necessarily influence the quantity of information collected in the field. However, certain areas of the park remained unpatrolled annually. All patrol units visited habitats differently than expected based on the proportion of habitat types that were available to them. The preferential use of habitat types could result in incorrect inferences being made about information outputs generated by the patrol system. The number of biological sightings, illegal incidences and snares reported were associated with the total area of each habitat emphasizing the importance of covering habitats proportionately to their availability in the park.