THE HUMAN DIMENSIONS AND SPATIAL ECOLOGY OF POACHING AND IMPLICATIONS FOR RED WOLF SURVIVAL
In the 1970’s, red wolves were considered America’s most endangered mammalian species and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) developed the Red Wolf Recovery Plan soon after passage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to preserve and eventually reintroduce them. It marked the first successful attempt to reintroduce a large predator that had been completely extirpated from the wild. The conservation of predators, such as red wolves, stirs controversy when it hinders human activities and some people retaliate by illegal killing. In Northeastern North Carolina (NENC), poaching has been a problem throughout the entire recovery process and is the leading cause of death in this endangered wild population. Understanding the behaviors and attitudes of poachers, and other factors related to the illegal killing of red wolves, is critical to successful recovery of this endangered species. The overall goal of my interdisciplinary research, drawing on the fields of conservation biology, social psychology, geographic information systems, and wildlife management was to explore poaching risk, how attitudes contribute to poaching decisions, and then how social factors, along with ecological factors contribute to increased risk of red wolves being poached, reducing population viability. I found that poaching is responsible for more deaths than any other cause, and in particular those wolves that disappear need to be included in risk estimates. The interviews and surveys revealed the amount of complexity involved in both attitudes and behavioral inclination with a majority of respondents showing positive attitudes toward both red wolves and their conservation and those who dislike them are in a small minority. Spatial analysis results suggest human-wolf interactions are spatially associated with landscape characteristics that are appealing to both species and that social variables such as behavioral inclination can strengthen the predictive power of models describing those interactions. Using research that considers both environmental and social variables such as this can provide guidance for conservation and management interventions. Implementing proven practices that prevent poaching or hasten successful reintroduction can reverse the trend of a decreasing NENC red wolf population and once again allow red wolves to thrive, not only in NENC but additional future reintroduction sites.
First chapter published from research:
Agan SW, Treves A, Willey LL (2021) Estimating poaching risk for the critically endangered wild red wolf (Canis rufus). PLoS ONE 16(5): e0244261. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0244261
Other manuscripts currently in progress:
Attitude toward red wolves and implications for restoration to northeastern North Carolina. Agan, S., Treves, A., Willey, L., Submitted to: Biological Conservation
Santiago-Ávila, F., Agan, S., Hinton, J., & Treves, A. (n.d.). Evaluating how management policies affect red wolf mortality and disappearance. Submitted to: Royal Society Open Science.
Spatial analysis of poaching risk for red wolves in Northeastern North Carolina: social and ecological implications for survival. Agan, S., Willey, L., Treves, A. Target journal: Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment