Global trends and factors associated with the illegal killing of elephants: a hierarchical bayesian analysis of carcass encounter data
Burn, R., Underwood, F. and Blanc, J. (2011) Global trends and factors associated with the illegal killing of elephants: a hierarchical bayesian analysis of carcass encounter data. PLoS ONE, 6 (9). e24165. ISSN 1932-6203
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024165
Elephant poaching and the ivory trade remain high on the agenda at meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Well-informed debates require robust estimates of trends, the spatial distribution of poaching, and drivers of poaching. We present an analysis of trends and drivers of an indicator of elephant poaching of all elephant species. The site-based monitoring system known as Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE), set up by the 10th Conference of the Parties of CITES in 1997, produces carcass encounter data reported mainly by anti-poaching patrols. Data analyzed were site by year totals of 6,337 carcasses from 66 sites in Africa and Asia from 2002–2009. Analysis of these observational data is a serious challenge to traditional statistical methods because of the opportunistic and non-random nature of patrols, and the heterogeneity across sites. Adopting a Bayesian hierarchical modeling approach, we used the proportion of carcasses that were illegally killed (PIKE) as a poaching index, to estimate the trend and the effects of site- and country-level factors associated with poaching. Important drivers of illegal killing that emerged at country level were poor governance and low levels of human development, and at site level, forest cover and area of the site in regions where human population density is low. After a drop from 2002, PIKE remained fairly constant from 2003 until 2006, after which it increased until 2008. The results for 2009 indicate a decline. Sites with PIKE ranging from the lowest to the highest were identified. The results of the analysis provide a sound information base for scientific evidence-based decision making in the CITES process.