By Zachary Gotthardt
SC Contributing Writer
On October 3, Dr. Aaron Haines of Millersville University presented his research on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement.
In his presentation, Haines emphasized the importance of wildlife and explained recent troubles for rare species.
Wildlife forensics is a very critical field to wildlife maintenance. Haines attributes a great deal of the field’s local success to the Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab, located at the Innovation Center.
Haines explained the importance of ecosystem services. These include any services that the environment provides to us, either tangible or otherwise.
They can include food, protection from natural phenomenon, and recreation.
As an example, Haines referenced the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
The park’s deer population was dangerously high, and the addition of the wolves helped to regulate it.
The deer were forced to change their normal behavior in response to new predators and moved to new areas.
Over time, vegetation levels returned to normal, strengthening the soil. Eventually, the rivers were stabilized and there was less erosion. Indirectly, wolves were able to change the rivers.
The wolves were ecosystem engineers. This kind of effect cannot be predicted.
In recent years, species conservation has been focused on remediation rather than prevention. That is to say, we
focus our efforts on helping declining populations rather than preventing their decline in the first place.
After a certain loss in numbers, species reach a point of no return. Haines attributes this inevitability to five factors. Three of these factors include inbreeding, disease, and natural disasters, all of which are particularly detrimental to small populations.
Another factor is known as the allee effect, where organisms cannot find mates because populations have dwindled.
The final factor, according to Haines, is demographics. As an example, a small population that produces only males for one year will fail to reproduce in the future.
Humans may initiate the decline. Human activity results in habitat loss, invasive species, and pollution. Haines focused his presentation on what he called “one of the most insidious factors pushing species to extinction:” poaching.
Poaching tends to increase on smaller populations that have become rarer, such as the African Elephant and the White Rhino.
Poaching can include isolated individual cases. However, the profitability of poaching has attracted the attention of organized crime and militant terror groups in many developing nations around the world.
“Every year, 100 wildlife rangers lose their lives,” said Haines as he emphasized the danger and nature of these groups.
Despite this, punishment for poaching in developing countries is often minimal. There are groups, such as Green Criminology, who are working with governments around the world to increase the punishment for poaching.
Haines was particularly adamant about the need for action.
According to Haines, for many species it is “too late to wait for social change.”
Poaching is not only a problem in developing nations, but in the United States as well.
“The largest elk in Pennsylvania was just poached,” Haines commented.
Haines suggested collaboration between social science and law enforcement. In recent years, there has been an increase in poaching, while the research on it has decreased.
In addition, there has been less connection between law enforcement and researchers.
Haines and his undergraduate students have dedicated their research to finding new methods to catch poachers in Pennsylvania. They have combined years of data on poaching and have discovered trends.
For example, most poaching incidents occur near roads within valleys. This information allows law enforcement to spend their time more efficiently to catch poachers.
Haines’ students have also developed methods for testing soil for illegal use of bait and urine-based lures.
According to Haines, it is not too late. Collaboration can save wildlife if we focus our combined efforts wisely.
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