Deploying PAWS: Field Optimization of the Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security
Poaching is a serious threat to the conservation of key species and whole ecosystems. While conducting foot patrols is the most commonly used approach in many countries to prevent poaching, such patrols often do not make the best use of limited patrolling resources. To remedy this situation, prior work introduced a novel emerging application called PAWS (Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security); PAWS was proposed as a game-theoretic (“security games”) decision aid to optimize the use of patrolling resources.
This paper reports on PAWS’s significant evolution from a proposed decision aid to a regularly deployed application, reporting on the lessons from the first tests in Africa in Spring 2014, through its continued evolution since then, to current regular use in Southeast Asia and plans for future worldwide deployment. In this process, we have worked closely with two NGOs (Panthera and Rimba) and incorporated extensive feedback from professional patrolling teams. We outline key technical advances that lead to PAWS’s regular deployment: (i) incorporating complex topographic features, e.g., ridgelines, in generating patrol routes; (ii) handling uncertainties in species distribution (game theoretic payoffs); (iii) ensuring scalability for patrolling large-scale conservation areas with fine-grained guidance; and (iv) handling complex patrol scheduling constraints.