Poaching of Pangolins in Ghana

Before reading this, please take this survey in order to think about the severity of this topic and the implications it could have if not solved.


The topic of the endangered pangolin is very important to me.  When I was in elementary school I lived in South Africa while the rhinos were becoming endangered because of poaching.  I was little and I understood that it was horrible, but I wasn’t sure what I could do about it. My friend started to organize different events and fundraisers to raise awareness of the dangerous situation the rhinos were in.  I was able to help the rhinos by raising awareness about the danger the rhinos were in, and that made a huge impression on me, and I learned that there were ways that I could help these innocent animals. So when I moved overseas again I discovered I was going to be given the opportunity to make a difference and help.

  I knew that I wanted to help save the wildlife, because the animals don’t have a voice, so someone else has to speak up for them. So I started to do some research and learned about the pangolins. The pangolins are one of the most poached animals in the world right now, making them incredibly endangered. There are three types of pangolins in Ghana, and I am hoping to make a difference and to help these animals.  That is why this topic is so important to me, and why it is a Catalyst Conference topic of interest for me.  However, this topic impacts the whole world, the pangolins are an amazing form of pest control.  Without the pangolins, the population of ants and termites would increase dramatically. People should help the pangolins, so the ecosystem is not destroyed by an abundance of insects.


The pangolins are endangered, they are the most trafficked animal in the world.

Their scales are used for traditional medicines and in fashion, while their meat is used in high-end cuisine in some places.  This is why they are being poached toward extinction. There are three different types of pangolins in Ghana, all of them are listed from vulnerable to critically endangered on the IUCN red list of threatened species.  However, very little is known about the species.  There is not much data on the pangolins population, distribution, or on their ecology, so it is very difficult to help the pangolins.  Pangolins are vital to the food chain in Ghana, they eat termites and ants, so the towns and villages are not overrun with termites. So the problems is, the pangolins are going to become extinct if not helped, however there is very little information known about the pangolins, so it is difficult to help them and they are vital to Ghana’s ecosystem.  


Here is a video with more facts about the pangolins:



The Game:

There are two different players in this situation, the poachers, that are endangering the pangolins, and the NGOs, that are trying to save the pangolins.  The goal of this is to find a way to save the pangolins, but to create an accurate representation of the problem the poachers have to be considered because they will change the outcome of the game, depending on the strategy they choose.  Each of these players have different strategies that they can play. These strategies are:



A- Stop poaching

B- Continue to poach pangolins


A- Do nothing

B- Raise awareness of the situation

C- Fundraise

D- Advocate for stricter wildlife laws

E- Build sanctuaries for the pangolins


A (0,0) (0,5) (0,6) (0,7) (0,9)
B (10,0) (6,4) (6,5) (4,7) (1,9)

This matrix shows the different payoffs for the different player based on what strategy they could play.  These payoffs were determined by which strategy is the best strategy for the player. It has to be assumed that while the goal is to end the poaching of the pangolins, poachers are still going to try and “win” the game, so to be accurate the poachers outcome have to be considered as well.  So this game will be modeled as a zero-sum game, because if one player wins that does not mean that the other player lost.


The different payoffs that have been assigned are based on what are the best outcomes for the players.  For the poachers strategy A is better than strategy B, because strategy A is to stop poaching and that is not good for the poachers as they are no longer poaching and are no longer making a profit, so the payoffs for the poachers for strategy B will are more than the payoffs for strategy A.  The NGOs strategies also affect the poachers payoffs so depending on what strategy the NGOs play, the poachers payoffs will change because depending on the strategy the NGOs play, the poachers will not be as successful. If the NGOs play strategy E, building a sanctuary, that is worse for the poachers then if the NGOs play strategy B, raising awareness, because in strategy E the NGOs are actively working against the poachers and are actively protecting the pangolins.  The NGOs would also have access to observe the pangolins to get more information about them in order to help them.  So the payoff for the NGOs if they choose strategy E is greater than the payoff for strategy B because it is the better strategy, but for the poachers, if the NGOs play strategy E the poachers are worse off, so the payoff for strategy E is less than the payoff for strategy B. For the NGOs strategy E is better than D, which is better than C, which is better than B, which is better than A.  For the poachers strategy B is better than Strategy A.


In order to find which strategies the players should play, the matrix needs to solved.  This matrix can be solved by three different methods. The three different methods to solve this matrix would be nash equilibrium, pareto optimal, and a game tree.  


Solving the matrix using Nash equilibrium is completed by finding the largest payoff in the row and then finding the largest payoff in the columns.  The solution is when the largest payoff for the row and the largest payoff for the columns are the same outcome. This is because these are the optimal outcomes for each player based on what strategy the other player chose.  Neither player will gain anything from changing strategies. So this is the best solution for both players.


To analyze this matrix using Pareto optimal, all of the outcomes are graphed as ordered pairs.  Pareto optimal is usually used to find the best societal solutions, so if there is a solution that is better than the Nash equilibrium solution, for both players, this is the method used to find it.  The solutions are the points that are in the upper right corner, in the first quadrant, as those points would have a larger payoff then the other points, so would provide the players with their best outcomes.


This matrix can also be solved by a game tree, meaning it can be played sequentially.  One player makes a move and based off of what move the other players makes. So the poachers move first, then the NGOs.  The possible outcomes are then placed after all of the moves are done. To find the solution the players have to pick their best outcome.  The NGOs would pick first, and they would pick the outcome that is best for them. The the poachers would pick, the outcome the NGOs picked would move up and become a choice for the poachers to pick, and if that is the poachers best outcome then that is the solution.  Before making their move, the poachers could promise to stop poaching or threaten to continue poaching, hoping to change the NGOs strategy. However, if the NGOs are going to pick their best strategy, the poachers threats and promises don’t change the NGOs best strategy.  


These different methods will find the best solution based on what are the best strategies for both players.  The matrix above is solved by these three different methods below in order to find the best solution.

Nash Equilibrium: BE

Value: 1,9                                                                                    



Pareto Optimal:

NGOs D, Poachers B

NGOs E, Poachers B

Mixed Strategies:

NGOs: D, E

Poachers: B





Game tree:

NGOs: Build Sanctuaries

Poachers: Keep poaching

Value: 1,9









The best solution for this problem is to build sanctuaries for the pangolins.  This is the strategy that minimizes the risk of them being poached. Building sanctuaries gives NGOs the opportunity to have the pangolins in a supervised environment, but is still the natural habitat of the pangolin.  The NGOs can have people watching the pangolins, to ensure that there are no poachers coming to capture the pangolins. The NGOs can also have people watch the pangolins and gather data on them. There is hardly any data on the pangolins, so if they are supervised more information can be gathered that could help them get off of the endangered species list.  The sanctuaries would not stop poaching altogether, so some poaching would still be happening, but the majority of it has been stopped, as it would be much harder to do. The poachers may still find opportunities to enter the sanctuaries by bribing the people that work there, and this is what would keep the poachers engaged. There would still be opportunities for the poachers, while the NGOs save many pangolins.  So the best solution is to build sanctuaries for the pangolins.

Based on the games that were modeled above building sanctuaries is the best strategy for the NGOs and to continue poaching was the best strategy for the poachers.  Building sanctuaries was strategy E and that was part of the Nash equilibrium, Pareto optimal, and game tree solutions. The best strategy for the poachers was to continue poaching because, they have no incentive to stop, strategy B dominates strategy A, so there is no reason to ever play strategy A because strategy B is better.  This was the strategy for the poachers for Pareto optimal as well. The NGOs strategy for the Pareto optimal was E and D. Since E was the same strategy for the Nash equilibrium, this game is solvable in the strict sense, as the solution exists in both the Nash equilibrium and in the Pareto optimal. So based on the all of the different methods to find the solution above, the NGOs best strategy is E and the poachers best strategy is B.

There are many NGOs in Ghana and several of them are working to help the pangolins, but one program that could be added would be a program to build sanctuaries.  This program could focus on building the sanctuary itself and then focus on safely transporting the pangolins to the sanctuary and helping them adapt to their new surroundings.   While this program is the best solution for the pangolins it is not the easiest to employ. Building sanctuaries requires land and natural resources, as well as money and manpower.  These are not easily accessible in Ghana and therefore would make this program difficult to achieve. It would also be difficult to transport the pangolins to the sanctuary. Pangolins are solitary creatures as well as nocturnal, so they are difficult to find.  This would make moving the pangolins to the sanctuary complicated, as the locations of the pangolins would be unknown. Pangolins also eat ants and termites, so they would have to be moved to a location that has a sustainable amount of ants and termites. Land is difficult to come by in Ghana,  and finding land that is suitable and affordable would be a challenge to implementing this solution. However, this program would save many pangolins, so while it may be difficult to achieve, it should be a goal for several NGOs.


Call to Action

Building a sanctuary is the best solution to this problem, however if no one has any idea what the pangolins are or what they are facing, nothing will be able to be done.  Therefore if you want to get involved start spreading the word! Raise awareness for these little animals and help them get the help they need. There are many different NGOs that are trying to help the pangolins.  Some of them are:

IUCN Pangolins Specialist Group:


A Rocha:

These are just a few NGOs that are trying to help the pangolins, there are many more.  Each of these organizations recommends ways to get involved in helping the pangolins. So get involved and spread the word!  The NGOs can’t do anything if no one knows about the pangolins.  The first step to solving this problem and building the sanctuary is to get support and awareness for this issue, so a sanctuary can be built.  A great way to raise support is to talk about World Pangolin Day.  World Pangolin Day is the 17th of February, and is a great time to celebrate and help the pangolins.  So to help the pangolins, support the NGOs that are trying to save them and communicate with people about this problem!


Works Cited

“About This Story.” CNN, Cable News Network,


Briggs, Helen. “Poaching Pushes Pangolin Closer to Extinction.” BBC News, BBC, 20 July 2017,

“IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group.” Do You Know Your Pangolins? Learn about… – IUCN Pangolin Specialist Group,

“Protecting the Pangolin.” IFAW – International Fund for Animal Welfare,



Share this project
  1. April 27, 2018 by Ben Morris

    Wow! When I clicked on this link, I assumed it would be a fairly standard environmentally focused presentation, but it was very interesting to see how this sort of math could play into an environmental issue. Well done!

  2. April 27, 2018 by Sam Haj

    I had no idea that pangolins were so heavily poached. Population destruction is such a serious issue and it’s great that you’re calling attention to it. I love the idea of incorporating math into the solution to bringing back them back! This was so creatively done and I think the way you set up the game was really original. Awesome job!

  3. April 27, 2018 by Kenneth Schwartz

    Wow! I had no idea. Very informative, well written, and supported with solid evidence. Thank you for sharing and I am glad I checked out your site.

  4. April 27, 2018 by Hannah Anderson

    This is a really cool project! I like the usage of graphs and “the game” metaphor. Your project really shows how pangolins are suffering in the wild. I appreciate this project, because most people do not know about anteaters, and with more projects like this, hopefully they will become a well known animal species! This project is well written, and you have a very well thought out solution. Great job!

  5. April 28, 2018 by Peter.Wess

    I have seen pictures of these animals before, but I had no idea they were called pangolins and were also being poached so much. It is sad to hear about poaching of animals, but I like how you provided the sanctuaries as the best approach for the livelihood of the pangolins. It was an interesting approach to use matrices and other math rules to figure out which solution was the best, I think you caught everyone off guard with that, good job. I hope that these sanctuaries do help and we do not lose one of the keystone species.

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