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Protecting Mali's Elephants

23/04/2013 10:44:53

Until 2012 the Gourma elephants escaped the ivory poaching crisis that is sweeping across Africa. In 2012 three were killed, despite the poor quality of their tusks. Image courtesy of Carlton Ward/WILD foundation.

Written by Susan Canney, Mali Elephant Project Coordinator - Courtesy of Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF)

April 2013. Like everyone, we (SCF) were taken by surprise by the coup and the subsequent events in Mali. All government presence vanished from our project area - it became lawless, guns proliferated and three elephants were killed. We had to think fast about how to protect the elephants while maintaining the momentum of the project.

Activities continued through using motor-bikes instead of vehicles, while a four-day community meeting enabled discussion of the community's main challenges and preoccupations, and the poached elephants. Food was an obvious concern, as was the recruitment of young men to the jihadist cause through giving them guns plus enormous payments of $30/day for a single man and $50/day for a married man.

Concern was also voiced for the elephants that made their area special, and were the focus of the project which was enabling the community to reverse the resource degradation that is undermining their livelihoods. Our field team pledged to help the communities secure grain, while their leaders and elders pledged to use the communication training they had received (how to explain the project to others) to spread an essential message throughout the elephant range and to the armed groups: that killing elephants steals from the local people.

Rebels and jihadis
The Tuareg rebels are culturally constrained from disobeying their clan elders, while the jihadis want to maintain relations as they rely on the local population for food. By doing this, the community leaders were also able to prevent the jihadis from taking the project camels.

Vigilance network
One major initiative involved mobilising 520 young volunteers to create "vigilance networks" across the elephant range. These networks discovered the identities of those responsible for the poaching; retrieved the project's stolen solar panels; undertook resource- protection activities in return for food; and saw themselves as project "animateurs", extending the understanding of resource management as a way to resolve conflict across the elephant range.

No members of the vigilance networks joined the armed groups, while in another area of the elephant range beyond the project's current reach, relatively large numbers of young men joined up. They regarded working for the project as more ‘noble', and there was a strong sense of pride in being able to provide for themselves and their families, as well as benefit their community.

Six elephants kileld

As a result of this community action, only six elephants have been killed, but the threat to the elephants continues. Now that the area has been secured by the ground forces, the vigilance networks will work together with a newly constituted anti-poaching unit composed of Mali's best foresters. The community patrols will be "the eyes and ears" thus widening the reach of the foresters, while the foresters provide the enforcement.

To read more about the Mali Elephant project, click here

Elephants in Mali - By Carlton Ward Junior 


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