Elephant Poaching: The Local Context

The commitment of the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC) has enabled other partners to join in helping the project meet the enormous challenges of international ivory trafficking in the face of post-conflict insecurity.

One recent example has been the support from UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species to protect elephants in the border region between Mali and Burkina Faso in the south of the elephant range.

Elephant hiding in bush

This border is very porous, allowing members of armed groups to move easily between the north of Mali and Burkina Faso, while the many thicket-forests in this area provide hide-outs for bandits and poachers. These are also important habitats for elephants who like them for the same reason: they provide refuge from humans by enabling the elephants to hide. This has allowed the elephants to live alongside the human populations occupying the open, agricultural areas. However over recent years increasing anarchic settlement and resource use has led to the felling and occupation of these areas, reducing the habitat for elephants. Their increased occupation by potential poachers ratchets up the threat.

The danger is clear and to prepare for the months of July – October when the elephants occupy this area, the project held a four-day workshop to discuss the problems confronting the local communities and to initiate solutions.

Participants of the transboundary elephant meeting

Transboundary workshop participants

The workshop began with discussion of environmental changes noticed by the participants over the past 10 years: soil erosion, a reduction in soil productivity, a reduction in tree cover, the disappearance of wildlife and plant species. This has been accompanied by habitat clearance, reduced harvests, anarchic settlement and land use. All these have reduced the environment’s ability to cope with variable rainfall, eroded inter-community relations, and exacerbated human-elephant conflict.

Workshop leaders

Conveners of the transboundary workshop

All participants recognised the need for immediate and collective action and organized community structures in each village that would work with the government to watch over and protect elephants; act against poachers; and determine local collective rules of sustainable resource use that elaborate good resource management practice and protect elephant habitat. A short news item on the workshop can be found here.

Workshop participants

Workshop participants 

The illegal wildlife trade is decimating populations of elephants, rhinos and other threatened species. The role that local communities have to play in combating this holocaust was explored in a 3-day symposium in February entitled “Beyond enforcement”. Initiatives from all over the world were presented, including the Mali Elephant Project, putting the problem in the context of human development, but offering inspirational hope at what can be done when people are empowered to act collectively to reduce conflict, improve governance and ameliorate poverty.

> Learn more about the Mali Elephant Project

3 Comments (Post Comment)
Michael Wamithi says:

Arthur,you make good points.There is a dilemna though.Do we find examples where communities of their own steam without external influence are sustainably securing wildlife habitats?how do they balance their immediate needs of energy,food ,income from resource harvests etc and habitat needs?is wildlife conservation a choice for them?Is there role for donor funds or not for rural communities?

Susan Canney says:

These are important points and I share your concerns. The process of community empowerment is key, and it will only work in the long term if the initiatives are on the terms of the communities …. which leads directly to issues of governance and equity. In this case the project acts as a third-party to provide the forum for the different clans and ethnicities to come together; but once together they discuss the problems (which unifies them as they all suffer from the same problems) and suggest the solutions themselves. The aim is to initially support the community so they can witness the benefits of their collective actions. Community work takes long-term engagement and the building of trust – it’s not a quick fix, but it needs to be supported and enabled by “higher level” policies. I find it frustrating that the international community seems so impotent in dealing with the illegal traffickers and enforcing CITES.

Arthur Mugisha says:

I like the idea of empowering communities to act collectively to protect the elephants. But I keep wondering whether or not the local communities can take the initiative themselves without a donor support somewhere, so that the initiatives are on their terms and conditions. Yesterday I read that Congo Brazaville torched a number of tons of ivory as a statement to fight ivory trafficking. How does this contrast with empowered communities? Would empowered communities advocate for torching of ivory as a way of conserving them when they are afflicted by poverty? I am not advocating for ivory trade, but I am worried about the need for human survival and development amidst increasing rural human population, poverty, lack of alternatives leading to shrinking elephant ranges. I wish the international community would indeed listen to the empowered communities so that the communities can take a lead in conservation of elephants.

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