While poaching ravished wildlife in much of Africa, not a single elephant has been poached in Mali since the new Malian Combined Army-Ranger Anti-Poaching Brigade was deployed six months ago. Now, our field team has added three new furry members to the crew. Join us in welcoming Amy, Mitch, and Bobby to the Mali Elephant Project!
The progress in Mali is the result of a complex, challenging and very intelligently constructed program that harmonizes grass roots community conservation, highly adaptive and intelligence-driven deterrence patrols, and medical and humanitarian assistance and support for the local population. This approach has enabled an atmosphere of mutual cooperation and dependence to develop between the local inhabitants of the Gourma – where these last 300 desert-adapted elephants roam an area the size Switzerland – and the brigade, as well as the conservation experts of the WILD Foundation who run the Mali Elephant Project in partnership with the International Conservation Fund of Canada.
Chengeta Wildlife, a key partner of the Mali Elephant Project and contractors of the Malian government to provide in-operations anti-poaching and anti-trafficking training, began training of rangers in May 2016. After the security situation sharply deteriorated in the area, the Malian government decided to create a combined army-ranger unit. Specialized training of the combined unit in an anti-poaching and anti-trafficking “doctrine” specially developed for local conditions, needs, threats, assets and objectives began in September 2016 and became fully operational in February 2017.
Whilst there has been great progress, the situation is not stable. The poachers’ strategy has been to focus efforts to frustrate the unit’s activities, laying mines and ambushes with heavy weapons. It has been necessary for the unit to maintain the initiative and continue to develop strategies and tactics to stay ahead. Additionally various technologies and specialties have been developed and introduced in order to further breakdown the poachers’ and traffickers’ ability to move and operate. A very important step forward was the introduction of the first ivory detection dogs in West Africa.
We are thrilled to announce that in July 2017, three Dutch-trained ivory, weapons, and explosive detection dogs arrived in Mali. This initiative was spearheaded by Chengeta Wildlife in partnership with the WILD Foundation and the first two ivory detection dogs were financed by generous donations from St Anna Advies, a veterinary practice in the Netherlands and by a private donation from Mr. Alexander Wessels and family. All the transport, upkeep and training equipment as well as a lifetime supply of food was generously provided by Farm Foods, The Netherlands.
Many concerns were raised about what type of dog, if any, could survive the extreme heat and harsh environment, and eventually, after consultation with veterinary specialists and dog-training experts with experience in Mali, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it was agreed that springer-cocker spaniels would be most suitable. Special equipment for keeping the dogs cool in the field was acquired and the training in its use provided to the handlers.
The Mali Elephant Project team and the Malian Department National des Eaux et Forets did wonders in clearing the complex red tape and handling the logistics and training of handlers, which took place in Bamako, Douentza, and finally in-operations in the Gourma. The well-run Malian Gendarme Canine Centre provided support and will continue to work closely with the Department National des Eaux et Forets to develop handler skills and provide care for the dogs when not on operations.
Amy, Mitch, and Bobby at work
The ability to quickly detect buried or hidden ivory will not only allow the anti-poaching brigade to locate and seize ivory and arrest traffickers and poachers, it will keep members of the unit alive. This is because the unit operates under continuous threat of attack. Being able to quickly search for a suspected ivory or weapons cache means this risk is lessened. The unit is now able to also detect booby traps and other threats that may be placed at crime scenes and elsewhere.
In spite of great hardship, those involved continue to make great sacrifices and take serious risks to save the Malian desert elephants. Without the financial means our work cannot succeed. However we can keep winning and we will, as long as we have your support.
Rory Young is a co-founder and director of Chengeta Wildlife and the Head Instructor of the Malian Combined Army-Ranger Anti-Poaching Brigade