Practical Action: Promoting Peaceful Co-habitation

Both the elephants and the people need a healthy environment that is productive and resilient to survive a variable climate. Our “whole system” approach works with all stakeholders to empower local communities to manage the environment in a way that:

  • makes more resources (water, pasture, forest) available through protecting and restoring habitats;
  • leaves space for elephants to reduce conflict;
  • protects the elephants from illegal killing

We began with the top priority area: Lake Banzena, the only water available for elephants at the end of the dry season. Here escalating human and livestock pressure was causing the lake to dry prematurely and impede elephant access to water, food and refuge, and in 2009 the lake was besieged by over 50,000 cattle and dried before the rains came. Immediate action was required, but what?

Livestock at Banzena

To understand the problem better we surveyed the population of the lake, unified the 11 clans through promoting a shared understanding of the problem and bringing them together to develop a solution to which all agreed. The report of this process can be found here.

The process led to surprises that helped devise the solution, for example:

  • It had been assumed that the increasing livestock pressure on the lake was due to the increased settlement around the lake, but in fact we discovered that over 96% of the cattle using the lake didn’t belong to local people but to wealthy individuals living in distant river towns who put surplus money into amassing huge “prestige” herds.
  • Over 50% of the population suffered from chronic water-borne disease, and were happy to leave the lake if they could move to an area of clean water and good pasture.

Community forester patrol

The community identified a new area outside the elephant range and three new boreholes were created. The clans together devised community management systems whereby a management committee of elders devises the rules of resource use that includes identifying and protecting the elephant migration route and key elephant habitats. The younger men are formed into “Brigades de Surveillance” who patrol and work with government foresters to enforce the rules.

The first action of the management committee was to designate 40,000 hectares of reserve pasture to which adjacent communities immediately added, making a total of 92,380 hectares . The project taught the brigade members how to build fire-breaks to protect this pasture and it was the only part of the northern Gourma not to lose its pasture to fire that year.