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Lake Banzena in the elephant reserve is the only place with water that elephants can access at the end of the dry season. However human activity is threatening to drive the elephants away, as it has already done in the Niger Delta and Lake Gossi. The difference is that this time they would have nowhere else to go.

Since a well was constructed next to Banzena in 2000, people have begun to settle  in the area.

At the same time numbers of migratory livestock herds have mushroomed, and commercial interests are cutting wood to sell in the river towns.

Competition for resources has intensified with the result that the lake dried prematurely in 2009 and 2010, requiring the costly provision of water as an emergency measure. It was clear that a long term solution was required if the elephants were to survive.

We visited every household and all the herdsmen, to ascertain their perceptions, and to engage their help in devising a plan to resolve the situation. This plan had to have the buy-in of all members in the community and respect intra-community relationships. The findings were fascinating — and you can read the full report here> For example, we discovered that over 50% of the human population around the lake suffers badly from water-borne disease; many fear the concentration of elephants at the end of the dry season; while 96% of the cattle using the lake belong to “prestige herds” owned by affluent urban Malians.

The result has been their suggestion to relocate to an area outside the elephant range with abundant pasture (see photo VIII), if three water-points could be provided. We have managed to raise the money for these from the US Embassy and the Malian Government, and are using traditional systems of resource management.

These involve a management committee to determine the rules of use, brigades of young men who patrol to detect infringements, and a council of elders who determine punishment for transgressors.

The first action of the management committee was to designate an area of 40,000 hectares as a pastoral reserve. Adjacent communes thought that this was such a good idea that they spontaneously followed suit to designate contiguous areas and make a total of 923,800 hectares.

Protected by fire-breaks, this area is the only part of the northern Gourma not to lose its pasture in bush fires this year.

The power-point presentation below shows a bit more information about the community engagement process.

This power-point shows more information about the fire-breaks and how they were made…

This system places the resources of the area under the control of the local community, preventing pasture loss through bush fire, and the over-exploitation of water, pasture and forest products by commercial interests from elsewhere. It does not prevent the use of resources by transhumant herds, but allows local communities to limit use and charge for access to them.

Another benefit of this approach has been the integration of the government forestry service into the process. They are, for example, able to help in the technicalities of fire-break construction, and work in collaboration with the brigades, rather than being at odds with the population, as is often the case.

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