Right now, as you read this blog celebrating World Elephant Day, there are real individuals in the remote villages of West Africa, building a future for elephants. Unfortunately, their actions come at a high price: by working to save elephants, West African villagers and rangers themselves become the targets of international poaching networks. The majority of these individuals feel themselves and elephants to be intrinsically part of nature, and that that nature’s integrity must be maintained to deliver maximal well-being. Their traditional practices mean that they also readily understand the importance of community and the power of working together.
Today, on World Elephant Day, the WILD Foundation celebrates these daring champions. And we are asking you to help us in this celebration.
In Mali, home to one of two remaining desert elephant herds, a jihadist insurgency and poaching epidemic has reduced the herd by around 20% over 4 years. Without the work of the Mali Elephant Project, which has worked with locals for more than 10 years to restore natural resources and establish local patrols that protect the elephants, there would have been no protection for these elephants. The ongoing lawlessness, banditry and absence of government would have meant that this loss would have been considerably greater with few elephants remaining.
Since 2011, young men from communities within the elephant range have adopted the mantle of conservation, and worked with local elder councils to provide oversight to around 8 million acres of elephant habitat. Not only do these efforts prove beneficial for the elephants, community wellbeing, and the overall environment, but they combat jihadist recruitment by providing alternative occupations that are preferred. Of the 520 local youth recruited in 2012 to report elephant poaching throughout the elephant range, discover the identity of perpetrators, as well as undertake sustainable resource management activities for their communities, none joined the jihadists despite only being paid the equivalent of food (while jihadist groups were paying $30-$50 per day). They said this was because this occupation was more “noble” (carried status within the community) and less risky. The MEP now has over 600 young men engaged throughout the elephant range working within community systems of resource management, gathering information and acting as role models for the younger generation.
Their functioning is overseen by the MEP local team as well as the communities themselves. Because they are embedded within communities, they are both able to gather local intelligence and are monitored by communities themselves, with the MEP team monitoring the communities and their levels of engagement.
In addition to these “teams of eco-guardians”, the MEP has been working with the Malian Government to mobilize a ranger force that is able to follow up and act on information provided by the members of the brigades. At the moment they have intelligence, but there is no law enforcement present that can act on this intelligence. Training of this ranger force is in progress and provided by Rory Young of Chengeta Wildlife in intelligence-led anti-poaching, supported by Matt Croucher in anti-mine/IED training. We will also be working to ensure that their actions can be reinforced by other law enforcement agencies within Mali to expose the wider trafficking networks.
We are often asked what individuals can do. Here’s a suggestion: support the ongoing efforts by adopting an elephant or a brigade. It means an enormous amount to these local people to know that the international community is behind them and that they care about their work. It gives them the courage to face the danger and build a future for elephants and for their communities. Celebrate this World Elephant Day by being a part of the solution!