Just hours after posting an update on our Mali Elephant Project (MEP) yesterday, we learned of the devastating attack that occurred in Bamako, the capital of Mali. First and foremost, we are very relieved to inform you that our local team in the Gourma (central Mali) is safe, though the current crisis is very likely to affect our on-the-ground operations. We will post a more detailed update on Monday once we have a better understanding of the situation.
For now, here’s what we know:
- Friday morning, November 20th, gunmen stormed into a Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali.
- The gunmen held scores of hostages until late afternoon and as many as 27 people have been killed, as well as two gunmen
- It is not immediately clear who was responsible for the attack in Mali. Al Jazeera reported that it had received a recording asserting that a local militant group, Al Mourabitoun, had carried out the siege in conjunction with Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, though the claim could not be independently confirmed. (via New York Times)
- Yesterday in a community meeting organized by our Field Manager in the western part of the elephant range, Gourma residents resolutely restated their commitment to elephant protection and are sending a delegation of regional leaders to present a resolution to the Prime Minister, requesting security aid and support against poaching.
As presented in our previous blog, our Mali Elephant Project began in 2003 to focus on finding ways for humans and elephants to live together peaceably and for mutual benefit. Since 2012, the poaching has ramped up due to ongoing insecurity and lack of a government presence during and after the Mali rebellion and jihadist invasion. The threat to this elephant population and the local communities has escalated dramatically, but it is also preventable with enough support. Government patrols organized and funded by the MEP effectively stop poaching. But they require the ongoing commitment of our donors to maintain.
The elephant range, roughly the size of Switzerland, harbors an increasing number of bandits – men who joined forces with the jihadists during the insurgency, and who are now fleeing from possible retribution from the government and their communities. The constant threats of attacks, assassinations and robberies in the area have prevented the local people from returning back to their normal livelihoods, with a constant sense of fear.
Our Mali Elephant Project team has been in collaboration with Mali’s government to engage the military in anti-poaching, and is training and equipping 50 newly recruited rangers to be deployed to the elephant range. The estimated deployment date of these rangers is November 21st, and is likely to go forward as planned, despite recent events.
Our hearts go out to the people affected by this horrendous attack in Bamako. Please stay tuned as we gauge the current situation and determine the next steps.