Emmanuel Hema of Burkina Faso (middle man in the image below) was the first local (West African) employee on our Mali Elephant Project.  After two years he decided to study for his PhD, and all the project partners supported his first two years and WILD continued to support him to his successful conclusion.  We are happy to report that “Hema”  is now Dr Hema, only the second West African ever to be awarded a PhD in elephant research!

As a native of Burkina Faso, I graduated as a rural development specialist at the Polytechnic University of Bobo-Dioulasso in 1998, after the completion of my diploma studies in Chemistry and Biological Sciences at the University of Ouagadougou in 1995.

After my rural development studies, I worked for one year (1998-1999) at the NATURAMA foundation (a local NGO in Burkina Faso). In November 1999, I won a place as one of the trainees in an innovative professional 3-year training program for elephant biologists and managers, with Conservation International (CI) in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

It was at that intensive training course, under the supervision of Dr Richard Barnes that I learnt about elephants through several study programs including:

– Survey methods in forests and the savanna zone of west Africa;
– Intensive crop-raiding studies;
– Elephant behavioral and infra sound communication experimental studies in  collaboration with Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology;

In 2002, I won a place for a DEA (Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies) course at the University of Cocody in Abidjan, but was obliged to leave because of the civil strife in Cote d’Ivoire. Fortunately I was able to transfer to the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.

After completion of DEA studies in 2004, and based on my field experience, I was selected by Save the Elephants (in Kenya) as a research fellow to work with two other NGOs, The WILD Foundation and the Environment and Development Group (in UK) on the Gourma elephant research project in Mali. I expressed to Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the Director of Save the Elephants, my intention to study for a PhD.

Under this research program and the supervision of Iain Douglas-Hamilton, I carried out the first elephant photo-identification study in West Africa. The results were presented in a joint report published by the consortium The WILD Foundation, Save the Elephants and the Environment and Development Group.

In line with its objectives of improving scientific knowledge on West African elephant populations and building the sub-region’s professional skills, the project paid for the university fees for my doctorate studies at the University of Ouagadougou.

My research examined habitat use by savanna elephants in a protected area (Nazinga Game Ranch in southern Burkina Faso) surrounded by expanding human pressures.

The PhD study was carried out between 2005 and 2011. The first part of five years of university fees and some allowance for the study (amounting to a total of 3,175,000 F CFA) were paid by the consortium of The WILD Foundation in USA, Save The Elephants in Kenya and Environment & Development Group in UK.  The WILD Foundation supported the second half of the fees.  In addition, the Mali Elephant Project allowed me to have field experience and training (elephant identification and recognition techniques with Iain Douglas-Hamilton and GIS training with Susan Canney at the Elephant Research station at Sumburu in northern Kenya), with a  laptop computer; 1 GPS Garmin-12 and 1 Olympus Camedia digital Camera.

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