The commitment of the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC) has enabled other partners to join in helping the project meet the enormous challenges of international ivory trafficking in the face of post-conflict insecurity.
One recent example has been the support from UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species to protect elephants in the border region between Mali and Burkina Faso in the south of the elephant range.
This border is very porous, allowing members of armed groups to move easily between the north of Mali and Burkina Faso, while the many thicket-forests in this area provide hide-outs for bandits and poachers. These are also important habitats for elephants who like them for the same reason: they provide refuge from humans by enabling the elephants to hide. This has allowed the elephants to live alongside the human populations occupying the open, agricultural areas. However over recent years increasing anarchic settlement and resource use has led to the felling and occupation of these areas, reducing the habitat for elephants. Their increased occupation by potential poachers ratchets up the threat.
The danger is clear and to prepare for the months of July – October when the elephants occupy this area, the project held a four-day workshop to discuss the problems confronting the local communities and to initiate solutions.
Transboundary workshop participants
The workshop began with discussion of environmental changes noticed by the participants over the past 10 years: soil erosion, a reduction in soil productivity, a reduction in tree cover, the disappearance of wildlife and plant species. This has been accompanied by habitat clearance, reduced harvests, anarchic settlement and land use. All these have reduced the environment’s ability to cope with variable rainfall, eroded inter-community relations, and exacerbated human-elephant conflict.
Conveners of the transboundary workshop
All participants recognised the need for immediate and collective action and organized community structures in each village that would work with the government to watch over and protect elephants; act against poachers; and determine local collective rules of sustainable resource use that elaborate good resource management practice and protect elephant habitat. A short news item on the workshop can be found here.
The illegal wildlife trade is decimating populations of elephants, rhinos and other threatened species. The role that local communities have to play in combating this holocaust was explored in a 3-day symposium in February entitled “Beyond enforcement”. Initiatives from all over the world were presented, including the Mali Elephant Project, putting the problem in the context of human development, but offering inspirational hope at what can be done when people are empowered to act collectively to reduce conflict, improve governance and ameliorate poverty.