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Update from the Mali Elephant Project

Much has been written in recent posts about the achievements of the anti-poaching unit, and so this post provides an update on the community work that continues in parallel, particularly on the occasion of the Mali Elephant Project being one of the winners of the 2017 Equator Prize.

Since the unit became fully operational in February there have been no elephants poached, despite this being the end of the dry season when they are clustered around the few remaining water bodies in the least secure part of the elephant range and are at their most vulnerable.

Meanwhile the work with the local communities continues quietly in parallel, continuing to promote community solidarity and improved livelihoods. One of the first steps is for the community to produce a map of its natural resources which provides a basis for discussion of the problems encountered, zonation and the rules of resource use determined for each zone. An example of the village of Petten-N’Dotty (redrawn by one of our field staff) is shown here:


map by field staff

The benefits are clearly shown in the photos below which show the difference between the thicket-forests in two adjacent communities, one of whom has Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) systems, and one which doesn’t
. The latter shows how the forest is severely degraded by the practice of cutting branches to make the leaves accessible for livestock, whereas this practice is forbidden under the former’s resource management rules.


Photographs taken at key points of the forest at N’gaw N’gaw using a “W” transect methodology. This area has functioning CBNRM systems.

Photographs taken at key points of the forest at Inani using a “W” transect methodology where there are no CBNRM systems.

One particular development has been the creation of women’s associations in 15 communities to help them establish income generating activities based on sustainable resource management and involving over 1,525 participants. The women themselves choose the activity they would like to undertake and these range according to their habitual livelihood and environment. Pastoral communities living in areas dominated by grassland favour the collection and marketing of animal forage, and the raising of smaller flocks of better cared for animals (to reduce environmental impact while increasing income). Agro-pastoral and agricultural communities living in more forested areas may favour the sustainable harvest and marketing of “non-timber forest products” such as wild foods, fruits, berries, leaves, medicines, resins and gums (such as Gum Arabic) from both existing forests and by planting new trees.

The project trains the participants in book-keeping, revenue-sharing, management, and technical aspects. The success of these comes from them undertaking activities that are related to what they know, rather than trying to introduce something new.

These activities also help build a synergy between the women and the young men comprising the teams of eco-guardians who provide any manual labour required such as carrying, lifting, digging, constructing enclosures, etc.

One unusual example is the re-planting of a local species of Vetiver by the women of N’gaw N’gaw that has many uses and is highly valued but has almost disappeared due to overharvesting. Unlike the introduced variety used for erosion control, this variety is prized for other qualities. In the Gourma the leaves are cut for thatch and handicraft, and this usage does not destroy the plant

Traditionally its roots were prized for their property to give “drinking water a good taste” as well as for medicinal purposes and pest control. The roots have been shown to have anti-bacterial and disinfectant properties, and are dug up, dried and sold in small bundles.


Planting the Vetiver

Planting the Vetiver

The photographs above show eco-guards transporting the Vetiver seedlings and digging the holes ready for planting the seedlings by the women.

These activities are easily scale-able so the more money we raise the more quickly we can achieve our goal of covering the whole of the elephant range with resource management systems that protect elephant habitat, their migration route and the elephants themselves; as well as provide multiple tangible benefits for local communities.

The Mali Elephant Project is a joint initiative of the WILD Foundation and International Conservation Fund of Canada.


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