Persisting so that Nature Prevails: the Mali Elephant Project in 2018

Nov 1, 2018 | 2018, Africa, Featured, Mali Elephant Blog, Talking WILD, Wildlife

Photo © Carlton Ward

by Dr. Susan Canney

Conservation Adviser and Project Leader for our Mali Elephant Project

Through thick and thin, the Mali Elephant Project’s staff and supporters have kept this globally important herd of elephants alive. 2018 was the most challenging year for the Mali Elephant Project since the start of the violent insurgency in 2013. Your support has been a deciding factor in the life-and-death struggle this herd confronts. We ask you to consider giving a gift for the protection of these elephants, one that will address emergent threats and create desperately needed opportunities for the elephants and people of this region in West Africa.

2018 has been a supremely challenging year with a lack of water due to poor rains in 2017 coupled with increasing attacks across the elephant range, a deepening insurgency and manoeuvres by the G5 Sahel anti-terrorist forces.

The elephants and the local people, however, have to live through all this. As the long dry season progressed and water resources dwindled, humans, elephants and livestock became increasingly concentrated around the few remaining muddy ponds. Lake Banzena dried in April, two months before the rains came.

 

© WILD Foundation

 

Elephants compensated by frequenting water-holes close to human settlements, which had often been dug by hand. Many went as far as the borders of the inner delta of the Niger, areas that they had abandoned in the late 70s – early 80s in response to intensified human activities. Inevitably the local population in these areas were not used to elephant presence and the project worked closely with these communities to find ways to co-exist peaceably.

The elephants found it difficult to make their way through the press of livestock to access water, and some contracted foot and mouth disease due to the close proximity and unsanitary conditions. The MEP’s eco-guardians helped the elephants access water points (see photo), and in two places dug additional water-holes which the population agreed to leave for elephant use only. In several areas elephants have become more nocturnal, waiting until nightfall before they drink.

 

Eco-guards improving access to water for elephants. Photo: WILD Foundation

 

Some people with gardens close to water suffered minor damage to their crops from elephants and have experimented with planting a barrier of chillis – which elephants don’t like – to protect them. These communities have expressed interest in working with the project in establishing “elephant-centred” community-based natural resource management and to develop alternative livelihoods that prosper from natural resource management. On example is the fattening and sale of just 1-3 heads of livestock to bring a cash income, instead of keeping large herds. This activity requires the establishment of sustainable harvest zones for dry season livestock fodder under community resource management rules. Other examples include the marketing of non-timber forest products such as Gum Arabic, wild fruits and medicinal plants. These livelihood activities have proved particularly popular and the first trial resulted in an average 400% increase in household cash.

Once it rained the elephants were no longer confined to a few water-holes and they moved south. The wet season brought plenty of rain, which provides plenty of pasture but also increases the fire-risk. The rainy season has just finished and eco-guardians are busy building fire-breaks to protect the abundant pasture from fire.

 

Eco-guards building fire-breaks. Photo: WILD Foundation

 

A particular highlight has been the drafting of the boundaries and text for a new elephant “biosphere” reserve which covers the whole of the elephant range. We’ll be able to report more about this in early 2019. In the meantime, the infographic presents an overview of 2018.

 

 

The Mali Elephant Project is a joint initiative of the WILD Foundation and International Conservation Fund of Canada. Chengeta Wildlife provides advanced in-operations training to project’s anti-poaching unit. 

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