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Despite the significant unrest and political turmoil in Mali over the past 7 months, WILD & the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC) are glad to report that our Mali Elephant Project (MEP) has continued to work with the local communities and create a multifaceted response to protect the desert elephants in conjunction with the Mali government.

MALI – Things are moving apace in Mali as the African Union has just lifted its suspension following the coup, and plans are afoot to deploy an African-led intervention force to recover areas seized by Islamicists in the north.

BANZENA – In May we were able to report that all boreholes had been completed and that four of the eleven clans had already moved. We can now report that all have moved to the relocation area: Lake Banzena is free of human activity and left for elephant use only.

One of the women told us,

“Since we have moved here we no longer suffer from stomach aches. The men can go back to Banzena if they wish, but we are staying here.”

Unpacking on arrival

As a result of the diminished use by humans and their livestock, the lake did not dry this year but retained plenty of water, and this is despite the poor rains of last year. Fortunately the wet season has been good this year.

Lake Banzena, Photo by Carlton Ward

ELEPHANT PROTECTIONin the last post we recounted how the local communities were responding to the increased menace, both to their assets and to the elephants. Since then we have devised a strategy to protect the elephants that builds on this. The communities are fully aware that killing the elephants steals from the local people, and is to no avail because the ivory is small, brittle and of low value.

Through the community leaders and brigades we have helped establish vigilance networks throughout the elephant range, and their effectiveness has meant that we discovered the identities of those who killed the three elephants, as well as the identities of community leaders paid to look the other way. They were subsequently imprisoned as collaborators (see here). There have been no further killings but we need to act fast to ensure backup for the community information networks.

We are also working closely with the Malian government to deploy an armed, elite anti-poaching unit to work closely with these networks. The community will effectively be the eyes and ears, while the anti-poaching unit will be “the strong arm” able to act on this information. Indicating the national commitment to the elephants, the Malian wildlife department (DNEF) have reassigned their best personnel to this team; the Minister has inaugurated their training, and spoken of the initiative in cabinet.

The MEP is a joint project of The WILD Foundation and the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC), with support from numerous others including USFWS and the US DAO of the Malian Embassy in Bamako; and the UK government’s Darwin Initiative.

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