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Mali is at war.  The year –long and now escalating conflict(s) in Mali pose a real threat to the Gourma Elephants, so we have adapted our planning and on-the-ground work to proactively anticipate issues.  In this post we will cover:

  • The impact of the conflict on the elephant range
  • The status of the anti-poaching efforts
  • How the project is adapting through mobilising the young men of the area

The map shows the location of the French air strikes (week of 13 January) in relation to the elephant range. It is expected that the Gourma region will be secured in the coming weeks as the effects of the French and West African ground troops support the current efforts of the Malian army. Our anti-poaching team was created towards the end of 2012. It is ready for action and will be deployed as the ground troops secure the zone.  We have raised funds for initial training and integration of the anti-poaching unit with local communities, and more refined training is the next step.

Click map to enlarge

Project activities continue in the field because the conflict is focused in the towns. The vast area and dispersed populations are challenging in peace-time, but are an asset in times of conflict, and the local population continue life as best they can.

The project has adapted its methods to respond to the challenges, and the perspectives of the local people. This has led to new, creative activities. One major initiative has been mobilising the young men to create “vigilance networks” (réseaux de surveillants locaux) across the elephant range and undertake many other project activities. These include:

  • Gathering information about any elephant killings, including the perpetrators, and conveying this to the anti-poaching unit
  • Undertaking habitat protection activities such as fire-break construction, thus ensuring less human-elephant competition for resources of water and forage
  • Supporting the community elders in spreading the message throughout the community and to the armed groups, that killing elephants steals from the local people
  • Extending the understanding of the human –elephant relationship and activities to resolve conflict across the elephant range
  • Guarding project equipment

This provides a counter to the recruitment by the jihadis of the young men, who are lured by money and the status of having an occupation. None of the 520 young men that we have so far recruited have joined the armed groups. They regard working for the project as more ‘noble’, and they there is a strong sense of pride in being able to provide for themselves and their families, and in what they are able to do to benefit the community. It is also less risky, as joining an armed group risks ending up on the losing side, pursued by the army and/or having to find ways to reintegrate into their communities.

Our mobilisation strategy has brought the communities together to debate, enhanced awareness of the wider issues at stake, and thus consolidated the different clans, communities and ethnic groups in the area. The vigilance networks serve to reinforce this consolidation.

These young men have proved invaluable in meeting an enormous challenge that at first glance seemed insurmountable. The bridge and dam at Lake Gossi has broken (see map) with the result that water has drained out of the lake and out of the lakes of the whole of the drainage way to the north, the “Gossi corridor”. This means that herders from the river to the north, who usually migrate to this area to find pasture in the dry season will have to move to other areas, and most particularly Lake Banzena. To prevent this move towards Banzena, we have suggested constructing a fire-break running parallel to the river to prevent pasture adjacent to the river from burning, so that these herders do not have to leave the river zone. No sooner had we suggested this, than the young men in the wider Banzena area set to work and have so far created a 120km long fire-break.

The local people say they are able to do this because we gave them the camels for natural resource protection, and the grain during the famine when they most needed it.

“Everyone says thank you, as without this (the donation of grain) we would have died of hunger. May God protect you.”
–Banzena herder

We are now organising the river communities in fire-watching and fire-fighting to protect this pasture, as well as extending the vigilance networks across the elephant range.

Please support our efforts to empower the people of central Mali to protect their elephants!

With sincere thanks from Susan Canney, Nomba Ganame in Mali, The WILD Foundation and the International Conservation Fund of Canada

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