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Being an elephant in the Gourma region of Mali isn’t easy. Fortunately, people like Wiesje Elfferich are doing their part to safeguard these animals. Wiesje’s story shows the powerful impact that just one passionate individual can make. As Margaret Mead famously stated, Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

During my work as a civil advisor to the Dutch military serving as part of the MINUSMA mission in Gao, Mali, I learned about the terrible fate of the West African elephants. They are threatened with extinction!

These wonderful animals spend most of their time in Mali, crossing into Burkino Faso for part of the wet season. At the moment they are  being poached even though their tusk is relatively small. The poaching is continuing due to the unrest and increasing poverty over the past five years in the region. It is difficult to stop because of the huge areas in which the elephants live and need protection.


Meanwhile, I decided that my stay in Gao would offer me the best opportunity in life to train for the Marathon des Sables, a one week running event in the beautiful desert of South Morocco. So I started to train running with a backpack of 10 kg, running through sand as much as possible and getting used to the heat. In March 2017 I increased my running to six hours every Sunday on our military base. And so I aimed to raise funds for the Mali Elephant Project, an initiative of the WILD Foundation and International Conservation Fund of Canada. Before I started the Marathon des Sables, I had already collected 850 euro, and during my running of the actual marathon, the military collected another 1450 euro with a spinning event!


The running in Morocco was wonderful and impressive- running through dried-out lakes, far away views, and making us aware of climate change and the beauty of the African landscapes. However, without the animals, the landscape becomes a kind of an apocalyptic scenery.

So, even though many more funds are needed, I am now happy to let Fleur Verbiest of the Dutch Embassy in Mali and Mark Klapdoor, representative of the Dutch military, hand over a symbolic check of 2300 euro to the Mali Elephant Project!

Editor’s note – The Marathon des Sables – what Wiesje called “ a one week running event in the beautiful Moroccan desert,” is also called “the toughest footrace on the world” (!)

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

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