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The main wave of the warfare in Mali has washed over the Gourma Region and the elephant range, and its immediate threat is diminished thanks to intervention from the French.  However, mop-up work is still occurring in the Gourma as some of the jihadis and rebels are in hiding in the area, trying to flee.  The next main phase of counter-insurgency will now begin, which is less certain and far more challenging, but mostly centered in the North…we hope.

As we reported in earlier blog posts, in the last year there were the first few incidents of poaching, totaling just 6. Thus far, under the local leadership of our Field Manager Nomba Ganame, the communities have managed to stem the tide, and we are now poised to deploy the specially-trained, anti-poaching team, that we’ve initiated in partnership with the Mali government and supported by numerous sponsors.

In addition to the threat of poaching, the fighting may also be affecting the elephants in other ways.

All elephants have a very acute sense of sound and smell including an exceptional ability to detect vibrations and pick up smells over long distances. This not only allows them to communicate, and sniff out water or food but also gives them a useful early warning of approaching danger (see for a wonderful overview of elephant communication).

Unlike elephants in other parts of Africa or India, the Gourma elephants are extremely shy of human contact, and easily stressed by such things as the sound or smell of a vehicle. They spend much of their time in thicket-forests where they find food, water, shelter from the sun and refuge from human activity.

Unsurprisingly they didn’t like the helicopters as they flew overhead to Timbuktu but apart from that the elephants are mostly calm. We had been wondering whether there will be an impact of the jihadis hiding in the forests but so far there has been no trouble.  However, the elephants in the “Gossi corridor” to the north-east of the elephant range (see map) have been making more displacements than usual and seem agitated.

We think this might be due to the increased number of people fleeing in that area. It is the only part of the elephant range where we haven’t yet started working with the local communities, and a higher proportion of people joined the jihadis in this area. They are now too scared to return home as they will be handed over to the army, and so are hiding in the forests and trying to flee. Elephants may well be finding people in the forests that are their usual sanctuaries and moving elsewhere to find an ‘empty forest’.

At the moment the Malian army is in the elephant range rooting out the jihadis who are hiding in the forests around the lakes and waterholes, guided by information from the local people. Broken down cars full of drugs, alcohol and counterfeit money are being discovered: twenty-eight were found in one place in the south-east of the elephant range (video clip to come!). Discoveries such as these are causing great shock and consternation among the local people, who had been submitted to a brutal regime in the name of Islam.

Once this operation has been mostly completed, our anti-poaching team will be able to go into action in the Gourma.

The WILD Foundation and International Conservation Fund of Canada are very grateful for emergency funding for the anti-poaching team provided at short notice by IUCN Save Our Species, The Abraham Foundation, Tusk Trust, and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund

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