The challenge of operating in the Gourma grows as the jihadist insurgency advances by stealth, tapping into local grievances to expand their influence. This of course runs counter to the Mali Elephant Project’s strategy of bringing diverse groups together to work out transparent and equitable solutions that benefit everyone, including the elephants. The power of its message, and its continued presence on the ground has built local trust; working together is going to be key to dealing with the latest challenge.
Those of you with good memories will remember that pre-conflict, in 2011, the Mali Elephant Project negotiated an agreement with the local population around Lake Banzena – the elephant’s late-dry season watering place – whereby they would leave the lake for elephant use only, in return for relocating to an area outside the elephant range of good pasture and clean water, provided by sinking a solar powered borehole. Unfortunately since then, the solar power infrastructure has been sabotaged repeatedly and the community had to move back to the lake; while the conflict and insurgency opened up social rifts between clans requiring reconciliation work needs to be done.
This year the pattern of rainfall has left Lake Banzena only half full and predicted to dry 2 months early leaving no water accessible to elephants for this period. At the same time there is plenty of good pasture to the south of the lake, but little in the areas to the north that receive herds from the inner delta, and to the east and south-east which receive the herds from Niger and Burkina Faso. This means all this livestock will descend on the area close to Banzena.
Perhaps unbelievably there is a solution! If we can rehabilitate 4 water-points around the lake they can provide water for the migratory herds, plus pump water into the lake for the elephants, we can survive this crisis and lay the foundations for a long-term solution that will avoid this situation from happening again. It depends on partnerships and negotiated agreements. If the surrounding communities are provided with water and the means to withstand an influx of livestock, they must also be responsible for ensuring that the water provided at Banzena is left for elephant use only. All these communities have existing resource management systems and the local capacity to do this, but they must work together.
They know this and have asked for help. This is not just a one-off initiative as it will lay the foundation for a permanent solution for Banzena. Ideally, we hope to sink four wells at these water points as the most sustainable solution. Manual pumps mean these water-points cannot be sabotaged as solar panels can be, and they are not reliant on a continual provision of fuel required by generator-driven electric pumps. The Mali Elephant Project is working with the government and donors to see whether these wells can fit within existing water-provision programmes. But they key thing is that relationships are going to be key to pull this off.
The Mali Elephant Project is a joint initiative of the WILD Foundation and International Conservation Fund of Canada. On-the-ground anti-poaching support for our field rangers is provided by our colleagues at Chengeta Wildlife.
Project Leader, Mali Elephant Project
Dr. Susan Canney has worked on a variety of nature conservation projects in Africa, Asia and Europe, including living for several years in Niger and Tanzania. In addition to working with WILD, she also collaborates with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) based in Oxford.
She has MAs in Natural Sciences, Landscape Design, and Environmental Policy, and a Doctorate for understanding changing human land use and its impact on a protected area in Tanzania. Her work involves using systems perspectives and collaborative approaches to understand the human-nature relationship and find sustainable solutions to conservation problems. She teaches at University of Oxford and for the Green Economics Institute and is part of Forum for the Future’s ‘Reconnections’ team for business leaders.