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Mali Elephant Project

Community-centered conservation that benefits both elephants and people

Photo © Carlton Ward

The Opportunity

Local people in the remote, arid lands of West Africa understand that they are embedded in the web of life – like elephants and all species – and dependent upon its integrity. For them the loss of elephants would be a sign that the environment was much reduced in its capacity to support life, including themselves.


True sustainability occurs when communities are empowered to work together to regenerate the environment in ways that improve their own livelihoods and make space for elephants. Transparent and equitable local governance is key; as is Government support to encourage and enhance these activities, and to protect the elephants from poachers. The two work together.


Square acres of elephant habitat with enhanced protection

Young people working for their communities as ecoguardians to defend elephants and restore degraded habitats

Elephants roaming free in the deserts of Mali because of MEP efforts

We might sometimes forget we’re just a part of the natural world, but in the Gourma region of West Africa, few people make the same mistake. There, they understand that elephants are another special – and important – piece of that overall picture. It is commonly accepted that if the elephants disappear, it means the environment is no longer good for people.

Hear the story of how the project developed its approach

Since 2007 the Mali Elephant Project (MEP) has built on this to help protect the endangered animals through empowering local communities in creating systems to protect nature and keep the elephants safe. This has provided multiple benefits. For example, in declaring pasture reserves and protected forests, building fire-breaks and preventing abusive tree-cutting, young men decide to work as eco-guardians instead of taking up arms and women can choose to build micro-enterprises such as selling hay and forest products. Benefits for local people go alongside those for the elephants creating a basis for true sustainability.

*The Mali Elephant Project is a joint initiative of WILD and the International Conservation Fund of Canada.

The MEP takes a proven three-pronged, community-centered approach to elephant conservation

Habitat Restoration

By empowering local people to better manage natural resources, we help improve local livelihoods while simultaneously protecting the natural world upon which the elephants and people depend. This has resulted in increased availability of water, forest and pasture, improved environmental and social resilience, and many more livelihood options for women and youth.


Since 2012 (the beginning of the insurgency), lawlessness has overtaken much of the elephant range, providing a haven for wildlife traffickers. At the request of community eco-guardians the Mali Elephant Project worked with the national government to create an anti-poaching unit to help prevent wildlife crime.

Policy and Legislation

Mali’s decentralization legislation puts natural resources – water, forests, pasture and wildlife – under the control of local communities, allowing them to devise their own management systems. A new protected area that covers the whole of the elephant range will use the Biosphere Reserve approach to further support these systems, while protecting key habitats, elephants and their migration route.


The Mali Elephant Project is reconfiguring the network of relationships between people, elephants and the environment so that humans and elephants thrive together.

The MEP works in the central part of Mali, in West Africa

The people of Mali are saving elephants against the odds.

Will you help them?


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