The Mali Elephant Project
In 2009 Lake Banzena dried prematurely. This is the only source of water accessible by elephants at this time of year, and immediate action was required. This crisis enabled us to develop our model of elephant conservation through community, and we knew we were on the right track when adjacent communities throughout the Gourma requested that we help them do the same thing.
PLANNING & LEGAL
Grass-roots initiatives are supported by national laws (e.g. decentralisation legislation that gives local communities rights over their natural resources, the “Charte Pastorale”, the creation of community groups, forestry and wildlife legislation) and supported the government in reviewing government structure plans to identify areas conflicting with elephant needs, and resolving these through local dialogue, as described here.
SURVIVING THE CONFLICT OF 2012 – STRONGER AND BETTER!
In 2012, government fled the zone, the area became lawless, occupied by armed groups and awash with guns. We feared greatly for the elephants’ safety; but by adapting our working methods and approach, our courageous field team was able to continue working with the population to help them with their challenges, and protect the elephants at the same time.
We convened a large community meeting of 4 days to enable the sharing of experience and discussion of the main challenges facing the people of the Gourma, and to build solidarity in meeting these challenges. At the same time the MEP explained the threats to the elephants. The major local concerns were:
- The difficulty of procuring grain because all vehicles were being hi-jacked
- The concern over their young men joining the armed groups. Jihadists were paying between $30 and $50/day and providing arms, a strong enticement for unemployed youth from poor communities.
The project responded by bringing in grain and distributing it by donkey cart. Community leaders issued edicts saying that “anyone who kills elephants is stealing from the local community” and promised to convey these far and wide including to leaders of the armed groups. The project supported this by recruit 520 young volunteers to act as vigilance networks throughout the elephant range, watching over the elephants and helping the brigades in their activities. Despite being paid only in food, none of them joined the armed groups because they said that project work was more “noble”. Only 7 elephants were lost during the conflict, thanks to the community.
Local communities gather to restore peace in the Gourma
POST-CONFLICT AND THE CHALLENGES ESCALATE
The conflict caused great social upheaval, destroying livelihoods and creating social rifts. To help guide our activities, the MEP surveyed the population, both refugees and those who stayed to understand how the different social groupings perceived the situation. The findings (Annexe 1) had significant implications for the delivery of aid and reconstruction activities and so the MEP worked with two Ministries to convene a national workshop on reconciliation and reconstruction to devise a concrete work plan of activities. The results (including a summary) can be found here, but of key importance was the need to involve communities from the start and to repair the social fabric to fight the ongoing insecurity.
Meanwhile, external trafficking networks are increasingly targeting the elephants but the MEP has managed to contain the threat through supporting synergy between the military, the foresters and community efforts to restore security.