By Susan Canney
We have good news! After the tragic poaching incidence of 13th-14th May, we received a superb response from many of our supporters and the Malian government. Thank you to everyone who helped out! The incident was a tragedy, but the response within Mali was extraordinary, and never seen before. It is clear evidence that our work with the communities and elephants has convinced people at all levels that a healthy and safe herd of elephants is directly linked to the health and well-being of human communities. Here’s what occurred, and what many of you helped make possible:
In Mali, the Chief of Defense told us “I am committed to the elephants” and immediately responded by mounting a military air and ground mission. Working in conjunction with our community brigades, they apprehended and jailed the actual poachers, and also arrested the main ring leader (who motivated and paid the poachers). We also learned that this ring-leader had been the instigator of a few of the other isolated poaching incidents in Central Mali.
The Environment Minister – our colleague and a supporter of the Mali Elephant Project – immediately brought the incident to the attention of the Cabinet of Ministers and took the opportunity to explain the importance of the unique and vulnerable desert elephants to local communities and to the nation as a whole. The government responded with a commitment of money to create additional forester posts throughout the elephant range (in partnership with Gabon’s Agency for National Parks, ANPN), and to repair the water supply (boreholes) that had been sabotaged by fleeing jihadis. These boreholes had been a key part of the plan devised in conjunction with the local population, whereby they would leave Lake Banzena for elephant use only, if we could help them relocate to an area of good pasture outside the elephant range, by providing water for them. Lake Banzena is the only water available for elephants at the end of the dry season and therefore the lynch-pin of their migration. This is explained in more detail and illustrated here.
The US Embassy in Mali has also been extremely supportive. We met personally with Ambassador Leonard and her senior staff, and she cleared the way for US resources to be used to assess the damage to, and repair, critical local ecological infrastructure destroyed during the war. We’ll report on that soon!