By Susan Canney
The single biggest poaching incident occurred on the full moon night of the 13th/14th May. Our initial information was that five elephants had been gunned down at Indamane, 28km from Lake Banzena. This seemed curious, as there was no water at Indamane, and all the other elephants were at Lake Banzena, their only source of water in this late dry-season period.
The day before, two suspicious individuals had been spotted on a motorbike moving swiftly past Adiora in “the Gossi corridor”. Unfortunately this was the one part of the elephant range where we haven’t yet managed to establish “Brigades de Surveillance”, and so were not able to detect and mobilise the response networks quickly enough.
One villager noticed two suspicious individuals, on a motorbike with Kalashnikov and dressed in loose blouson jackets, heavily muffled head, sunglasses and caps pulled down over their faces. They were heading south-west. Most of his family lived around Sartatane 100-150km to the south-west, and he had participated in some of the project meetings while visiting them. He phoned his brother to warn him that these individuals were travelling in the direction of the elephants, and his village. His brother tried to warn the Head of the Brigades at Banzena but couldn’t reach him by phone, and so he traveled through the night by camel to warn him in person. The next day the brigades and vigilance networks sent out search parties and discovered the dead elephants without their tusks.
They alerted the authorities and the Malian government immediately mounted a co-ordinated air and ground search mission. The response was extraordinary and demonstrates the growing awareness of and concern for the elephants, evident at all levels in Mali as our project and the communities have grown stronger. The Commanding Officer assured us that “We will do this immediately- it is our commitment to the elephants.” Two more elephants were discovered and the sad news that one of the elephants had been in the process of giving birth when she was shot. Of the seven, all were adults: three females and four males. So far 4 arrests have been made.
This is a severe blow, almost doubling the number of elephants killed since January 2012. We are, however, already turning bad to good and creating brigades in the Gossi corridor as well as increasing their ground presence in the south of the elephant range, to where the elephants will disperse once the rains arrive.
We will keep you posted on events in the follow-up period. Thank you for your support, now is the time for the Malians to see that we can continue to “up our game” as they also increasingly do so.