Protecting the Desert Elephants of Mali

Chengeta Wildlife has signed a partnership agreement with the WILD Foundation (Mali Elephant Project) to provide training, mentoring and other assistance to rangers in the Gourma area.

Mali is a beautiful, landlocked desert country in North West Africa. Perhaps best known for its rich cultural diversity, Mali is also home to the most northerly elephant herd in living in one of the harshest environments in the world, the arid Sahel. As a result the annual migration of a Malian elephant is vast – circumscribing an area of over 32,000 square kilometers between the Niger river on the north to the Burkina Faso/Mali border in the south.

The elephant migration pattern is a result of the elephants’ need to access seasonal resources that ensure their year to year survival. They spend 95% of their time in specific “concentration areas” of key resources (water, food and refuge) and the rest of the time moving rapidly between them.  Their long legs help them withstand the huge migration but it takes its toll: high infant mortality means this population seems to have remained relatively stable since the 1950s.

The Gourma and the elephants there

The Gourma elephants are a desert-adapted species of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) and frequently endure sand storms, water shortages, and temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit). A severe drought in 2009 dried out Lake Banzena completely, depriving the elephants of one of their key watering points.

Currently there is little human settlement in the area but if that changes the elephants may become isolated from key parts of their range. The Gourma elephants have historically enjoyed relatively peaceful coexistence with the local Touareg, Fuhlani and Dogon peoples. Until recently these groups mainly practiced pastoralism but are now beginning to settle and turning to agriculture. Conflict between humans and elephants is increasing as a result.

Hunting by man and climatic changes has reduced their numbers and range considerably. Today there are estimated to be around 350 remaining individuals.

The Gourma elephants are believed to be the most northerly population of elephants in Africa since the loss of the Atlas Mountains population in the 1970’s, and are remnants of a much larger population that once extended across the entire north of Africa.

The main illegal activities

With organized crime linked to the ivory trade pervading many countries in Africa, Mali is not an exception, putting these 350 elephants at risk of easy decimation, given their affinity to travel in large aggregations.  They are also becoming victims of civil disturbance in the North of Mali due to the uprising taking place.

There is an urgent need to provide an expert response, in the form of comprehensive training to local rangers, to this transnational nature of wildlife crime which includes ivory trafficking, bushmeat trafficking, the circulation of war weapons and ammunition, the significant presence of hunting weapons, night hunting and trapping by wire ropes.

Chengeta team’s role on the ground

The Chengeta team is already on the ground in the Gourma. They are tasked with developing and implementing the expert doctrine, training the local rangers and imparting specialist knowledge & systems as well as advising/mentoring on how to run the operations so that the forcescan protect their own wildlife against poaching.

It is crucial that Chengeta raises enough funds to train, mentor and assist all rangers to help protect these endangered species with all money raised going to support the trainers, advisors, experts/specialists & research needed and to purchase specialised equipment, food, fuel, insurance & ammunition for rangers.