The Mali Elephant Project has achieved notable success in working with the government and local communities to conserve the Gourma elephants, however the events of 2012 have meant that for the first time, three elephants have been poached. Community information networks discovered the identities of the perpetrators but require armed back-up to be able to act on this information, particularly with the influx of a variety of armed groups and the imminent military campaign to retake the north of Mali.
The 550-700 elephants are a notable remnant population and represent 12% of all West African elephants. This sub-desert population largely escaped the intense poaching of the 1980's that extirpated other Sahelian populations, making them the most northerly African population and a high priority in IUCN's regional elephant strategy. They survive by making the largest elephant migration in Africa, whose route takes them annually from Mali to Burkina Faso and back. One elephant was measured to have covered 3,435 km in 12 months!
Community vigilance cells were trained and established throughout the elephant range. Meanwhile influential community leaders pledged to transmit messages that killing an elephant steals from the people of the Gourma and secondly that the ivory is dry, brittle and worthless. A plan for an elite anti-poaching force was drawn up in conjunction with the government. This team would respond to information gathered by the community, and the project is seeking to raise funds to match the government's contribution.
Watch SOS grantee Dr. Susan Canney speak at TEDx Vail Women about Mali Elephant conservation:
Elephant killing is likely to be initially a one-off attempt, but if it succeeds it is likely to escalate. This intervention aims to crack down immediately on any incidences of elephant poaching to stop an ivory trade route from developing. The anti-poaching unit acts on information from the community vigilance cells, who are effectively their "eyes and ears". Ivory poachers are arrested and the ivory confiscated; while local leaders paid to look the other way are imprisoned as collaborators.