Humans And Canines Saving Mali’s Desert Elephant
Nigel Kuhn and Rory Young of Chengeta Wildlife offer advanced anti-poaching ranger training around the world. Nigel tells us how their contribution has seen the total cessation in desert elephant poaching in Mali.
“Since the outbreak of war in Mali, in 2012, their desert elephants started getting poached again due to the breakdown in law and order. During this time there has also been a monumental amount of habitat destruction due to the populations in these areas lawlessly degrading water sources, forests and pasture which has led to an increase in human elephant conflict.
Before that, the Mali Elephant Project’ (MEP) had all but stopped the poaching through their work with the community and community brigades. Mali Elephant Project is a joint initiative of The Wild Foundation and the International Conservation Fund of Canada. MEP, through community conservation initiatives, support of 32 schools and environmental education in the 40 000km square region has been hugely successful.
In 2015 record numbers of desert elephant were poached, coming down to 82 in 2016 with the implementation of military patrols in the area. This was down from 2015 where MINUSMA reported that 57 had been killed in the first half of the year. With only 350 now left, this meant that at current levels of poaching the whole population would be wiped out in two to three years.
Chengeta was invited by the Malian government and Wild Foundation to come and set up an anti poaching unit using the tried and tested methodology and doctrine in other parts of Africa in 2016. It is one of the requirements of Chengeta that there is a willing government partnership involved with all training operations as this has shown we have a far bigger and longer lasting impact.
Chengeta provides advanced anti-poaching training to men and women in Africa. Using a specific anti-poaching doctrine that can be altered to suit the needs of the different environmental factors, and cognisant of the different communities that either live in the wilderness area or elephant migration routes as is seen in Mali, or on the outskirts of National Parks as is seen in many other parts of Africa.
The K9s who accompany the anti-poaching unit are Mitch, Bobby and Amy (who is in the Netherlands working there) and are trained in detecting ivory and other scents. Amy was donated by K9 Vianna Von Weynhausen, Mitch by St Anna Adviesbureau (Roeland and Astrid Wessels) and Bobbi donated by Alexander and Jeanette Wessels in the Netherlands. Their lifetime’s supply of food was donated by Farm Foods Netherlands and has meant the three have great nutrition in such a harsh environment they are being asked to work in. The unit underwent training in caring for and working with Mitch, Bobby and Amy and out of this three men were selected as handlers. They have formed close bonds with their charges.
Over half of the work we do in Mali is with the communities that live within the desert elephants’ migratory area. This is an extremely dangerous area and many of the communities we visit have not seen any government representatives be it police, military or health services.
Every village we stop in the army medic will treat villagers for ailments ranging from dysentry and malaria to cleaning wounds and other injuries. Typically when we first enter a village there is little to no-one it would seem and within about half an hour a few young children will come out of curiosity and speak to the soldiers. This is followed by village elders, normally the women who look as though they suffer from the ailments of old age such as rheumatism.
At the end of the day the medic and his assistant can treat up to 200 people. The resultant trust and bonds that are formed enable a free flow of information between the anti-poaching brigade and the villagers. Information about the desert elephants, health and herd structure are shared. The more we learn the more we understand that the elephants are an important part of the various cultures which make up the Gourma region of Mali, and so their presence is often eagerly anticipated. Some villagers take the day off to marvel at them as they pass through.
Chengeta’s involvement in Mali, as a partner in the Mali Elephant Project is set to continue for another year at least. With the success of this initial brigade there is talk of expanding the programme to include a further two brigades. This would mean the individual brigades can work in tandem if need be and expand operations to include other trafficking operations which include illegal wildlife products from other parts of Africa, as well as Mali.
This relies on adequate funding, which, as soon as it is available will see us creating a whole new brigade in six months to integrate into the original brigade and expand operations.
We are setting up Chengeta Wildlife as Non Profits in the UK, the Benelux region and South Africa, so including the US, we will now be based in four countries with a possibility of setting up in Australia early next year.
The drivers behind poaching come from outside of Africa and are linked with organised crime units spread throughout the world so it is imperative we can put pressure on transport and trafficking of these products and put pressure on international governments to take poaching seriously. Petitioning representative governments to use the international law enforcement agencies to stop these people from being able to travel freely and conduct their operations with impunity, often from western countries will help ground units enormously.
Pressure works and must be applied now more than ever. China’s recent banning of their local ivory markets is proof of this.
The public can help spread our message just by watching and sharing updates from the field. It is an exciting time for us at Chengeta and we welcome any passionate individuals who would like to donate their time or skills. Of course anyone who cannot spare their time and would prefer to just donate funds is more than welcome to as well. Up until now every cent donated has gone into operations in the field, so a heavy reliance is placed on the ‘back of house’ operations. Anyone who would like any further information on how they might add value to our operations in the field we would like to contact us via our Facebook page which is regularly monitored.
With another two countries officially requesting our training we will be stretched even further this year until the end of next year at least and so welcome as much as support behind us as we can muster. We are growing at a phenomenal rate and any passionate conservationists who can help with organising, perhaps spreading the message of our work in their countries will at least make more people think about their impact on the environment and what they can do to make a difference, no matter how small. We are always grateful for any help we can get.”
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Pics: Nigel Kuhn/Chengeta Wildlife
Did you know: Mali’s Gourma desert elephants are able to survive sand storms, water shortages, and temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius, according to www.savetheelephants.org.