Case study

Darwin grant: protecting elephants and promoting peace in Mali

Darwin Initiative supports communities in Mali to better manage their environment, conserve elephants and help people

Elephants in Mali

Credit: N Ganame

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 northernmost herd of African elephants. The survival of these elephants is directly linked to the state of relations between the peoples of the Gourma region.

Despite its wealth in natural resources, half of Mali’s population lives below the poverty line ($1.25 a day). This poverty is made worse by instability such as the recent armed conflict.

The Darwin funded Mali Elephant Project encourages local communities to work together to reduce environmental damage and protect important habitats. Damage to soils, water, plants and wildlife means that there is less to go round and increases the likelihood of conflict between elephants and humans. Communities who work together to protect and restore their environment are protecting their livelihoods and the habitats the elephants need for their survival. The project works with local groups to protect their environment and encourages communities to work together by providing employment for young people, targeting post-conflict aid and reconstruction activities.

Elephant caressing baby elephant

Elephant caressing a baby elephant. Credit: Carlton Ward Jr.

Community engagement protects ecosystems

In return for protecting the elephant migration route, the project helps the community. This has included providing access to grain and to clean water (through digging wells) and encouraging youth employment and conflict management. All activities include a focus on preventing further ecosystem damage. The project is bringing different people. Working together to protect water, pasture, forests, wildlife and wild foods and using these resources sustainably means that more of the environment is protected.

Local people at a vigilance meeting

A vigilance meeting. Credit: The Wild Foundation

A forum for resource management

A group was established to promote more sustainable management of the environment. Its first action was to designate a 923,800 hectare reserve to protect pasture throughout the dry season. Protected by the community-built fire-breaks, this was the only part of the northern range that did not lose its pasture in bush fires. Other communities are asking to join the process, and the Darwin grant will help extend the approach to other communities throughout the elephant range.

We don’t want the elephants to disappear because if the elephants disappear it means the environment is no longer good for us.

Malian villager

Published 16 May 2014