A soft-spoken research associate at Oxford University, zoologist Susan Canney seems an unlikely candidate to take on bad guys in Mali. And yet she has achieved what Vance Martin of WILD Foundation calls “nothing short of a miracle.” It began when she was asked in 2003 to analyze radio collar data for the largest elephant migration in Africa. After three years studying the migration of Mali’s desert elephants over a range the size of Switzerland, Susan forged the Mali Elephant Project (MEP), with backing from WILD. To address water shortages and habitat loss in the elephant range, MEP developed a highly effective model of elephant conservation through community engagement. The model was put to an extreme test in 2012 when incursions by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb caused the government to flee the area, leaving lawlessness and heavily armed groups in its wake. The courageous MEP field team carried on, including employing hundreds of young men in surveillance brigades. Despite being paid only in food, none of them joined the jihadists because theyfelt the MEP work was more “noble”. MEP recently spearheaded Mali’s first ever anti-poaching unit and spurred a new Presidential Directive that requires all Ministries to work together to prioritize the protection of their endangered national treasure, the desert elephants. Because of the spillover benefits MEP has had in countering the jihadists, Susan now works with multiple Ministries, the Malian army and other partners striving to restore peace in the region, including UN Peacekeepers, for whom Mali is their most dangerous mission.
“The anti-poaching team is a unique, interagency effort and is the first time I've ever, anywhere, seen such a collaborative, on-the-ground force. Susan has led this effort with professional skill and commitment. What she has achieved with our partners is nothing short of a miracle.”
— Vance G. Martin, President, WILD Foundation