Mali—Elephant conservation hinders recruitment of young men to armed groups

April, 2013 — Sometimes unintended consequences are positive.

In 2012 the Gourma region in which ICFC and WILD Foundation are working to conserve the "desert elephants of Mali" was beset by Tuareg rebel activity and occupation by armed Islamists. Mali government personnel withdrew. Our project had strong local leadership on the ground and local communities decided to continue project activities regardless. We adjusted our work plan, increased the volunteer camel brigade patrols, increased security precautions, formed community information networks, and distributed grain to families affected by famine. We hired local youths to create fire breaks (now exceeding 1000 km) and form anti-poaching brigades, with far-reaching benefits. Project leader Susan Canney reports:

None of the 520 young men that we have so far recruited have joined the armed groups. They regard working for the project as more "noble" and less risky, and they receive status from being able to provide for themselves and their families and having a role that benefits the community, through direct action and imparting information.

By contrast, many young men from surrounding communities not involved in the project were lured into armed groups.

The challenging security situation highlights this project's resilience, and the local communities' steadfast commitment to conservation. The process is entrenching the local people's growing sense of empowerment, and demonstrating the far-reaching benefits of community engagement in resource management.

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