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Research Shows how Mali’s Elephants and Communities Co-exist

The issues involved in the coexistence of humans and wildlife are interconnected and can’t be broken down into small, predictable, manageable parts. Recognising the uncertainty that arises from multiple relationships could help to make conservation more effective. An example is provided by the “desert-adapted” elephants of Mali. These 250 to 300 animals are among the last of an elephant population that once stretched across the Sahel. They’re now reduced to tiny refuges due to the intrusion of human activities. The Mali Elephant Project began with three years (2003-2006) of studying the elephants and their migration to understand the threats. Researchers did this using GPS collar data provided by Save the Elephants. But it was difficult to see how a small organisation with no resources could intervene over such a large area (about 32,000km2) which was inhabited by people. The protection of forest from exploitation by outsiders meant wood, forage, wild foods, medicines and other forest products could generate income from schemes managed by women’s associations. This approach was possible because Mali’s decentralisation legislation puts natural resource management in the hands of local communities.