Since the brigade was deployed nine months ago, not a single elephant has been lost to poachers.
In January 2016, Susan Canney, director of the Mali Elephant Project, predicted all of Mali’s elephants would be killed within three years if poaching continued unabated.
“They are probably among the most extremely endangered of Africa’s elephants,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save the Elephants, a wildlife advocacy group. “I am extremely worried.”
The Mali Elephant Project (MEP) empowers local people to reverse habitat degradation by uniting multiple ethnic groups to jointly manage the land for the benefit of people and elephants.
Through the facilitation of an Elder Council, local people set priorities for land use that encourages the long-term presence of elephants.
Patrols of young men provide oversight of the land and watch over the elephants. To defend the 300 or so elephants that remain, Mali formed an official anti-poaching brigade.
The brigade combines rangers and army forces, a necessary pairing for protecting wildlife in this hostile territory.
Since the brigade deployed nine months ago, not a single elephant has been lost to poachers.
As its head instructor, the army-ranger brigade brought in Rory Young, a co-founder of Chengeta Wildlife, an organization that trains and supports anti-poaching operations.
Young and his team created a special training program that included traditional techniques for operating in the bush.
For extra support, the brigade hired Mitch and Bobby, two chocolate-colored spaniels who have been trained to sniff out ivory during search missions. The team takes the dogs on searches when they get intelligence about traffickers’ hideouts.
Sgt. Djibril Sangare, a ranger with the brigade, said protecting elephants is vital for Mali’s and the world’s heritage, adding that he had never seen an elephant before joining the brigade and now considers them the greatest animal.
“The work,” Sergeant Sangare said, “it is love.”