BAMAKO, September 10, 2010—The tragic death of 21 elephants within a two-week period earlier this year in Gourma, Mali shook the West African nation and prompted a joint technical mission by the World Bank and its conservation partners.
The elephants died between May 25 and June 5, 2010 after water scarcity caused intense competition between the elephants and cattle, the mission found. Low rainfall and lack of access to fresh pasture caused over 50,000 heads of cattle to concentrate around Lake Banzena, the only place elephants flock to during the dry season.
The joint technical mission was conducted by the World Bank and partners from July 22 to August 2, 2010 at Gourma Biodiversity Conservation Park.
Last June, the Government of Mali sent a fact-finding team to the area and recommended the creation of dedicated water points along the elephants’ route to ensure adequate water supply for the mammals, as well as shared water points between the conservation areas.
“Competition over access to water between elephants and cattle is the cause of such exceptional morbidity,” noted a statement from the government team.
The Gourma is a vast area spanning four million hectares along the Sahel between Mali and Burkina Faso. On the Malian side, it covers parts of three regions—Mopti, Timbuktu, and Gao. With diverse landscape features that include lakes, dunes, lowland forests and small mountains, the Gourma is home to Sub-Saharan Africa’s northernmost elephant reserve. In 2007 an aerial count identified 354 pachyderms in the area. The quest for water and food has forced elephants to migrate approximately 1,000 kilometers along a series of ponds between Mali and Burkina Faso.
Preserving a Global Public Good
There is broad consensus in favor of a broad partnership for conservation measures at Gourma. In addition to the World Bank team, other development partners took part in the technical mission that traveled to the area end-July. These included agents of the United Nations Development Programme, the Liptako-Gourma Authority, the international NGOs Wild Foundation and Save the Elephants, the United States Embassy in Mali, and the World Conservation Union.
The World Bank has made preservation of global public goods, such as the environment or biodiversity, one of its six strategic themes. In September 2004 the World Bank Board of Executive Directors approved a US$5.5 million grant for the Gourma Biodiversity Conservation Project. The project aims to stop, and where possible reverse, degradation of biodiversity in the Gourma. Key to that goal is a space allocation arrangement that maintains animals in their natural habitat while also enabling local communities to pursue their agro-pastoral activities in the area. Mali’s participatory democracy and genuine decentralization are key assets in that regard.
The objectives of the World Bank mission in Gourma were to mobilize all the key actors and hold discussions on the recurring problem of scarce water and pasture. The mission also sought to make joint decisions with representatives of local communities and identify priority actions for 2011; review the financial commitments and provisional plans for the execution of water works; and prepare the progress report on project activities since the last mission in December 2009.
Together the various partners committed to finding short- and medium-term solutions to shortages of water and pasture along the elephants’ route, especially around Lake Banzena, which is now reserved exclusively for elephants. Additionally, water points will be created and equipped on suitable sites. In some areas they will consist of boreholes equipped with solar-powered pumping systems, while on other sites existing ponds will be deepened. A proposal has also been made to examine technical options in order to improve filling of the Korarou Lake system.
Ensuring Community Involvement
Going a step further, local governments will look into their development master plans to ensure social mobilization through the establishment of community management rules for each project. The Government of Mali will create a pastoral water point to ease congestion at Lake Banzena, and will execute two other projects to protect the elephants’ route. The World Bank will deepen three ponds through the Global Environment Fund, which provides funding for the project. The military cooperation unit of the United States Embassy in Mali will build three shallow wells. The Liptako-Gourma Authority will also deepen two ponds.
Social mobilization, the plan to ease congestion in Banzena, the intercommunal agreements for the management of the elephants’ migration corridors, and the local agreements designed to include elephants in the natural resource management plans will be the responsibility of the Wild Foundation. The nonprofit Save the Elephants is already conducting studies and analysis of data retrieved from the collars placed around elephants’ necks.
Local support for the Gourma Biodiversity Conservation Project is evident. “The communities’ decision to dedicate Lake Banzena to the elephants, as well as their effective participation in the infrastructure proposals and their interest in sustainable and equitable management of Gourma’s natural resources are tangible proof of their commitment,” said Emmanuel Nikiema, the World Bank project leader. “It is hoped that in a future not too distant, these efforts will translate into meaningful gains as Mali fully embraces ecotourism as envisaged by its poverty reduction and growth framework.”
The Gourma Biodiversity Conservation Project is also funded by the French Global Environmental Fund (1.6 million Euros), the Government of Mali (945 million CFA francs), and beneficiary populations ($US60, 000).