The Gourma region of Mali occupies a strategic position both within Mali and within the “arc of insecurity” stretching from Mauritania through Niger to Somalia. The region is a haven for jihadists and armed groups in Mali who overran the area in the wake of Mali’s 2012 coup. The region and its main city, Douentza, remained under extremist control for months after fighting began in 2012 before being liberated by the Malian Army (FAMA) and a French-led military coalition.
Today, the area is formally under government control but remains vulnerable to extremist attacks and influence. IED attacks on the main road between Bamako and Gao are fairly common as the region is the crossroads between northern and southern Mali and between government and rebel areas. Both Tuareg separatists like the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and violent extremist organizations such as Ansar Dine and MUJAO currently operate in the area.
This insecure and restive area is also home to a critically endangered herd of desert elephants. The herd of 350 elephants comprises approximately 12% of the West African elephant population and is one of only two desert elephant herds left in the world. These animals are under threat from climate change, increased habitat encroachment from local herds, and, most significantly, from poachers who sell their ivory to fund terrorism and other illicit activities.
The task of protecting the herd in this challenging environment falls to the Gardes Forestiers, also known as the Rangers. These Rangers patrol the Gourma region looking for poachers and enforcing environmental law. At the same time, they form a critical link in the human security chain and connect the FAMA with local communities. The Rangers have developed relationships and trust with local villages and leaders through regular interactions that have, in turn, led to significant information sharing about extremist and illicit activity in the region.
A US Army civil affairs team working in the area has identified these Rangers as critical to improving security in the region and protecting the elephants in the long term. However, these Rangers are under-resourced, lacking the capabilities to effectively patrol the large area they are responsible for as well as properly document poaching and extremist activities. Providing better equipment to this force of Gardes Forestiers will undoubtedly increase their range, capacity, safety, and local security.
Hi SoA supporters, I recently returned from Mali, where Spirit of America donated equipment to the wildlife rangers who protect Mali’s endangered desert elephant herd and the communities within the herd’s grazing area. This project is important for two reasons: It addresses a serious environmental problem by helping save one of two remaining herds of … Continued
Hello, I’d like to update you on a recent development in Spirit of America’s efforts to support security and conservation in the Gourma region of Mali along with our US Army and US Embassy Bamako partners. We first told you about these efforts here. On June 15, 2016, the US Embassy in Bamako hosted an … Continued