Save the elephants - by listening to human communities, and creating "networks of vigilance"


A great TED recommend by Bob Bollen (from 2014), telling a story about how the best animal preservation is rooted in the best approach to the human communities that surround them. 

From the University of Oxford, Dr. Susan Canney describes how a crisis and war torn part of Africa  - Mali - has managed to preserve the migration paths, and fertile feeding and drinking grounds, of the last remaining hundreds of native elephants in the area. As she concludes:

It was all because we [conservationists] were willing to not know, to not have 'the answer'. So we had to talk to people. And we grew solutions, bit by bit, in partnership and dialogue. Those solutions were very adapted, and grounded in the local context. And so by empowering our allies, people were not the problem, but - luckily for the elephants - also the solution.

It's also an example of thinking about the whole system - humans, elephants and environment - and trying to shape the relations between them. So that - as Dr. Canney says - "the elephants were automatically preserved". Crucial to this was a "shared vision", which was established by patiently visiting all the communities in the area, finding a strong collective sense that "the elephants made the place valuable", and inviting elders to lead the creation of new common rules of behaviour. 

These would be enforced by "vigilance networks" of young men, who were able to resist even the temptations of jihadis offering tens of dollars a day for paramilitary enlistment - because the elephant work was regarded as "more noble". 

Here are two extended papers in which Dr Canney talks about their Mali project - "the Mali Elephant Initiative", and Engaging youth and communities: Protecting the Mali elephants from war. Also a journalistic feature from Oxford Press - and Canney's Mali project website.

The power of finding a common initiative locally, that speaks to agreed higher aspirations, and can defy the temptations and distortions of bigger and wider conflicts? That's worth thinking about...