Nature recovery through community-owned natural resource management: a path to ecological and social resilience

Carlton Ward Jr
Publicado: 10 Agosto 2021
Última edición: 18 Abril 2023
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The Mali Elephant Project applies an integrated, landscape-level approach to the complex problem of human wildlife coexistence across 42,000km2. Based on the multiple values that local actors associate with the presence of elephants, the project works simultaneously at multiple levels, using a participatory approach with stakeholders to co-create solutions that protect one of the last remaining elephant populations in West Africa. Human-induced habitat loss, environmental degradation, conflict and poaching threaten both the elephants and local livelihoods. To combat these, the project supports the local communities of the elephant range in the establishment of community-centred natural resource management systems that protect natural habitat and reverse environmental degradation. A healthier environment supports local livelihoods, provide occupations for at-risk youth and revenue-generation opportunities, particularly for women. These systems also build social cohesion and reinforce local support for elephant conservation.


África Occidental y Central
Scale of implementation
Desierto caliente
Ecosistemas de agua dulce
Ecosistemas de pastizales
Ecosistemas del desierto
Piscina, lago, estanque
Pradera tropical, sabana, matorral
Acceso y participación en los beneficios
Actores locales
Caza furtiva y delitos ambientales
Ciencia y investigación
Conectividad / conservación transfronteriza
Conocimientos tradicionales
Especies y la extinción
Fragmentación del hábitat y degradación
Gestión de fuego
Gestión de tierras
Gestión y planificación de áreas protegidas y conservadas
Gobernanza de las áreas protegidas y conservadas
Marco legal y normativo
Medios de vida sostenibles
Ordenamiento territorial terrestre
Paz y seguridad humana
Poblaciones indígenas
Prevención de erosión
Salud y bienestar humano
Seguridad alimentaria
Servicios ecosistémicos
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Evaluación del estado de las especies
Planificación de la conservación de especies
One Health
Sistemas alimentarios
Buena gobernanza territorial
Comercio de fauna y flora silvestre y conflictos entre el hombre y la fauna
Lluvia errática
Calor extremo
Degradación de tierras y bosques
Pérdida de la biodiversidad
Fuegos silvestres
Usos conflictivos / impactos acumulativos
Pérdida de ecosistemas
Cacería furtiva
Cosecha insostenible, incluida la sobrepesca
Falta de oportunidades de ingresos alternativos
Extracción de recursos físicos
Falta de seguridad alimentaria
Falta de conciencia del público y de los responsables de la toma de decisiones
Deficiente vigilancia y aplicación de la ley
Deficiente gobernanza y participación
Conflicto social y disturbios civiles
Desempleo / pobreza
Sustainable development goals
ODS 1 - Fin de la pobreza
ODS 2 - Hambre cero
ODS 3 - Salud y bienestar
ODS 5 - Igualidad de género
ODS 6 - Agua limpia y saneamiento
ODS 11 - Ciudades y comunidades sostenibles
ODS 12 - Producción y consumo responsables
ODS 13 - Acción por el clima
ODS 15 - Vida de ecosistemas terrestres
ODS 16 - Paz, justicia e instituciones sólidas
ODS 17 - Alianzas para lograr los objetivos
Aichi targets
Meta 1: Aumento de la sensibilization sobre la biodiversidad
Meta 2: Valores de biodiversidad integrados
Meta 3: Incentivos reformados
Meta 4: Producción y consumo sostenibles
Meta 5: Pérdida de hábitat reducida a la mitad o reducida
Meta 10: Ecosistemas vulnerables al cambio
Meta 11: Áreas protegidas y conservadas
Meta 12: Reducir el riesgo de extinción
Meta 14: Los servicios ecosistemicos
Meta 15: Restauración de ecosistemas y resiliencia
Meta 17: Estrategias y planes de acción para la biodiversidad
Meta 18: Conocimiento tradicional
Marco de Sendai
Meta 2: Reducir el número de personas afectadas a nivel global para 2030
(I)NDC Submission


Douentza, Mopti Region, Mali
Mostrar en “Planeta protegido”


  • Lawlessness, conflict and insurgency by extremist groups
  • Communities impotent to prevent habitat loss and ecosystem degradation resulting in impoverished subsistence livelihoods
  • Over-exploitation by burgeoning cattle herds and other commercial interests from distant urban centres
  • Social tensions between clans and ethnicities over access to natural resources resulting in no collectively respected management systems
  • Elephant poaching as the project area lies astride major international trafficking routes
  • Unregulated hunting leading to the disappearance of many wildlife species
  • Increasing human-elephant conflicts as elephants are displaced from their refuges by armed groups occupying dense thickets surrounding waterholes, coupled with the impacts of artisanal gold-mining
  • Youth unemployment and vulnerability to recruitment by armed groups
  • Lack of economic/social empowerment of youths and women
  • Lack of Government capacity with regard to elephant protection and protected area management


The main beneficiaries are the local communities of the Gourma and the government of Mali. As a national and international heritage, the conservation of the iconic Gourma elephants also benefits the people of Mali, West Africa and the world.

¿ Cómo interactúan los building blocks en la solución?

All the building blocks are intimately linked and derive from the first building block, the project’s “complexity” perspective which sees the problem as emerging from the relationships of its wider context between people and between people and nature. Guided by a vision of peaceful human-elephant coexistence, it finds ways to reinforce positive aspects and resolve negative relationships by careful action. It requires an open mind to respect the perspectives of all stakeholders; fill knowledge gaps; identify and network “assets” and key intervention points for action. It involves facilitating the co-creation of a common perspective among stakeholders, followed by transparent and just solutions at grassroots level, further “enabled” by new legislation (e.g. the new Gourma Reserve). Ongoing dialogue and learning between stakeholders is central. The ripple effects go beyond pure elephant conservation, becoming a driving force for improved ecological and social resilience. Taking a wide-lens view of the problem and focusing on the relationships within the social and ecological ecosystem provides more opportunities for creative solutions, as for example, by providing an occupation for at-risk youth in natural resource protection and land restoration.


The project’s integrated, landscape approach has meant that while the initial focus was on elephant conservation, the resulting method has delivered multiple outcomes that contribute to several SDGs.

Communities feel empowered to improve their well-being through taking responsibility for the management of the natural resources that are the basis of local subsistence livelihoods. This gives them ownership.

“If elephants disappear it means the environment is no longer good for us.”

This has resulted in environmental restoration and regeneration, healthy and viable habitats for elephants and other wildlife.

Other benefits include improved livelihoods, local governance (at commune and village level), social cohesion, occupations for youth, opportunities for women; and a way to resolve human-elephant conflict.

All these build environmental and social resilience, reinforcing support for elephant conservation among local communities and commune administrations, and these local conventions become an integral part of the social and economic development plans of the 16 relevant communes.

Working with Government has resulted in an elephant management plan; the creation of a new protected area covering the 42,000km2 elephant range, including enforcement mechanisms; and the creation of Mali’s first anti-poaching unit which, supported by community trust and support, prevented the elephants’ extermination.


Carlton Ward Jr

When the MEP began in 2003 increasing human pressure had resulted in habitat loss and degradation, reduced environmental and social resilience and impoverished livelihoods that exacerbated social and human-elephant conflicts.

Attitude surveys revealed that local people did not want elephants to disappear: they understood that elephants were a sign of a healthy ecosystem and that human activities must respect environmental limits. Further studies and consultations revealed more about the underlying drivers, communities’ problems, value systems and relationship with elephants. Anarchic natural resource use was at the core and individual groups were unable to act against it. It meant that Mali’s decentralisation legislation was an appropriate tool to help build consensus among the diverse local groups on resource management systems that enabled the restoration and sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of people and elephants.

These “elephant-centred” CBNRM systems involved creating community structures: committees of elders supported by young, unarmed community ecoguards, selected by each community to patrol and enforce community agreements, as well as conduct resource protection, restoration activities, and raise local awareness.

Community rules protected their resources (water, pasture, forests, wildlife) from overuse and declared protected forests and pasture reserves, protected with firebreaks built by the ecoguards. That year, as the dry season advanced and fires broke out, their pasture survived. They had plenty of pasture for their livestock at the end of the dry season and could sell hay and grazing access at a good price to others. Their cattle were worth 50% more at market, had more young and less disease. The women were able to establish local enterprises based on the availability of natural resources, e.g. the sale of hay, forage and forest products such as Gum Arabic. These activities also promoted harmony within the community and helped heal tensions between ethnicities.

Community rules included the sharing of benefits, thus reinforcing local support for elephant conservation. As elephant poaching appeared with the advent of conflict and lawlessness community ecoguards monitored elephants, poaching and HEC. When poaching escalated in 2015, they asked for government anti-poaching support. The MEP worked with the government to create an anti-poaching unit for the Gourma; and to create a new protected area over the elephant range using a biosphere reserve model.

Contribuido por

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Susan Canney WILD Foundation

Other contributors

WILD Foundation - Mali
WILD Foundation