the world’s largest terrestrial mammal, the
elephant has acted as a majestic symbol of the African
continent for thousands of years. In recent times,
West African populations of the species have become
extremely vulnerable. An estimated 90 per cent of
their range has been destroyed. This loss of habitat
and illegal killing raised concerns about the future
of this threatened species.
The West African Elephant Memorandum
of Understanding (MoU) provides an international framework
for Range State governments, scientists and conservation
groups to collaborate in the conservation of elephant
populations and their habitats. The MoU was launched
under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory
Species (CMS) on 23 November 2005, in close cooperation
with the African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG)
of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC).
West African Elephant Range States
include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire,
Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger,
Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. An up-to-date
list of the MoU’s Signatories can be found in
its Agreement Summary Sheet.
Centuries ago, the African Elephant
(Loxodonta africana) inhabited most of the
African continent. In traditional African culture,
the elephant represents power and strength. Besides
their symbolic importance, elephants also play an
important ecological role in both savannah and forest
Today, elephants are found in 37
sub-Saharan African countries, with the largest populations
in Southern and Eastern Africa. Often overlooked is
the dire status of elephants in West Africa.
Elephant habitats include both humid
forest and the arid Sahel. As people move into these
areas, elephants have less space and the number of
human-elephant conflicts increases. Roads and railways
also split the elephant range into isolated populations.
Two-thirds of these populations have less than 100
elephants, a problem since larger groups have the
highest probability for long-term survival. Even larger
populations are faced with numerous threats including
illegal killing and rapid habitat loss.
These problems cross borders between
countries, much as the elephants themselves do. Furthermore,
the conservation status varies significantly between
countries. These concerns led a number of governments
and non-governmental organizations to begin sub-regional
elephant conservation efforts.
The AfESG has worked on elephant
conservation issues since the 1970s. With support
from the World Wide Fund for Nature, AfESG developed
the Strategy for the Conservation of West African
Elephants in 1999. Around the same time, CMS set out
to develop a legislative and institutional structure
that governments and other groups could use to coordinate
elephant conservation efforts.
AfESG and CMS then combined efforts.
The AfESG strategy was appended to the MoU and forms
an action-oriented basis for ongoing conservation
efforts. AfESG is working on behalf of the CMS Secretariat
as the MoU’s coordinator in addition to acting
as the technical advisor to the MoU. The MoU allows
stakeholders to meet regularly to review strategies
The strategy to conserve elephants
and their habitats in West Africa has three main components:
to better understand the status of elephants, to maintain
and possibly increase the numbers and to improve elephant
habitats. To do this, governments and organizations
want to better understand and control the ivory trade,
reduce the rate of habitat loss, curtail the illegal
killing of elephants, work on collecting better information
to improve understanding of elephant conservation,
improve cooperation and other activities.
Governments and other groups have
been involved in a wide range of activities to protect
elephant habitat and populations. The MoU aims to
facilitate further collaboration since in West Africa,
many of the most viable elephant populations span
the national boundaries of two or more countries.
The MoU provides an intergovernmental structure to
help monitor and coordinate conservation activities.
As the MoU coordinator, AfESG provides technical assistance
to catalyse transboundary conservation activities
and implement existing national conservation strategies.
The AfESG also helps prepare meetings and enables
AfESG has provided technical assistance
for a number of conservation activities.
Efforts are underway to provide important
elephant conservation corridors between Burkina Faso
and Ghana. The Eastern corridor includes the Nazinga
Game Ranch and the Kaboré Tambi National Park
in Burkina Faso and the Ghana north-east forest reserves.
The Western corridor would create a link between the
Mole National Park in Ghana and Nazinga Game Ranch
in Burkina Faso. The AfESG facilitated a dialogue
between stakeholders over managing the two corridors.
A feasibility study has been launched
to manage a migratory corridor between the Gourma
elephant reserve in Mali and the Sahel Burkina area
in Burkina Faso.
In 2006, an action plan was developed
for the Ziama-Wenegisi transfrontier elephant conservation
corridor. This area includes forested land in south-east
Guinea and a proposed natural reserve in north-west
Liberia which are rich in biodiversity and contain
numerous endemic and threatened species such as the