Unsung Heroes: Susan Canney
Mali Elephant Project
At the 10th World Wilderness Congress we discovered hundreds of young activists who were working quietly behind the scenes to make the WILD vision a reality. We felt that these people’s activities should be recognised. In keeping with the knowledge that young people are the future, we asked our team of young trainee journalists in the press office to go out and interview them.
Susan Canney is the project leader for the Mali Elephant Project, an initiative to preserve and protect elephants, which she describes as “a natural part of the social ecosystem”. The rationale for the project is not only to help these beautiful creatures, but also local communities and governments by integrating elephants in local people’s daily activities.
Susan has worked on a variety of nature conservation projects in Africa, Asia and Europe. She has MAs in Natural Sciences, Landscape Design and Environmental Policy and a PhD on understanding human impact on protected areas, in particular in Tanzania. However, she admits that she is particularly interested in going into the field in order to understand and interpret the computer data.
Looking at Susan’s impressive career and work, two key questions appear: why elephants? Why Mali? She is pretty sure about the answer. “Elephants inMaliare in serious trouble and we have about five years to do something, otherwise they will disappear”. She explains that these big mammals are in danger everywhere, but while they can find a few safe habitats in Asia, they are helpless inAfrica. They are big enough to challenge human domination and, sadly, there are people who fear that.
Susan feels that so much work needs to be done in Mali, since there is no conservation at all. “Communities are really divided and, before doing anything, we have to work on reconciliation”. Meeting with communities and listening and talking to them is the first step. It is important to show them what is happening so that they realise what the situation is and get engaged with the project. “Reconstruction is only possible through reconciliation”, says Canney.
One of the biggest and latest concerns of the Mali Elephant Project is the impact of the war. Tuareg rebels and jihadists have been attacking these animals to buy weapons; the Local Militia Commando has killed six elephants. In addition, since the area has been devastated by the war, one more has died in his way to Mauritania trying to find something to eat. The only possible thing to be done was meeting with the community leaders and exchanging ideas. “We cooperated with the elders to set a moral standard and told everybody to spread the word that killing elephants is bad for the local people. In these communities they respect old people a lot, so it had a good impact.”
The Mali Elephant Project works with young volunteers that try to spread their message too. In Susan’s opinion, involving young people is crucial for wildlife conservation, so showing children interesting facts about it and getting them to play and experience with nature is the key to develop a sense of awareness and responsibility.
She also deems cooperation essential and that is why WILD10 is so important to her. “It links people, lets them share information and fosters mutual solidarity. By linking smalls efforts, like we did inMali, we can get a big change, we can tip to a new culture of conservation” concludes Susan.
Interview conducted by Elisa Hernández Sánchez – born and raised in Salamanca, Spain, Elisa is a translation and interpretation graduate, has a Masters in Secondary Education, and a Degree in Art History. On top of all this, she is interested in sustainable communication and cultural dissemination.