"My Elephant Neighbour": towards harmonious coexistence between humans and elephants

Tuesday, 17 January, 2012
Reims, France

IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) announced today its partnership with Des Éléphants & des Hommes (www.deselephantsetdeshommes.org) to educate more than 9,000 young students in West Africa through the "My Elephant Neighbour" program. This program is part of IFAW’s urgent efforts to protect elephants and reduce human-elephant conflicts in areas, where some populations are on the verge of extinction.

With the long-term goal of mobilizing the next generation of decision-makers on behalf of elephant and biodiversity conservation, the "My Elephant Neighbour" educational program focuses on raising awareness among the children – and their families – living closest to West Africa’s wild elephant populations about the importance of human-elephant coexistence.

"If it weren't for targeted education, future generations would presumably give up on elephant protection in years to come," argues Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director of IFAW for France and Francophone Africa. "Through this program, we are helping to lead the way towards a better future for elephants – and people – by educating and inspiring African schoolchildren to be the conservation leaders of tomorrow."

The program was initiated with primary students and teachers at 160 schools in the Boucle de Mouhoun region of Burkina Faso and aims expand to schools in other countries in French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa.

The survival of elephants in Burkina Faso, as in the rest of Western Africa, is under threat from increasing human pressure on their habitat. Western African elephants now make up only one per cent of the continent's population and cover as little as five per cent of their natural range. That their future hangs in the balance is beyond dispute.

Students undertaking classroom learning about these animals, the threats they face and the importance of preserving them through an illustrated children’s book titled "My Elephant Neighbour" and are also taken on field trips into the forest which will provide most students with their first glimpse of the elephants who share their habitat.

Statistics from the program suggest that 80 per cent of children living in the vicinity of elephants never encountered any. This is one of the reasons why these children represent the program's chief target. The issue of nature protection is all the more critical given rapid demographic expansion in the region and the precarious situation of many West Africa elephant populations. IFAW believes it is essential to combine socio-economic progress with environmental preservation, which can only be sustainably achieved together.

"Education is the first step toward achieving a long-term, harmonious coexistence between humans and elephants," says Julien Marchais, founder and coordinator of the organization Des Éléphants & des Hommes. "By 2050, the 10-year-old children of today will be 50 and hold decision-making roles. In order to make decisions for conservation and biodiversity protection, these children need to be educated about elephants now."

While the "My Elephant Neighbour" story was conceived primarily to educate West African schoolchildren and their teachers, it is being made available to millions of other children, their parents and educators in more than 15 other countries worldwide through IFAW’s global Animal Action Education program.

In France, 20,000 schools participating in the 2011-2012 edition of the Animal Action program devoted to Elephants may enrol in the "My Elephant Neighbour" program and access a variety of resources through the dedicated website www.mon-voisin-elephant.net/,Among other activities, IFAW encourages these schools to raise the funds needed to organize field trips for Burkina Faso schoolchildren, thereby allowing them to meet their elephant neighbours in Deux-Balés national park.

"Educating and inspiring today's children, who will become tomorrow's decision-makers, is essential. It will allow them to voice their desire to grow up in a world where elephants still have a place of their own as iconic and charismatic animals" Céline Sissler-Bienvenu and Julien Marchais conclude.

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy