We first got to know Rory when he was training rangers in Malawi and Guinea. He became pivotal in the struggle to save the last desert elephants of Mali, following the jihadist uprising, which made the Gourma elephant range one of the most dangerous places in Africa. With ECF funding, and support from the Mali Elephant Project, he and his team were able to train a mixed unit of soldiers and rangers, the only law enforcement team able to patrol the elephant range. They faced great danger, and lost several members of the team, but persevered, and without their efforts, it is possible that few if any of this iconic elephant population would survive.
More recently Chengeta became involved in the WAP complex, which extends across Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso, and holds the largest elephant population in West Africa. Thanks to the involvement of African Parks, the southern portion in Benin is well protected, but Arly National Park and the surrounding hunting concessions in Burkina Faso were coming under increasing pressure from the Islamist insurgency. The ECF provided some support in 2019, but our grantee decided that it was too dangerous, and pulled out.
The EU commissioned Chengeta to become involved in Arly and replicate its Malian model of a mixed anti-poaching units designed to operate in a high-risk environment. Much effort was put into understanding the environment and reducing the risks. Unfortunately, on the team’s first deployment, they were attacked, and Rory and two Spanish journalists: David Beriáin and Roberto Fraile were killed.
Rory was driven to make a difference for wildlife, communities and rangers living in some of the most challenging parts of Africa, and the impact he has made will not be forgotten. His death is a huge loss for the conservation world, but even more so for his family, and the thoughts of all who knew him are with them at this time.