There is an eerie silence in Timbuktu. A sweltering heat lingers at this, the hottest time of year, and a mist of sand obscures the fabled Saharan town – but something is missing.
"When the jihadists came here, they killed all the dogs," explains Tahar Haidara, 32, one of the town's hotel owners. "They called it Operation Dog. There used to be many pet dogs here – they were barking at them and it annoyed them. So they [shot] them."
It's not just the absence of dogs – a staple presence in most Malian towns – that gives Timbuktu a subdued air. Banks, restaurants and many other businesses remain shut after they were looted and vandalised by the city's jihadist occupants. Army vehicles patrol the streets and there is a ban on driving after 6pm, when night begins to fall. The famously diverse city has been almost emptied of its Tuareg inhabitants. Residents say that only a few Tuareg women remain and all the men have left.