A brutal fight to save the okapi

In one of my recent posts, I revealed my fascination with the okapi, a giraffe-like creature that I first saw at London Zoo. Because of this fascination with okapi, I became interested in the work of the Okapi Conservation Project.

Okapi

Okapi at Marwell Wildlife Park.
Picture copyright David Connop Price.

Sadly, the project has been in the news this week for all the wrong reasons. Six people and 13 okapi were massacred by mai mai rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to reports from staff from the Institute in the Congo for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) headquarters and Okapi Conservation Project base, located in the Ituri Forest, these rebels attacked their complex, killing two of the rangers that patrol the area to prevent poaching.

The rebels, who are thought to be a a group of elephant poachers and illegal miners, also killed the wife of one of the rangers, an immigration worker, and two residents of Epulu, a nearby village. The gunmen also destroyed and looted the buildings on the site. Villagers and ICCN staff had to flee for their lives into the forest, or walk to the nearest city, Mambassa.

The ICCN’s aim is to protect one of the most biologically diverse rainforests in the world, which is the only habitat for okapi.

John Lukas, president of the Okapi Conservation Project’s US centre, said: “The destruction of ICCN and OCP facilities is extensive and there seems to be not one thing of value left. There is no food left in town so there nothing to eat for those coming out of the forest. We are feeding the families that escaped to Mambassa until they can go back to Epulu.

“There are no words to describe the loss of the okapi at the station, some of which have been in residence for over 23 years and all made it through seven years of civil war unscathed. They were ambassadors for all wildlife in the forest and had been helping educate visitors to the station of the marvels of the diversity of life in the rainforest for over 25 years.

“It must be made clear that the mai mai rebels are not fighting for a political cause.  This group is made up of elephant poachers and illegal miners. They were seeking revenge on ICCN for their valiant efforts to eliminate poaching of elephants and illegal gold mines from inside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.  The attack on the Epulu Station was in retaliation for recent engagements by ICCN rangers that disrupted poaching and mining activities in the Southern part of the Reserve. The rebels want to be free to reopen the mines and poach wildlife without interference. The OCP was also targeted because of our significant support of ICCN operations and personnel.”

The Okapi Conservation Project is asking for donations so they can replace some of the things that have been destroyed, which includes medical supplies, computers and satellite phones.

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