I have just returned from three weeks in DR Congo reviewing OCP programs and attending the first ever Okapi Conservation Strategy Workshop which was held in Kisangani May 22 – 25.
The overall atmosphere in Epulu is calm but people remain on edge due to Morgan’s continued presence outside the Reserve and his unpredictability. The ICCN rangers have been re-armed and re-equipped and along with FARDC soldiers, are protecting Epulu and carrying out patrols from guard posts around the Reserve.
The Okapi conservation Workshop was well attended by ICCN representatives from across the sites where okapi are found and IUCN, ZSL, OCP, WCS, independent scientists and government representatives. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve and surrounding forest tracks most likely contain 40% of the world’s population of okapi. This makes our support of the Reserve more important than ever.
I met with the new Governor of Orientale Province, Jean BAMANISA SAIDI, who grew up in Mambasa next to the Reserve. He is very supportive of conservation and pledged to do what he could to bring security to the area around the Reserve.
OCP staff remains fully engaged in bringing assistance to local communities in an effort to reinforce positive relationships between ICCN and the communities that share the forest habitat with okapi and other species of wildlife. A plan of activities, along with a budget for June through August was prepared during my visit.
Highlights of OCP planned activities for the next three months include:
- Provide ICCN with operating funds to support anti-poaching patrols, with a special emphasis on removing snares which inadvertently catch okapi that unfortunately then end up in the bushmeat trade.
- Educators will be showing conservation films in villages and produce radio broadcasts on the dangers of deforestation.
- Purchase motorcycle and needed field equipment for use by educators on their extended travels to communities around the Reserve.
- Provide sewing machines and aid to Women’s associations.
- Oversee rehabilitation of Sondo Health Clinic.
- Stabilize foundation of ICCN Headquarters in Epulu in preparation for construction of new office building.
- OCP Agroforestry team to provide native fruit trees and fertilizer (nitrogen-fixing) trees to farmers and shade trees to community schools.
- OCP to provide rice, bean and peanut seeds for the summer planting season to
- Purchase a rice/cassava grinder for the village of Ekwe Farmers’ Cooperative to help increase production of flour, allowing members to sell the surplus.
- Re-open demonstration garden in Epulu and plant beans in soil that has been lying fallow for two years under a canopy of ‘fertilizer’ trees in order to demonstrate the value of agroforestry techniques to greatly shorten the time soil needs to lie dormant before it is ready for planting again.
- As an outcome of the meeting of OWR stakeholders in Mambasa on May 11th OCP staff will participate in the newly formed commission committed to the support of ICCN and improved communication with local communities, with the goal of finding solutions to the issues affecting the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
The meetings in Mambasa and Kisangani demonstrated that there are many people that want to help the Okapi Wildlife Reserve reduce the threats that are presently causing so many problems for the wildlife and people alike. With the governor of Oriental Province as a staunch ally of the Reserve we need to build on the important outcomes of the meetings to raise additional funds to support ICCN rangers efforts to close down illegal gold mines, arrest poachers and assist FARDC to drive out of the area the armed militias that are killing animals, disrupting the local peoples’ livelihoods and destroying the social fabric of communities.
New scientific analysis now makes it clearer than ever that to conserve viable populations of okapi, forest elephants and chimpanzees in the DRC, the OWR must be protected and managed in a way that is responsive to the needs of all stakeholders. Please consider helping us provide the additional funds needed to strengthen ICCN capacity and provide more assistance to communities that use natural resources sustainably. All of the funds that help conserve the unique biodiversity of this country come from caring people living around the world. We need more support to save the magnificent okapi and the only forest it calls home in all of Africa. Thank you for interest in okapi conservation and please share this with your friends
June 8, 2013