Okapi Conservation Project
Update August 20, 2012
As we last reported, Paul “Morgan” Sadala and 18 of his men were captured by a rival Mai Mai group when he crossed into North Kivu province. The Jean Luc Mai Mai group demanded $10,000 to release Morgan to the authorities. Due to a lack of cash at the bank in Beni, it took a few days to organize an ICCN/FARDC mission to retrieve the captives. Morgan took advantage of this delay and paid $20,000 to his captors for his release and escaped during the night.
This past week a group of Morgan’s men boldly attacked the village of Badengaido (45km west of Epulu) and was met with resistance from 11 soldiers stationed at the village. Two people riding in a truck were killed during this attack and residents of the village fled into the forest. Later in the evening of the same day, Morgan and another group of men stopped and looted a Falcon Coach bus and took 15 hostages which were released after two days. The released hostages reported to the FARDC the location of the rebels and FARDC soldiers made contact with the rebels and gunfire was exchanged but no arrests were made.
The services of 200 FARDC army troops from Dungu have now been secured using money from the ICCN Emergency Fund set up by the partners. OCP staff has procured the equipment, supplies and food rations necessary to undertake the joint operation which also includes 45 ICCN guards. Now that the supplies and equipment have reached Epulu, the soldiers and guards have initiated the search for the militia and their hostages. One of the ten remaining hostages from the first attack was released and has reached Epulu.
Amidst these terrorizing conditions OCP staff continues to deliver our education, agroforestry and community programs to the villages around the Reserve. Needed food and medical supplies is being distributed regularly in the communities of Epulu, Mambassa and Zungaluka. Our agroforestry team is demonstrating their resolve to keep programs going by providing seedlings from the nurseries in Epulu and Mambassa to farmers in Bandisende. Seeds are also being collected from the rice harvest to redistribute to farmers interested in learning how to grow upland rice in their fields. We are planning on delivering supplies to the many schools around the Reserve when they reopen in September.
The outcome of the joint military operation currently underway will help determine when we will be able to initiate rebuilding in Epulu. OCP staff in Epulu has cleaned up most of the debris from the looting and destruction of the June attack. Rosie Ruf and I are planning to travel to DRC in September to review first hand the level of security in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and to work with staff and ICCN leadership to develop a plan of action and budget for the remaining months of 2012. The bravery and commitment of OCP and ICCN staff under such difficult and dangerous circumstances is truly inspiring to me. With determination and the help of the DRC government we will prevail over this latest setback and continue to provide okapi and all of the wildlife of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve with the protection and resources that will ensure their survival. Thank you for all your support.