The staff of OCP and ICCN has been hard at work restoring operational and logistical capabilities to the Epulu Station and carrying out community assistance, education and law enforcement actions that maintain the integrity of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. A new reality has settled in to daily life in the region around Epulu; the threat of Morgan remains but life goes on with a greater level of caution but with a strong commitment to stand against him and his allies by living normal lives. This is made possible by a significant Congolese military presence which is ready and able to respond to any threats to life and property. The ICCN rangers are going out on patrol with FARDC troops on a regular basis, taking special efforts to collect snares and relocate trackers and trap makers from the Reserve that the poachers depend on to find and catch animals. Recent analysis has shown that snaring is the major cause of okapi decline and removing snares and arresting those involved in the bushmeat trade is the best way to protect okapi and many other species of wildlife from severe population decline. OCP senior staff is now in Epulu organizing the next work plan for September to December based on the recommendations of the annual meeting of the partners of the OWR reported on in this update. As always, the staff of OCP and ICCN, their families and the community members all thanks you for your kind support and concern for their well being.
Progress in rehabilitating the Epulu Station
OCP staff has taken significant steps to rebuild the Epulu Station. All the project and ICCN facilities including old okapi enclosures, campsite and clinic yard have been cleaned up and are being regularly maintained by OCP workers. The entrance to the station has been surrounded with a new bamboo fence. Mechanics repaired damaged ICCN trucks after adding a new roof over the shop area. OCP masons reinforced the foundation of the damaged ICCN headquarters with a new concrete
footing and have made all the concrete blocks in preparation for constructing a replacement office building in the near future.
Annual meeting of the partners working in the OWR
A meeting of the partners working in the OWR took place from 22 to 24 July 2013 at Epulu, with the participation of ICCN, OCP, WCS and KfW staff. The participants went through the 2012 operation plan and noted all accomplished activities. The committee made a plan for the second half of 2013. Among the activities to be undertaken include: the OCP education team will make more public awareness campaigns, a 2014 calendar showing the reconstruction efforts in the Reserve will be developed, local committees of the Mambasa territory will be provided with office supplies, the guesthouse kitchen at the station will be rehabilitated and the ICCN office will be rebuilt. OCP agroforestry team members will continue to work with farmers to reduce slash and burn agriculture. Major recommendations included efficient monitoring of arrested poachers in court, participation of community conservation officer in community-based activities and regular exchange of information among the partners.
Education and Community conservation programs
In spite of rumors on the presence of Maimai rebels associated with Morgan, OCP technicians and educators traveled on very bad roads to meet with communities and encouraged them to keep up their efforts to improve their livelihoods through sustainable agriculture and to respect the conservation laws protecting the wildlife around their villages.
The agroforestry team set up several vegetable nurseries and monitored mixed crop fields of farmers who received seeds and agrarian tools from OCP in 2013. The production of cash crops such as peanuts and cassava flour allows farmers to invest in the schools and clinics that serve their communities.
The Education team led a tour around Wamba on the Western boundary of the Reserve with WCS technicians to discuss with customary leaders the future establishment of agriculture zones. During their previous meetings last year, all customary leaders in the North of the Reserve confirmed their commitment to participate in the establishment of agriculture and forest zones to benefit conservation of wildlife and natural resources.
Between June and July 2013, the education team traveled to 9 villages from Banana to Bafwakoa and Mambasa to Nepoko to organize focus group meetings on the effects of climate change. Groups included customary leaders, teachers, nurses, farmers, church leaders, women
representatives and pygmies. A total of 158 participants noted unusual fluctuations of cultivation seasons, unexpected movements of wild animals, long dry season, dry water springs and diminution of forest products such as fruits and honey. They recognized that these changes were also exacerbated by deforestation and illegal mining, poaching and commercial hunting and by the presence of rebels groups. They called for respect of conservation regulations and sustainable utilization of natural resources.
One major outcome of the many conservation seminars given around the Reserve over the last year by OCP educators on the effects of deforestation is that the District office for Environment in Bunia has produced more than 10,000 seedlings of fruit trees and eucalyptus trees which were distributed to the population for planting. “This achievement will serve as an example in other large population centers such as Wamba and Mungbere to help solve firewood scarcity and increase tree planting in the region to respond to climate change” said the Environment Coordinator. OCP will focus on promoting replanting of trees as a grassroots effort to reverse the effects of deforestation and provide resources to communities that participate.
Funded by CARPE, the last group of OCP educators traveled for in-service training in Uganda to learn about public speaking and communication techniques from their colleagues at the National Museum of Uganda, the Entebbe zoo and the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
OCP responded to Women Associations requests by providing them with suitable vegetable seeds and peanut seeds to improve food security. One of the projects of the Women’s Associations is to help orphans and newborns. OCP provided clothes to assist them in taking care of infants in maternities. The work of the women to
help others is truly astonishing when every one of them struggles to take care of their own families under the harshest of conditions. They are ardent supporters of conservation and our best allies in negotiating with communities on resource use restrictions that benefit wildlife.
As a result of the OCP assistance to schools last January, 100% of both Mbuti pygmy (ORA) and Epulu (Okapi) primary schools have succeeded in the final state examination. This was a great surprise in Mambasa as well as to all school leaders of the Ituri region. In the meantime, the Epulu population congratulated the OCP for having facilitated the return of 15 primary and secondary school students from Beni and Butembo: those students studied away from their parents due to attacks in Epulu and Mambasa.
OCP has always participated in helping community leaders in time of need. Educators based in Wamba traveled 80 km to Betongwe to assist in the burial of Chief Magabo of the Mahaa community. The late Magabo, whose health was deteriorating for the past 2 years, had shown a good deal of support for conservation by participating in all local committee meetings and steadfastly positioning his community against poaching. OCP assisted with his medical treatment through Assistant Director Marcel Enckoto in Mungbere, which allowed him to attend the meeting with the Governor last May in Mambasa. During his next evaluation tour, Marcel will express on behalf of all OCP staff our condolences and will bring pictures of the meeting in Mambasa to the Mahaa Community in Betongwe.
ICCN Law Enforcement results
The ICCN rangers have been engaged in successful anti-poaching efforts recently. Within one week, 3 poachers were arrested, 1 gun and 6 pieces of ivory confiscated. These poachers belong to the group of Masimango alias Maitre which has been operating since June 2013 between Molokay and Bandisende. Maitre is occasionally associated with Morgan who provided him with 14 guns after the attack on the patrol post at Adusa. Based on unsubstantiated rumors, the poachers may have killed as many as 40 elephants and are holding 600 kg of ivory. Urgent actions are needed to reinforce ICCN and FARDC to continue pursuing these poachers. OCP is
providing additional funding for 1) swift transfer of poachers to court in Bunia, and 2) additional food rations to feed 40 FARDC soldiers who recently arrived from Bunia. OCP is seeking support to fund field operations for ICCN rangers and FARDC soldiers as they track Maitre’s group and work to bring all of the poachers to justice.
So far this year the rangers have removed over 430 snares from the forest and arrested nine other poachers, confiscated 21 pieces of ivory and several guns and evicted hundreds of illegal miners from the Reserve.
Many trackers and trap makers were taken into custody and released outside of the boundaries of the OWR. These law enforcement actions are significant by themselves but set against a backdrop of the danger of encountering roving bands of armed militias bent on destroying anyone aligned with authority is truly an amazing achievement.