The Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) in 2017 will continue to work with onsite partners in building capacity for ICCN (Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature) wildlife rangers to improve protection and law enforcement in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (OWR). OCP staff will help communities address the basic needs of food security, income generation, education, and health care which reinforces the positive relationship between communities and the role the Okapi Wildlife Reserve plays in improving their livelihoods. OCP will continue to supports the widows and families of OCP and ICCN staff that were killed in the line of duty protecting the OWR
OCP Major Objectives for 2017
- Conservation of Okapi and other Priority Species
Improve protection of okapi and other species (forest elephants, chimpanzees) by improving the capacity of ICCN to remove organized groups involved in poaching, mining, and logging from inside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. This will be facilitated by working with the German Biodiversity Forest Project (KfW) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to raise the level of performance and effectiveness of ICCN to control the OWR.
We will assist ICCN in improving patrol occurrences and coverage by supporting aerial censuses that identify sites of illegal activities with the goal of removing poachers and miners from inside Reserve boundaries. Field equipment will be upgraded; patrol posts water sources re-built and patrol occurrence and coverage increased to cover the entire OWR. OCP will continue to provide support for salaries, bonuses, medical care, patrol rations, fuel and transportation for ICCN guards and officers. Patrol support is tied to results which are used to quantify effectiveness, determine patrol bonuses and fine-tune protection strategies.
Improved coverage by patrols and better law enforcement efforts at access points will give elephant and okapi populations time to recover and allow for better monitoring of wildlife by trained guards and OCP staff. OCP is planning to expand its camera trap survey into key habitat types to help determine population trends for okapi and other species of wildlife found around previously disturbed areas.
- Community Outreach and Education
OCP will continue to expand the coverage of its conservation education programs as demand continues to grow. More extensive and frequent contact with communities around the Reserve is planned, with a focus on facilitating understanding and cooperation between the ICCN and community leaders and members, regarding Reserve regulations and protection of natural resources.
Environmental conferences on World Heritage Site Status will be held in in Wamba, Isiro, Mambasa and Bunia. Radio broadcasts are planned to continue in an effort to reach as many people as possible in highlighting the important role the natural environment plays in maintaining the livelihoods in their communities. OCP educators will produce and disseminate calendars, newsletters, and documentary films showcasing the need for all stakeholders to work together in protecting the biodiversity of the Ituri Forest.
OCP staff will organize and celebrate “World Okapi Day” and “World Elephant Day” through sport with school children around the Reserve. These soccer matches draw large crowds and provide an opportunity to educate communities about sensitive environmental topics.
- Community Assistance
OCP agronomists will continue their efforts to expand their programs in the underserved western and northern sectors of the Reserve. This effort is expected to influence behavior change that will reduce slash and burn agriculture intrusion into the Reserve and deter the participation of some residents in illegal activities inside the OWR.
OCP agronomists collect seeds from local forest fruit and nut trees and grow them in OCP nurseries along with vegetables and rice for distribution of their seeds, along with tools to each farmer joining the program. Staff will construct and operate a new nursery in Niania in 2017 to better serve the west side of the Reserve. This will bring the number of OCP nurseries producing tree seedlings and vegetable seeds for distribution to four.
In 2017 OCP will support the growth of five Women’s Groups in their efforts to develop micro-enterprises that generate cash income. The Women’s Groups numbers have substantially increased in number due to the evidence of improved livelihoods and interest of many women to get involved in this OCP initiative. OCP pays to register the groups with the government and provides administrative support as well as startup materials for microenterprise projects such as sewing machines and seeds and tools for community gardens. Women that benefit from OCP project assistance are vocal supporters of practicing sustainable agriculture and the need to stop the destructive activities of poaching and mining.
One of the greatest needs of the communities is providing supplies for their local clinics and hospitals. OCP educators have ranked improving health care conditions as one of the primary activities which will positively influence attitudes regarding the Reserve. OCP operates a health clinic in Epulu and supports 20 health clinics around the Reserve.
- Capacity Building
M’Monga Kiete, OCP Assistant Director of Education, through the generous support of the Houston Zoo will tour the entire OWR with Marcel Enckoto, OCP Director of Education, to expand his role as OCP’s liaison with a diverse set of communities. He will meet with community, school, government and civic leaders to form relationships that will be the basis of OCP’s outreach to communities in the entire region. M’Monga is a previous WCN scholarship recipient and a very promising conservationist and future leader in the OWR.
Two mechanics will attend a course on auto repair in Goma. OCP is sending 5 educators to the Uganda Wildlife Education Center at the Entebbe Zoo for training in educational messaging and production of collateral material. The project will support agronomists, nurses and educators to take courses regionally to improve their skills.
- Marketing Activities
OCP’s new Program Officer, Lucas Meers, will be working to improve our web presence and our social media proficiency as well as work with partner zoos to raise awareness and support for the conservation of okapi and the unique biodiversity of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. We plan to invest more time and resources in writing grant applications to increase support from foundations and granting organizations.
In honor of its 30 year anniversary in June, OCP is launching a ’30 Years in 30 Days’ marketing campaign to raise awareness of the project, educate people about the endangered okapi and raise funds for our mission. This will be coordinated with the help of WCN’s marketing and development staff.
- Infrastructure Improvements
OCP maintains the airstrip in Epulu and the ICCN headquarters and OCP office and logistics facilities at the Epulu Station. A new generator for OCP and ICCN offices and maintenance shop will be purchased in 2017, along with 3 motorcycles for the agroforestry team. OCP staff will rebuild 8 water sources that have fallen into disrepair in villages around and inside the OWR. OCP is applying for a grant to build a reception office and storeroom at the Zunguluka gate to process people and goods entering and leaving the OWR by motor vehicle and to confiscate and store illegal wildlife products.