Normalcy returns to the Okapi Wildlife Reserve!
The situation in and around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve remains calm with no new problems documented with rebels or rogue military groups during the last three months. The ICCN guards have been extensively rearmed and are backed up by a committed force of FARDC soldiers from Bunia. The Okapi Conservation Project is providing logistical support to the ICCN rangers which are again making regular patrols throughout the Reserve. This relatively stable situation is allowing the OCP educators and agronomists to move about the area more freely bringing much needed assistance to communities in and around the Reserve.
OCP supplied soccer equipment for the March 8th Women’s Day celebration, when girls and boys played on a renovated soccer field in Epulu. The large crowd that attended reinforced the general impression of staff that a significant number of Epulu residents have returned to their homes.
The OCP education program has already organized seminars with women associations in Mambassa and Epulu. Members examined their strengths and weaknesses and developed plans to increase funding for their sponsorship of orphans and development of micro enterprises. Marcel Enckoto, OCP Director of Education, will travel by end of next week to Nia Nia and Wamba for the same activity, as well as to hear about projects being undertaken by local committees operating in the north of the Reserve.
The Mambassa and Epulu education teams are being deployed in villages from Byakato to Nzaro and from Banana to Bafwakoa. They will explain conservation laws to all FARDC military officials and provide all FARDC bases and patrol posts with conservation law brochures which were just printed in Uganda. Along the road through the Reserve they will engage with young boys in the villages, sharing information about Reserve regulations, and work to discourage their involvement in illegal mining and association with armed groups. Soccer uniforms and balls will be given out which will encourage participation and a renewed support and enthusiasm for ICCN and OCP conservation objectives.
OCP agronomists have distributed 2,434 various seedlings, 300 kg of peanut seeds and 100 kg of rice seeds to farmers in Epulu and Mambassa for the spring planting season. Over 300kg of bean seeds were collected from farmers for redistribution to farmers joining the program in the fall. Providing the seeds, tools and technical advice to improve agriculture production reduces dependence on bush meat and links OCP conservation objectives with improvement in food security for the large number of people that share their land with wildlife.
A critical meeting with the communities on the eastern border of the Reserve will be held May 10th in Mambassa. The governor of Orientele Province and ICCN leadership from Kinshasa will address community leaders from the region on the commitment of the DRC government to support and protect the Okapi Wildlife Reserve as a national treasure and a globally recognized World Heritage Site. This meeting is being funded by a grant from UNESCO. It is critical that the communities around the Reserve understand that the OWR has the full support of their national government and of the United Nations.
Our role has been, and will continue to be, one of support for the protection of wildlife and assistance to communities that share their lives with okapi, elephants and many primate species. We thank the many individuals and institutions around the world for their continuing support which allows the Okapi Conservation Project to continue to play a major role in protecting the most important site for okapi conservation in all of DR Congo.