Okapi Conservation Project
Update: December 13, 2012
OCP facilities are nearly all repaired and rebuilding of ICCN headquarters is planned to begin in January with support from USFWS. It has been a very difficult and challenging year but the OCP staff and ICCN rangers have responded with great courage and determination. A stronger commitment to conservation is emerging in the communities around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve as they have taken on a greater role in safeguarding the forest home of the okapi. The resilience of the Congolese people to keep going day in and day out, to smile, to work hard to make a living in such a difficult and threatening environment is well beyond amazing!
As you may be aware if you have been following the news from DRC, the M23 rebel group, a disenfranchised unit of the Congolese army, briefly occupied the city of Goma, in south Kivu province, a few weeks ago. International pressure on Rwanda and Uganda helped to diffuse the threat of this group, which withdrew from Goma and is presently discussing their grievances with government officials. The rebel advance did not affect the region around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which lies 260 miles northwest of Goma.
FARDC soldiers and ICCN rangers have spent the past four months pursuing the Mai Mai poachers, and their leader Paul “Morgan” Sadala, that brutally attacked the Epulu Station on June 24th. These forces have been hampered by the rainy season, but were able to drive the rebels out of the Reserve more than a 30 day walk from Epulu inflicting casualties and confiscating many weapons along the way. It is now the start of the dry season and a third joint operation is now underway made up of FARDC soldiers and ICCN rangers which are very determined to find and arrest the remaining poachers and their leader. Security for the residents of the areas within and around the Reserve has been greatly improved, the bridge over the Epulu River has been repaired and rebuilding of damaged structures in Epulu is now underway.
We continue to support ICCN rangers that are now permanently occupying five patrol posts and making regular forays into the forest to deter elephant poaching and close illegal gold mines. The presence of these rangers in communities around the Reserve has provided an increased measure of security for residents worried about unruly gangs of poachers.
Project educators made five trips to communities around the Reserve hosting seminars that highlight the danger of deforestation and the role of community conservation committees in protecting their natural resources. The needs of the communities are documented during the meetings so that assistance opportunities can be discussed with OCP staff and future actions planned. The importance of a strong alliance with ICCN rangers in controlling illegal activities in the Reserve is stressed during these meetings.
Sewing machines purchased by the OCP were delivered to Women’s Association members in Wamba and Niania. As these women set up much needed tailoring businesses, they will train and employ other women in their community. Income from this cottage industry, and from agroforestry related improved crop yields, gives women the opportunity to better provide for their families.
With a grant from Disney Club Penguin, supplies for 115 schools around the Reserve will be purchased and distributed in January when schools reopen after the holidays. As our educators distribute these materials, they will have an opportunity to further reinforce our conservation message, and will solicit student help with re-forestation projects near their schools.
Our focus for 2013 will be to increase support for ICCN as they work to protect the integrity of the entire Okapi Wildlife Reserve and to broaden our social programs of empowerment. As people have increased income to educate and feed their families they become better stewards of their forest surroundings and supporters of our conservation efforts. In this way all benefit, especially okapi, forest elephants, chimpanzees and all wildlife living in the OWR.
On behalf of all of our staff, ICCN rangers and the communities around the Reserve I sincerely thank our friends, supporters and partners for the outpouring of support we have received these past months during this challenging time. We could not have been able to carry on without you!
Wishing you the best for this holiday season and into the New Year,