Awareness and environmental education is the cornerstone of conservation, especially in areas classified as Reserves where people live in and around the protected habitat, like the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
For many years, the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) has placed significant emphasis on educating and encouraging villages in and around the Reserve to become better stewards of their environment reducing their impact on okapi habitat. Teaching and encouraging people to change how they produce food, the role of the Reserve in sustaining their quality of life and improving the opportunities for women reduces their dependence on slash-and-burn farming, mining and poaching.
From late February to early March during the first of two dry seasons during the year, 10 OCP educators led by Jean Paul M’Monga and Jean Claude Kalinda Mubengwa traveled on motorbikes over 640 km (400 miles) on rough dirt roads to make presentations to 57 secondary schools located in and around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, interacting with over 3,500 people. This trip around the Reserve was possible through the gracious support of our friends at Houston Zoo.
Communicating to the local people that the Okapi Wildlife Reserve is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its outstanding universal value, and that protecting the environment is a collaborative effort by all, not just a small group of people, highlights the importance of how living their daily life in a sustainable fashion will affect the long-term stability of the Reserve in a positive way.
Jean Claude Kalinda, an OCP educator believes educating the local communities is a privilege.
“Educating people is my passion. I started as an educator with Okapi Conservation Project 11 years ago, and have never regretted it! It is important to show young and old how crucial conserving nature is, and we need to spread the message to conserve our beautiful protected areas for the future generations. This is what I tirelessly explain to the local communities because I am convinced it is the only way to move forward, winning over more and more people every day to protect their natural heritage and surrounding community.”