Two very important meetings that highlighted the need for more support and increased protection of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and the surrounding communities were convened this May in the DR Congo. The first Okapi Conservation Strategy Workshop was hosted by the Zoological Society of London, IUCN SSC, and ICCN on May 22-25, 2013. This meeting brought together ICCN representatives from all the sites where Okapi are found along with personnel from IUCN, ZSL, OCP, WCS, independent scientists and government representatives. The second meeting was a major workshop held in Mambasa, DRC on May 11, 2013 bringing together over 200 government and military leaders, ICCN staff, customary chiefs, NGO representatives, and concerned citizens in an effort to develop a mechanism to reduce threats and conflict inside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and in the villages situated in around the Reserve.
Summary of the first Okapi Conservation Strategy Workshop
Kisangani, DR Congo May 22-25, 2013
Okapi are found only in the tropical rainforests of northern DR Congo. Recent genetic work, funded by OCP and WCN, has for the first time documented the genetic lineage of okapi. It appears that okapi evolved long before many modern mammals and exhibit a long and rich evolutionary history dating back 6 million years. Okapi are considered a unique and distinct mammal species with the population demonstrating healthy genetic viability across its range.
Okapi have been protected since 1933 and are presently classified as ‘near threatened’ by IUCN Red list. This assessment was based on data collected up to 1998 and key to that assessment was that the large population in the OWR remained stable. Recent studies are now showing a 44% decline in the okapi population in the OWR within the last ten years.
The six year long civil war and subsequent rise of armed militia has prevented the ICCN from controlling illegal hunting, snaring and mining within all the protected areas of the country. Reports from all sites known to have viable okapi populations indicate multiple factors contributing to the decline of wildlife numbers, including okapi. Disturbances within the forest, in the form of logging and mining, drive animals into unsuitable habitat and indiscriminate snaring kills’ okapi which then end up in the bushmeat trade.
There may be only 10,000 okapi in the DR Congo today, down from estimates of 30,000 to 40,000 just twenty years ago. The OWR and the surrounding forest may be home to an estimated 4,000 okapi, making it the most important site for okapi conservation across its range. The OWR also contains the largest remaining populations of forest elephants and chimpanzees in DR Congo. The newly formed IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group will undertake a Red List assessment to see if okapi warrant ‘Endangered’ status based upon the recent rapid decline in the number of okapi living in the wild.
The OCP has been working to protect okapi in the OWR since 1987. The findings presented at this workshop clearly indicate that to save okapi in the wild the OWR must be managed and supported in ways that reduce current threats and security must be re-instated. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve still remains a relatively pristine forest and a home to not only okapi but many other threatened species. An increase in support for ICCN to hire, train and equip 100 new rangers is the most pressing need. A guard force that can respond to threats and has the ability to enforce the law will go a long way in protecting the habitat inside the Reserve which is home to the largest population of okapi in the world. We are actively seeking funds to be able to double the number of rangers working to protect the Reserve.
Summary of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve Stakeholders Meeting
Mambasa May 11, 2013
A major workshop was held May 11 in Mambasa, DR Congo, bringing together over 200 government and military leaders, ICCN staff, Customary chiefs, NGO representatives and concerned citizens in an effort to develop a mechanism to reduce threats and conflict inside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and in the villages situated in and around the Reserve.
This important meeting was underwritten and organized by OCP. We believe that in order to resolve the present situation, all stakeholders need to come together and work to improve security in the region, control illegal mining, stop the poaching of wildlife, particularly of elephants, and work to protect the biodiversity of the OWR.
The Governor of Orientale Province, Mr. Jean BAMANISA SAIDI, gave the keynote address and chaired the meeting. Everyone was allowed to express their views and a written summary from the meeting documents the recommendations of the participants, it reads as follows:
After analyzing threats to the OWR and local communities and native people expectations, participants made the following recommendations:
- Initiate a public awareness campaign for local communities on the Reserve boundaries and on regulations limiting certain activities inside the Reserve.
- Creation of a public awareness commission.
- Implementation of a participatory approach in the management of the Reserve and actions against threats to the OWR.
- Development of alternative economic opportunities.
- Punishment of people involved in illegal activities and destruction of property.
- Evict illegal wood traders and miners from the Reserve.
- Expand implementation of community conservation programs in response to local needs.
- Creation of a permanent consultation structure for conflict resolution and monitoring.
- Creation of a permanent consultation structure which reinforces collaboration among parties involved in management of the Reserve.
The last two points are the most important and all agreed to organize the committees as soon as possible. A cooperative approach that involves ICCN, FARDC, regional and local administrations, NGO’s, and local communities would provide an opportunity to reduce the threats to the OWR and restore compliance with wildlife protection laws. Eliminating destructive activities will require the help of local communities and that is where OCP programs work to engage and involve communities in the protection of the Reserve. If we are to retain the most important site for okapi conservation in all of DR Congo, then this collaborative process has to succeed. We need your assistance to do this.