The Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) is the government agency of the Democratic Republic of Congo charged with the task of protecting the flora and fauna of the country. The Okapi Conservation Project, with assistance from the international community, supports the Okapi Wildlife Reserve’s 110 guards and provides health care and housing for them and their families as well as covering the costs of fuel, patrol rations, field and communication equipment, office supplies, training and infrastructure support.
Though the civil war within the Democratic Republic of Congo has been officially over since 2004, armed groups continue to cause problems in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. These groups are involved in elephant poaching and illegal mining activities. Poaching of okapi has been negligible with only a few documented instances in recent years. The situation is mostly calm in the towns around the Reserve and in the nearby commercial center in Beni where the Reserve purchases most of its goods and supplies.
The Reserve’s guards travel throughout the Reserve collecting snares, evicting miners, pursuing and arresting poachers, and monitoring agricultural expansion. It is imperative that the guards are able to patrol and protect the entire area set aside as a wildlife reserve. With support from UNESCO for World Heritage sites, funds have been provided for numerous protection activities associated with the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and administered by the Okapi Conservation Project. This included annual aerial surveys of the Reserve to identify human encroachment on the Reserve boundaries, and illegal mining and poachers camps within the Reserve. Additional UNESCO support has funded equipment and training for Reserve guards, a 4-wheel drive vehicle, conservation education and community awareness programs, and immigration control into the Reserve.
Continued training for the staff of the Reserve is a major priority. Two of ICCN’s most promising leaders were funded by the Project to attend a ten-month training program at the South African College of Wildlife Management. Several ICCN staff members have received radio communications, computer training, and English language lessons.
The Okapi Conservation Project’s staff works closely with ICCN to ensure that resources are at hand to allow for a quick response to threats to the integrity of the Reserve.