Marcel Enckoto, Okapi Conservation Project’s Assistant Director and Director of our extensive community education program, succumbed to cancer on June 19 while being treated in Kampala, Uganda. He was buried in his hometown of Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a service was also held in Epulu for those who could not make the trip to Beni. Marcel held the rank of Warden with ICCN, and rangers from Virunga National Park, Garamba National Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve served as pallbearers.
Marcel was born in Goma, DRC (then Zaire) on February 22, 1962. He married Alphonsine MASIKA and together they had 7 children – five daughters and two sons. Marcel joined the Okapi Conservation Project in 1989 as a Tourist Guide working out of the Tourist Information Center at the Epulu Station. Back in those days we had a lot of tourists, with some nights welcoming over 300 people camping at the Station where they were given tours of the okapi residing at our breeding and research facility and went on guided walks through the forest.
Because of his teaching background, Marcel moved up the ranks quickly, and in 1994, he became OCP Conservation Education Program Director, a position he held until his death. Since the 13,700-sq. km. Okapi Wildlife Reserve created in 1992 was occupied by people, there was a great need to educate those living in and around the Reserve about why the biodiversity was being protected and the role they played in sustaining a diverse, natural ecosystem that could meet their needs and still provide a home for okapi and the millions of species that called the forest home.
Marcel fulfilled many roles for the Okapi Conservation Project over the years:
- As OCP Assistant Director, he developed, organized and implemented exceptional education programs and work plans for the Reserve.
- As an ICCN Warden, he was trusted by the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (OWR) Chief Wardens and served several times as the Acting Warden during war time due to his great wisdom and strong leadership. He was regarded as a trusted advisor to all new Chief Wardens because of his extensive knowledge of the OWR issues and challenges, and for maintaining personal relationships with customary chiefs, leaders of local administrations, the military, security forces and Judicial authorities in and around the OWR.
- As Director of Conservation Education Programs, he was among the rarest of teachers. He had the skills to mediate with local communities and calm tensions between Reserve management and community members. He was a symbol of hope for the youth in particular, created many programs centered on soccer, and assisted many schools in purchasing equipment and organizing matches between villages, often paying to transport the players to the matches. At the matches, OCP educators were present to offer advice and provide help to hundreds of villages spread over a vast area connected by bad roads, but brought together by Marcel’s belief that young people need to be valued.
- As a member of the International Zoo Educators Association, he lobbied for the protection of the okapi and its habitat at international conferences in Africa, Asia, America and Australia.
Our organization depended on Marcel for so much. He was always teaching, and everyone he met was treated with respect, giving him the status to be taken seriously. Marcel elevated the conversation about conserving okapi to a level that from every chief and to every governor, they gave him an audience to hear what he had to say.
I watched Marcel grow into a wise elder and enjoyed his dry humor and perplexing questions on why we did so many weird things in America. I feel much pain in losing Marcel as it brings back memories of the loss we experienced in 2003 of important staff, and all we can do now is what we did then – carry on as before to honor their memory and service to okapi conservation.
I know Marcel has prepared our educators to reach as many people as they can with conservation messages that will secure a future for okapi in the wild. I will let the words of Jean Paul M’MONGA KIETE, Assistant Director of Education for OCP, express the feelings of the educators that worked every day alongside Marcel.
“It is with great sadness that we experienced the death of Mr. Marcel Enckoto. He was not only our supervisor, but a teacher and a father that we will miss forever.
Mr. Enckoto taught us so many things about education, public relations, and activity planning during his time with us, and the only way we can honor him is to show everybody what he taught us. We cannot replace Mr. Marcel because he had so many years of experience, but as his trainees, we will make sure that the Conservation Education Program keeps on informing, educating and communicating the importance of biodiversity with the local communities.”
Rest in Peace Marcel, we will miss you and your commitment to educate the young and old about conservation.
Marcel (plaid shirt, back right) and OCP educators at ICCN Headquarters in Epulu.