The Democratic Republic of Congo is a very poor country, beset in recent years by civil war and general unrest, rendering the government often incapable of providing even the basic services for its citizenry let alone the rural villages of the Ituri Forest. Yet the investment and support of these communities are crucial to OCP’s effort to protect okapi in the wild. The security and well-being of local communities are essential to support efforts of ICCN to control activities detrimental to the conservation of okapi and other species of wildlife in the Reserve.

Okapi Conservation Project works with donors and partners to provide broad-based community assistance — building and supplying schools and health clinics, establishing women’s groups, developing fresh-water sources, and providing medical care and transport of emergency cases to regional hospitals. Conservation education enlightens communities to the importance of symbiosis with the environment and being active stewards of their natural heritage. Even sporting events, namely soccer, are used to engage communities, foster cooperation, and disseminate vital messages.

Since 2006, we have been supporting Women’s Groups around the OWR with the goal of expanding these programs to empower even more women. Working with Women’s Associations provides an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of conservation of natural resources to these influential members of the community. OCP provides Women’s Groups resources like administrative support, sewing machines and materials, and bean and vegetable seeds for community gardens in Epulu, Mambasa, Niania, Wamba, and Mungbere. OCP staff help initiate and manage the programs that improve food security, safeguard water resources from pollution and overuse, and provide economic opportunities to generate money to pay their children’s health care costs and school fees.

World Okapi Day delivers a platform for women to speak on issues important to them and about the need to use natural resources sustainably at sport events and ceremonies taking place throughout the day. On March 8th the villages around the reserve celebrated International Women’s Day.

OCP provides communities and the OWR with healthcare support through its establishment of the Okapi Dispensary. The Dispensary acts as a treatment center for the local population and the OWR staff and their families who make up almost half of Epulu’s population.

Radio broadcasts are the preferred method of sharing information in the region, and the most productive way to connect with many people over a large insecure area. Education programming broadcasts on 5 local stations covering topics like the ICCN rangers, climate change, student participation in conservation, forest protection, and the Okapi Wildlife reserve.

Schools are provided with educational materials, from posters that identify the local fauna to targeted curricula that highlight the value of intact forests, okapi and their associated biodiversity. Students in the region are all exposed to okapi and their conservation needs, with the goal of creating vocal message multipliers of conservation, who are from the communities that interact with the Reserve lands the most.