Just two years ago, OCP launched a camera trap study in select areas around the Epulu station to document wildlife activity. We created a group named ‘Team Okapi’ consisting of ICCN rangers, OCP staff and Mbuti guides to strategically place camera traps just outside areas of human settlement to monitor wildlife, specifically okapi, to determine the abundance and diversity of species in those areas.
Many spectacular images were collected from the camera traps including okapi, red river hogs and many species of monkeys. In late 2017, we set the cameras to collect 15 and 20 second clips to capture a better idea of the movement of these animals in front of the camera, and in February 2018, we collected the first-ever footage of an okapi calf in the wild! This remarkable footage came just a few months after we recorded a pregnant female in the area. Assuming the female gave birth immediately following that documentation, the footage of this calf fits perfectly in with the unique natural history of okapi.
After birth, the okapi calf finds a secluded place to nest – under a log, between buttress roots, any place where it can hide from its major predator, leopards. The calf only leaves the nest after being called by the mother to feed via infrasonic sound at a frequency below human, and leopard, hearing. After about two or three months of seclusion, the calf begins following the mother around on a regular basis, staying by her side for the next year.
Because the okapi is such a reclusive animal and rarely seen by humans, the collected images and footage are shared with the local communities to show them their national animal and cultivate excitement for conservation and show the importance of protecting of okapi habitat. The images and footage are also shared with you, the worldwide community to bring awareness of the existence of okapi and the work of the Okapi Conservation Project to secure a future for okapi in the wild.
However, it’s not just footage of okapi we’ve recorded. Just this summer, we collected footage of a forest elephant and calf, the first such footage we’ve been able to collect in the Reserve, which is home to the largest population of forest elephants in DR Congo. We’ve also collected footage of bongo antelope, and several species of duikers and monkeys.
The next step in this exciting camera trap program is to expand the camera trap monitoring program by creating a second team that will place cameras in and around illegal gold mines previously closed by ICCN rangers. After closure of the mines and the peaceful removal of the miners, the previously occupied area is left to regrow and for animals to recolonize the area. The cameras will be placed in and around these abandoned mines, and the information collected during this study will assist in our understanding of how quickly okapi and other species can recolonize areas previously occupied by people.