Encroachment from human settlement, illegal hunting, logging and mining, and the illicit activities of armed groups are serious threats to the forests of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. General economic and civil instability of the Democratic Republic of Congo after years of interior conflict also burdens the government’s ability to address many of these threats.

The Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) is the government agency that is tasked to protect the country’s flora and fauna. ICCN ecoguards share a wide range of protection and law-enforcement responsibilities — collecting snares, evicting miners, pursuing and detaining poachers, monitoring agricultural expansion, and engaging communities in conservation awareness and education. 

ICCN ecoguards walk up to 20 days out of the month patrolling the forest and risking their lives while spending time away from their families and homes in the harsh conditions of the rainforest. Ecoguards are recruited from the region providing employment to communities close to the Reserve including women and the indigenous Mbuti. ICCN recruits participate in three months of rigorous training before becoming an ecoguard.

Okapi Conservation Project supports the ICCN ecoguards to ensure the availability of resources for rapid response to threats to the integrity of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Healthcare and housing for ICCN personnel and their families, in addition to equipment, supplies, facilities, and infrastructure are supported by OCP and its partners. Specialized education and training in not only wildlife management but communications, technology, and language are essential components to ecoguard training that are also supported by OCP. The effective conservation presence provided by a well-equipped and disciplined ICCN ecoguard force depends on assistance from a strong network of collaborative partners.