After celebrating World Okapi Day for the first time in DR Congo in 2017, the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) wanted to increase the profile and the reach of the activities in 2018 by expanding the activities to include women’s groups in the selected towns and villages. In addition to garnering support through social media postings and events held at zoos around the world that generously support OCP, we celebrated a series of organized events in four villages and towns around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The events were planned to run simultaneously in the towns and villages of Epulu, Mambasa, Mungbere and Watsa; these four areas are within the okapi’s native range and where the bulk of the okapi population resides. OCP’s approach includes finding new ways to engage the local communities, and a community celebration on World Okapi Day was a way to create long-lasting excitement for communities to protect okapi and their habitat.
The events targeted youth and women’s groups but involved the broader community to disseminate a message of environmental stewardship and civic pride. The culmination of the event was a series of races with local teens racing for World Okapi Day related prizes and payment for their school fees. The logistics and planning for these events were conducted through the ongoing partnership with ICCN, local community leaders, officials and schools. The financial support for each event, materials and prizes came from generous donations from zoological institutions worldwide including Zoo Antwerpen (Antwerp, Belgium), St. Louis Zoo (Missouri, USA), Tanganyika Wildlife Park (Kansas, USA) and ZooTampa at Lowry Park (Florida, USA). Without your contribution, these events would not have been possible. Thank you!
The activities throughout the Okapi Wildlife Reserve included parades, educational messaging through radio broadcasts (the most common form of communication in such a remote area) and in-person presentations in each village, races for children aged 16-18 and soccer games for women’s associations.
This year, safety was a major concern, and the races were shortened to sprints on a controlled course instead of 5-kilometer races outside of the towns.
Each of the World Okapi Day celebrations started with a community parade, aimed at increasing the number of attendees and spreading the message to as many members of the community as possible. The parades concluded with the audience gathering for speeches, student races, and soccer games. Prior to the start of the races and games there were several introductory speeches to the gathered audience that highlighted the purpose behind World Okapi Day and to inspire the community to continue to preserve okapi habitat and their natural resources. Each speaker strived to inspire pride in their communities and emphasize the role the community plays in protecting okapi.
All the athletes who participated in the races were secondary school students between the ages of 16 and 18. Twenty runners were selected for each race (10 boys and 10 girls) with the help of school coaches and secondary school Headmasters to compete in the World Okapi Day races.
The top three winners in each race received a cash prize that went to pay their school fees, an okapi notebook, a small radio and a World Okapi Day backpack. All the race participants received a school bag adorned with an okapi photo and a “World Okapi Day” pen.
As with all events planned in DR Congo, we expected to encounter difficulties along the way. Poor infrastructure and difficult roads make traversing long distances a challenge, even on motorbikes, heavy rain caused ruts, potholes and puddles along the road. Nevertheless, our dedicated education team powered through to get the job done!
Thanks to the World Okapi Day events, an estimated 15,000 children and adults participated and were exposed to the message of environmental stewardship across the four towns and villages.
As we grow the events year after year, we welcome additional sponsorships to expand into new villages and increase participation in current areas.
Again – we’d like to thank our four zoological sponsors for each of the villages: Zoo Antwerpen, St. Louis Zoo, Tanganyika Wildlife Park and ZooTampa at Lowry Park. These events would not be possible without your generous support!