The cheers and songs of celebration were heard around the Reserve this World Okapi Day as eight villages celebrated the okapi and their rainforest home.
This year the celebration expanded from the usual six villages to eight villages with the addition of Dingbo and Nduye – to critically important villages to reach communities in areas our team has a limited presence. Together, with help from ICCN ecoguards, our education team was eager to host the celebrations in-person once again after COVID-19 prevented in person celebrations in 2020.
We were overwhelmed with the response from the communities who joined us to celebrate! The numbers reached the thousands and we were blown away as the size of the crowds and parades grew and grew. The sounds of celebration filled the streets and towns as people came out to show their support for okapi and the protection of the forest, particularly in Epulu where crowd even became so large it had to overflowed onto the airstrip!
It is important to highlight and extend our sincere appreciation to some of our most outspoken community representatives – the women’s groups and the indigenous Mbuti. The women’s groups play a large part in speaking with their fellow community members on the importance of protecting the forest and its resources, leading the marches, and participating in World Okapi Day activities. The original forest guardians, the Mbuti, joined us from their homes in the forest to join the celebrations, share their culture, and speak about the importance of the forest from their long-term connection and support of the forest.
What’s it like to celebrate World Okapi Day around the Reserve?
Each village celebration began with a short presentation on okapi and the importance of the rainforest. As the crowd gathered and the presentation came to a close, the street procession began. The processions marched through each village, with the Women’s Group members, schoolchildren, and Mbuti all accounted for amongst them. As the march made its way through town it would swell in size as more and more people came to join. The march eventually led to the final events of the day – the races and football (soccer) matches! The Mbuti shared their traditional music and dance with the gathered crowd, giving a chance for the villagers to experience their culture and learn how the Mbuti culture, okapi and the rainforest are all connected. A races were held among children, where the top three winners would receive corresponding levels of funding to cover their school fees. The football matches were held by the women’s groups and associations of each village, and for the first time, included Mbuti on the teams! Both teams won a cash prize for participating. The day ends with a closing ceremony in each of the villages where the prizes are given out and everyone is given a final chance to celebrate.
We were thrilled by the outpouring of support from community leaders who spoke at the events on the importance of protecting the forest for the people, the animals and the global community. The presence of Okapi Wildlife Reserve (OWR) Chief Warden, Tom Muller, along with our very own Program Director Rosie Ruf, brought a massive crowd to Epulu. In Nduye, local chiefs from neighboring villages joined in on the celebrations along with the eco-guards of the region. In Mungbere, the local Police Commander gave an endearing speech on his passion for nature conservation. In Watsa, we were pleasantly surprised to have the territorial administrator make an appearance to discuss the importance of protecting the okapi’s rainforest home despite a physical disability making travel difficult for him. Having an official held in such high regard speak on conservation is sure to leave an impact on attendees.
Overall, we had over 12,000 people join us for World Okapi Day around the Reserve. While the day does feature a lot of celebrating and festivities, we are delighted by the amount of people who enjoy the more educational side of the holiday. Participants listened attentively to talks on okapi, the rainforest, and climate change. Community leaders attended discussions to learn more about implementing sustainable agroforestry in their area. We love to see the demand for celebrations to be brought to more villages growing as more and more individuals want to celebrate the okapi and the rainforest. World Okapi Day 2021 was a resounding success to the return of the coveted holiday.
We want to thank everyone that celebrated the holiday with us all over the world. Whether you celebrated World Okapi Day amongst friends or participated online, you are helping us spread awareness for okapi. We had an incredible outpouring of support over social media, bringing in lots of new okapi fans! If you would like to do more to help okapi right now, consider joining the Okapi Guardians. Find out more here.
As always, thank you to the zoos and related organizations that sponsored World Okapi Day in each of the villages. None of these celebrations and activities would be possible without their help.
- Antwerp Zoo – Epulu
- Dallas Zoo – Watsa
- Roosevelt Park Zoo – Wamba
- Chester Zoo – Niania & Mungbere
- Jacksonville Chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers – Dingbo
- Sacramento Zoo – Mambasa
- Rotterdam Zoo – Nduye
We cannot save okapi alone. It takes interest and investment from the local communities and support from a global audience to ensure the okapi’s forest home remains intact. And for that, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Happy World Okapi Day!