Recovery Continues in the Congo
Last June a group of poachers and illegal gold miners, labeled as rebels, attacked the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and the nearby town of Epulu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A former elephant poacher who operates under the nom de guerre “Morgan” led the attack. The area remains unstable, but an outpouring of support has helped the Okapi Conservation Project work with the devastated community and begin to rebuild the Reserve.
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The staff of OCP and ICCN (the Congolese wildlife authority) has been hard at work restoring operational and logistical capabilities to the Epulu Station and carrying out community assistance, education and law enforcement actions that maintain the integrity of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
A new reality has settled in to daily life in the region around Epulu; the threat of Morgan remains but life goes on with a greater level of caution but with a strong commitment to stand against him and his allies by living normal lives. This is made possible by a significant Congolese military presence, which is ready and able to respond to any threats to life and property.
The ICCN rangers are going out on patrol with troops on a regular basis, taking special efforts to collect snares and relocate trackers and trap makers from the Reserve that the poachers depend on to find and catch animals. Recent analysis has shown that snaring is the major cause of okapi decline and removing snares and arresting those involved in the bushmeat trade is the best way to protect okapi and many other species of wildlife from severe population decline.
So far this year the rangers have removed over 430 snares from the forest and arrested nine other poachers, confiscated 21 pieces of ivory and several guns and evicted hundreds of illegal miners from the reserve.
Education and Livelihoods
In spite of rumors on the presence of Maimai rebels associated with Morgan, OCP technicians and educators traveled on very bad roads to meet with communities and encouraged them to keep up their efforts to improve their livelihoods through sustainable agriculture and to respect the conservation laws protecting the wildlife around their villages.
As a result of the OCP assistance to schools last January, 100% of both Mbuti pygmi (ORA) and Epulu (Okapi) primary schools have succeeded in the final state examination. This was a great surprises to all school leaders of the Ituri region.