The gentle, mysterious okapi appears to be half-zebra but is actually the closest relative of the giraffe. Okapis, the last major mammal discovered in Africa, live only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country known as much for its political strife as for its incredible biodiversity. The people of the DRC have chosen the okapi as the symbol of their country’s wildlife. Its image is used in the logo of the ICCN, the Congolese Wildlife Authority.
The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is a World Heritage site that is home to more than 3,000 okapi and hundreds of other species. Although it is a national treasure, the reserve and its okapis are threatened by the insecurity of the DRC. Slash and burn agriculture, illegal gold mining and elephant poaching abound in the forests. In 2012, a vicious rebel attack on the Okapi Wildlife Reserve killed rangers and ambassador okapis and left surrounding villages devastated.
Throughout the DRC’s turmoil the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) has remained the primary supporter of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and protector of the okapi.
Democratic Republic of Congo
“The okapi holds a special reverence within the people’s hearts in the Congo. This is very important in conservation: the local people must have a real love for the animal.”
A Unique Conservation Approach
Traditional farming in the region involves cutting and burning trees and other vegetation to clear plots for crops. After several plantings, the topsoil is depleted and the farmer moves deeper into the forest and repeats the process. Okapi Conservation Project is helping farmers improve soil and crop yields by planting trees between their crop rows, thus slowing the slash and burn of the forest.
The OCP sustains and supports the work of the Institute in Congo for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) to protect and monitor the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. This support includes providing essential items such as boots, uniforms and satellite phones, as well as assistance with developing an intelligence network within the communities around the Reserve to better understand mining and poaching networks.
To reduce slash and burn agriculture and consumption of bushmeat, the Okapi Conservation Project works to improve community livelihoods by expanding educational opportunities, modernizing health care and increasing agricultural production. Working with Farmer's Cooperatives and Women's Groups, OCP educators strive to advance economic opportunities that reduce pressure on forest and wildlife resources in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
Plant and animal species found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo
ICCN Rangers supported by the Okapi Conservation Project
John, who is currently Conservation and Science Manager for the Jacksonville Zoo and President of the Okapi Conservation Project and the International Rhino Foundation, has over 25 years of international conservation experience. From his work with okapi in the Congo to saving rhinos in Sumatra, John has seen first-hand the importance of integrating the needs of local people into conservation strategies.
How You Can Help
$180 per year will protect one okapi in the wild by providing for the cost of ICCN rangers to collect snares and pursue poachers.
$175 will support sustainable livelihoods programs for one family living in or around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve for one year.
$750 will provide a month's worth of fuel and maintenance for the motorbikes of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve rangers who protect and monitor the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
When you designate your donation to a specific species, 100% of your donation will go directly to the field to support this species.
Today is World Ranger Day—a time where we pause to reflect on the many lives lost in the quest to protect the wild animals and wild places we love so dearly. It's also a time to celebrate those who continue to risk their lives every day to continue this endeavor.