The okapi live in the dense jungle of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a respected cultural symbol of the DRC, and yet its threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal gold mining, logging, encroachment from human settlemelnt and bushmeat poaching – even though it’s had protected status since 1933.
The DRC has also suffered from general economic and civil instability of the after years of conflict.
Hence the need for a World Okapi Day. And this year, is on 18 October 2020!
It’s a day to celebrate the okapi – and to protect the forest ecosystem where okapi live. Did you know the okapi are known as forest giraffe?
The Okapi Conservation Project is located within the Ituri Forest, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve was created in 1992, encompassing 13,700 square kilometers, in 1996, it was designated as a United Nation's World Heritage Site. Over 1,500 types of plants and animals, including the okapi, are found only here in the world.
The Ituri Forest is also the cultural centre of the Mbuti and Efe pygmies, among the last true “forest people” left on Earth.
The Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) is a government agency. It’s task is to protect the flora and fauna. Wardens, rangers and guards all have protection and law-enforcement responsibilities. They were instrumental in the manhunt that took down a poacher, Morgan and his syndicate. They also eliminated several elephant poacher rings.
They evict miners, collect snares, catch and detain poachers, watch agricultural expansion and engage locals in conservation awareness and education. They walk for up to 20 days a month going out on patrol, away from their families and homes, and risking their lives in the rainforest.
Rangers are recruited from local villages close to the reserve, and they include women. They all have 3 months’ rigorous training before heading out on patrol.
The Okapi Conservation Project works closely with the ICCN to make sure resources for a rapid response to any threat to the reserve are available.
Healthcare and housing for ICCN personnel and their families, in addition to equipment, supplies, facilities and infrastructure are supported by OCP and its partners, along with specialized education and training in not only wildlife management but communications, technology, and language. The Project works with a network of collaborative partners, too, including many zoos.
Of course, like so many world events, in 2020 things are different because of covid-19.
Celebrations will be on radio waves – the Okapi Conservation Project will flood radio stations in and around the nature reserve. Messages will focus on the okapi, protecting the forest, the importance of the environment to our own human health – and ways in which people can protect the forest for okapi and other generations.
Things we can do on World Okapi Day:
1. Follow the day on social media: #OkapiConservation and #WorldOkapiDay and tell people about okapis.
2. Recycle your own mobile phone. Did you know that a cell/mobile phones have coltan? It’s a mineral mined in the DRC forests, so if you recycle your phone it means less mining in the forest.
3. Put okapi photos on social media, using the hashtags hashtags #OkapiConservation and #WorldOkapiDay
4. You could also donate to the Okapi Conservation Project – all proceeds go to help protect okapi and its habitat.