The okapi is a secretive mammal found only in equatorial forests of the African Congo. There are relatively few okapi in captivity, but the numbers are growing thanks to a program initiated by Florida’s White Oak Conservation Center. White Oak began to build a captive breeding stock two decades ago as a safeguard to ensure this species’ survival, and at the same time established an on-site conservation program in Democratic Republic of Congo. Today, all zoos that exhibit okapi from this project and participate in the international breeding program also support field programs of the Okapi Conservation Project. The most important of these is the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, 8,500 square miles of tropical forest – about half the size of Yellowstone National Park – in which okapi are officially protected along with forest elephants, six species of duikers and 13 species of primates.
The White Oak Conservation Center Okapi Conservation Project, working closely with the Institute in the Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) is considered a model conservation partnership in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Project conservation teams are constantly in the field helping ICCN protect the Reserve and teaching the local communities about the importance of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources.
In the last year the Project’s programs provided school curriculum’s in conservation for over 120 nearby schools and held meetings with the community customary chiefs to teach them about the Reserve and to listen and address their concerns. The agro-forestry team is now working with over 400 farmers bringing them new and more efficient crop producing and reforestation methods for abandoned farmland. The continued support of the ICCN wardens and rangers includes bonuses for time spent on patrol in the Reserve, technology and equipment including GPS, satellite communication phones, computers, and uniforms. The Houston Zoo has been a supporter of the Okapi Conservation Project since 2005.
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