Below is an update on the Okapi Crisis that occurred on 24 June 2012. For those of you who may not know about the attack, here is some background information:
The Okapi Wildlife Reserve, located near the Epulu station in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ituri Forest, was attacked by a group of poachers known as Simba rebels. They were seeking revenge on the Institute in the Congo for Conservation of Nature (ICCN); whose headquarters base at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, for recently shutting down their illegal poaching and mining activities. The outcome of this attack was tragic leaving six people dead. Everything of value, from computers to vehicles were stolen or burned. All food and medical supplies were taken, leaving the village with nothing to eat. The 14 Okapis stationed at the reserve, serving as ambassadors for the country’s flagship species were killed. Over 30 villagers from Epulu were taken hostage to assist the poachers in transporting the stolen goods. Fortunately most of the Okapi Conservation Project’s (OCP) staff and locals were able to escape into the forest unharmed. Also, the villagers taken hostage were released and are beginning to return to the village.
The Houston Zoo, among other institutions responded immediately to raise funds in support of the Okapi Conservation Project. The funds that the Houston community donated so generously as well as donations from around the world have helped this project and the local villagers to get back on their feet after the devastating attack in June.
Here are some highlights of the progress the project has made in the past several months:
- Debris removed and all facilities were cleaned up
- Completed masonry and roofing work on guard housing blocks at Zunguluka guard post.
- Re-opened airstrip.
- Re-stocked the Health Clinic including the purchase of a new microscope.
- Repaired damaged doors and windows in OCP facilities.
- Provided food relief to OCP and ICCN staff and families in Epulu and Mambassa.
- Provided medical care support for OCP and ICCN staff and families wherever they are presently based.
- Provided financial support to families of rangers killed in action and an injured ranger and his family.
- Provided funds to OCP staff to replace household items stolen during the attack.
- Replaced technology items (computers/printers) for OCP staff.
- Agro-forestry Team assisted with upland rice harvest, collecting 50% of the seeds which will then be redistributed to other farmer’s cooperatives in March 2013.
- Assistance given to women’s associations in the form of vegetable seeds, garden tools, yarn and sewing lessons.
- Assisted 180 farmers with bringing their produce to market.
- OCP educators organized a conference in the town of Bunia on the dangers of deforestation for nearly 50 government officials, and gave a lecture on same topic to over 500 high school students.
- Provided financial and logistical support to the joint operation being carried out by ICCN rangers and FARDC troops and supported ICCN patrols throughout the Reserve.
Over the next several months, the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) will be conducting the following:
- Provide monthly food relief to OCP/ICCN staff and families.
- Finalize construction of two housing blocks (four families) at the Zunguluka guard post.
- Re-establish satellite internet communications at Epulu Station.
- Provide school supplies, to be distributed as needed, to principals of 25 schools around the Reserve.
- Provide bean seeds and tools to farmer’s cooperatives in Mambassa for the October planting season.
- Support micro enterprise by providing six sewing machines to women’s association.
- Continue repair of damaged OCP facilities and replacement of household items
- Begin making cement blocks for rebuilding of ICCN Headquarters.
- Provide support for joint ICCN/FARDC patrols in the central and northern sections of the Reserve.
- Educators to follow up with customary chiefs on initial meetings and to plan actions for 2013 that are supportive of community needs and protect the integrity of the Reserve.
- OCP educators will hold a conference in the town of Isiro involving government and military leaders to discuss issues related to protecting the northern area of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
For more information about the progress of the Okapi Conservation Project, please visit their website: http://www.okapiconservation.org/
As a supporter of the Houston Zoo, you not only help provide our exhibit animals with A+ care, but you also help support wild animals and local communities all around the globe. Without your support efforts like the Okapi Crisis Relief would not be possible. We thank you for everything you do to help protect people, animals, and habitats around the world!
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