Poacher known as 'Morgan' behind devastating massacre at Okapi Wildlife Reserve

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
July 05, 2012




The okapi was only discovered by scientists in 1901 and today is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List.

Officials have pointed to an infamous elephant poacher known as 'Morgan' as the head of the murderous attack at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) late last month. The attack by Morgan and his crew left seven people dead, including two wildlife rangers. The poachers also shot dead 13 captive okapis at the headquarters, which were considered ambassadors for the imperiled forest. One okapi remains alive, but injured and conservationists are not optimistic about its survival. UNESCO and the the NGO Fauna and Flora international have issued an emergency appeal to raise $120,000 dollars within two weeks for the victim's families as well as for rapidly rebuilding the station.

"Unless we can reverse this situation quickly, this will be a real setback for the conservation in Okapi Wildlife Reserve, home to the largest remaining population of forest elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We can’t let those poachers kill rangers and hunt wildlife with impunity," explained Guy Debonnet with UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.

Last week, John Lukas, head of Okapi Wildlife Reserve, wrote that the attack was likely "in retaliation for recent engagements by ICCN rangers that disrupted poaching and mining activities in the Southern part of the Reserve. The rebels want to be free to reopen the mines and poach wildlife without interference."

Burning the station, killing guards, and destroying important equipment, UNESCO is concerned that Morgan and his crew have achieved their objective and are moving to kill the reserve's remaining elephants for the ivory tusks, which are in demand in East Asian black-markets.

the coral reef crustacean, Sadayoshia edwardsii

coral reef crustacean, Pilumnus tahitensis
Top: the burned headquarters at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Bottom: one of the killed okapis. Photos courtesy of UNESCO.
A recent blog entry by well-known conservationist Teresa Hart—director of the Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba Rivers (TL2) project in the DRC—notes that Morgan is "an elephant poacher, thrice arrested by the park guards, taken to local courts and liberated. Originally he is from a village down the road from the Okapi Station, Epene."

Hart also reports that the poaching gang took 28 hostages, 16 of which have returned, but as of Tuesday the gang reportedly still held 12: 11 of whom were women, including 9 minors.

Hart, who has lived and worked in the DRC for 25 years, also wrote this chilling account of the massacre: "For an entire day scenes of horror and panic ripped through Epulu. Many people fled into the forest, others were taken hostage to carry the loot of the attackers. Women were raped. Seven people were killed. Among the dead are two park guards and the wife of another. Two of these were burned. Some reported that Amisi’s wife was burned alive, perhaps caught in the chaos as the outlaws incinerated park infrastructure and guard homes. Others seemed shot almost at random: Two people on a truck passing through Epulu, two other Epulu residents. The administrative buildings of the Reserve were looted, then burned. Houses and stores in the village were pillaged."

Elephant poaching is the worst its been since 1989, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). As the raid on the headquarters shows, elephant poaching isn't just decimating elephant populations world, but comes with a vast human toll as well. Poachers—who target elephants, rhinos, and tigers among other species—have become more brazen in recent years as well and appear to be propped up by well-organized mafia, which are likely involved in a number of criminal activities.













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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (July 05, 2012).

Poacher known as 'Morgan' behind devastating massacre at Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

http://news.mongabay.com/2012/0705-hance-okapi-massacre-update.html