A group that works to protect the rare okapi, a type of forest giraffe found only in the Congo Basin, has has won mongabay.com’s 2012 conservation award.
The Okapi Conservation Project [DONATE] has been working to protect the okapi and its habitat in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for 25 years. The group was instrumental in establishing the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a 13,700-square-kilometer tract of wilderness in the Ituri Forest of northeastern DRC.
While the Okapi Conservation Project has had a long track record of success, earlier this year it was devastated by a brutal attack on the reserve’s headquarters. Two wildlife rangers were among the six people killed during June 24 assault. 14 endangered okapi were slaughtered during the early morning raid, which was reportedly a response to a crackdown on illegal elephant poaching and gold mining inside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
The attack was led by Mai Mai Simba rebels. The militia destroyed buildings and equipment at the facility, which is shared by the Institute in the Congo for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) and the Okapi Conservation Project. Computers, phones, medical supplies, food, and other gear were stolen.
The dead included two ICCN rangers, the wife of one of the rangers, an immigration worker, and 2 residents of Epulu, the town where the attack took place.
In recognition of the shocking attack and the general struggles of working in the DRC, Mongabay.com selected the Okapi Conservation Project as this year’s recipient of the award.
“What happened in Epulu and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve was truly tragic,” said mongabay.com founder Rhett A. Butler. “I hope the Okapi Conservation Project and its local partners are able to fully rebuild and continues their efforts in the Congo.”
John Lukas, co-founder of the Okapi Conservation Project, says the award will “go a long way in motivating our great staff and donors to remain committed to the conservation of the okapi as we move past the rebuilding phase and we focus more on engaging the communities in sustainable use of natural resources.”
“The recognition from such a credible conservation forum as Mongabay encourages me and the OCP team to sustain our efforts to protect the home of the okapi and all the wildlife living in the rain forests of the Congo. The region remains in turmoil but through it all the OCP staff and the ICCN rangers have remained focused and committed to protecting the wildlife and helping the people living in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.”
Each year mongabay.com selects an organization to honor with its conservation award. The award includes a cash prize and prominent placement of mongabay.com’s homepage and in its weekly newsletter for the month of December. Previous winners include the Amphibian Ark (2011), AITo and the Nantu Forest Conservation Program (2010), WildlifeDirect (2009), Health In Harmony/Project ASRI (2008), and the Amazon Conservation Team (2007).
Donate to the Okapi Conservation Project
Poacher known as ‘Morgan’ behind devastating massacre at Okapi Wildlife Reserve
(07/05/2012) 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.
Militia massacres rangers, 13 endangered okapi at Congo wildlife reserve
(06/29/2012) Two wildlife rangers were among the six people killed during brazen attack on a wildlife facility by a militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo last Sunday. 13 endangered okapi were slaughtered during the early morning raid, which was reportedly a response to a crackdown on illegal elephant poaching and gold mining inside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
Saving Africa’s ‘unicorn’, the okapi
(09/02/2009) The giraffe is one of Africa’s most recognizable animals, but its shy and elusive forest cousin, the okapi, was so little known that until just over a century ago the western world believed it was a mythical beast, an African unicorn. Today, a shroud of mystery still envelops the okapi, an animal that looks like a cross between a zebra, a donkey, and a giraffe. But what is known is cause for concern. Its habitat, long protected by its remoteness, was the site of horrific civil strife, with disease, famine, and conflict claiming untold numbers of Congolese over the past decade. Now, as a semblance of peace has settled over Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the okapi’s prospects have further dimmed, for its home is increasingly seen as a rich source of timber, minerals, and meat to help the war-torn country rebuild. In an effort to ensure that the okapi does not become a victim of economic recovery, the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) is working to protect the okapi and its habitat. Founded by John Lukas in 1987, well before the conflict, OCP today manages the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a 13,700-square-kilometer tract of wilderness in the Ituri Forest of northeastern DRC.
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