The Okapi Conservation Project is not immune to the global pressures of an increased demand for ivory, gold and bushmeat. Three months ago armed rebels attacked the ICCN headquarters in the village of Epulu, killing rangers, and looting and burning ICCN and OCP buildings, and terrorizing residents. Many people fled the town and have been unable to return to their gardens and homes while the area remains unsecured.
This attack on the ranger station and the OCP compound was a direct retaliation for recent anti-poaching efforts by the ICCN guards in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The Okapi Conservation Project continues to support the ICCN rangers in their front line struggle to protect the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. We are presently assisting those families in Epulu most affected by this tragic event, with food and medical needs, and we also continue to support other communities around the Reserve with agro-forestry education, among our other community programs. ICCN also continues to control illegal settlement and intrusion into forest zone by farmers inside the Reserve.
We will have more information on the unfolding situation from our Project Leaders next month. We are grateful for the tremendous support that has poured in from around the world over these past many weeks. For up-to-date information on the Okapi Conservation Project, please visit our website at http://www.okapiconservation.org/.
One of our tools for monitoring the health of the Ituri Forest and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve is aerial surveys. By conducting regular fly overs we can detect illegal activities such as poaching and mining, as well as agricultural encroachment into protected areas. Farmers expand their farms because slash and burn agricultural techniques are inefficient and their fields become unproductive in 2-3 years and they cut down more forest to try and feed their families. The aerial surveys identify areas where agricultural areas are encroaching into the Reserve so that the teams can focus on those issues.
The Okapi Conservation Project agroforestry team works with farmers providing techniques which improve and preserve the soil quality while producing higher yields to allow them to efficiently feed their families. The Project education team teaches farmers about their role as stewards of the forest, to understand the importance of the wildlife and forest and their natural heritage. By regularly monitoring with aerial surveys we can evaluate the progress of our programs to control slash and burn agriculture and reforestation.
This report includes and update on the Okapi Conservation Project with information on the education team and agroforestry team, personnel and activities working to conserve the Ituri Forest and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Specific details on agroforestry projects related to stopping slash and burn agriculture and photos are included.
The Agro-forestry team continues to work with farmers around the OWR. Gathering seeds and planting and transferring seedlings take up a large portion of our efforts. As nitrogen fixing leguminous plants, Leucena and Calliandra seedlings form the important basis for farmer’s plots and are the first trees planted to restore the soil in preparation for planting vegetables and food items. Both can also be used for fuel wood as they grow larger. The team also distributed fruit tree seedlings for farmers, for a total of 7514 trees distributed and planted in the last quarter. African Mosaic Disease in cassava plants causes serious problems for subsistence farmers in the region who depend on the cassava as a staple. Our team is helping to distribute and study disease modified strains of cassava for farmers participating in the program and four community fields of disease resistant cassava were recently established
The Assistant Director of the Okapi Conservation Project is Marcel Enckoto, a Congolese national born in eastern DR Congo. Marcel has been working for the Okapi Conservation Project since July 1990 after receiving his degree in Human Sciences (Linguistics and Psychology). He is married with 4 children, who go to school in Butembo, DRC. Marcel feels the okapi is important as a scientifically unique species and has worked nearly his entire life to ensure its protection. He enjoys speaking with and education people, both nationally and internationally about conservation. It takes great courage to tackle the big challenges of traveling around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve to teach about conservation while dealing with major issues like poor roads, poverty, political instability and persistent illegal activities.
Thanks to your gifts and the Global Giving community we are able to work with subsistence farmers and improve their livelihoods and their ability to care for their families, while preserving the forests and wildlife in the Ituri Forest of the DR Congo.
Introducing Multiple Use Zones in the Northern Sector of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve
The Okapi Wildlife Reserve (13,760 km2) is designated as a multiple use reserve in the DR Congo, providing community access for hunting and agriculture, including the Mbuti pygmy indigenous people. The Coordination Committee of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (OWR), lead by the Institute in Congo for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) works with community leaders and local NGO’s to designate, farming, hunting and core areas (no access or hunting). The Okapi Conservation Project has been appointed to organize preparatory education campaigns concerning zoning in the OWR Northern Sector. The first incentive to this plan was undertaken last March, when OCP educator Gomo, and Wildlife Conservation Society partner and technician Ntumba, traveled to Watsa for meetings and obtained a zoning protocol signature from the Regional Administrator in order to proceed.
In July and August the OCP education team organized 9 meetings in villages with 250 participants from Kebo and Ateru communities to introduce the zoning concept and process. As a result, WCS zoning technicians are now working with the communities establishing agriculture zones. Suggestions from the community leaders include requests for frequent visits of OCP educators in the area and for educational material regarding hunting regulations in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
Even though these meetings were successful, the team again encountered very bad road conditions, especially during the rainy season, as well as suspicious deployment of army troops as challenges. The Okapi Conservation Project education team will continue to focus their work in the northern sector, despite the distance from the project’s Epulu headquarters, which hampers communication and travel.
The OCP agroforestry team planted new varieties of cassava (manioc) of the Liyayi variety which are disease free (African mosaic) and received very good yields of 50 tons per hectare. The team also distributed 400 kg of rice seed and 325 kg of peanut seeds to participating farmers to start their crop production. The team was also active monitoring the demonstration gardens in the nearby towns of Bapukeli, Ekwe, Molokai, and KeroZanzibar and a new community garden was started in the town of Ekulungu. The OCP agroforestry program was formally recognized by the government seat in Bunia to facilitate landscape level agroforestry projects and the OCP teams may now also work in towns outside the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
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