Nov 5, 2020

Looking Forward to a More Secure Reserve

Focus Group During World Okapi Day
Focus Group During World Okapi Day

On October 18th, we celebrated World Okapi Day across the Reserve. Due to COVID-19, we were unable to host the large celebrations we are used to, but we still stayed committed to making the event fun and most importantly - spreading awareness for okapi. While individuals celebrated in small groups of family and friends, we also hosted awareness campaigns in each of the villages. During these meetings, community leaders got together in small, socially distanced groups to learn more about the okapi, what can be done to help protect their environment, discuss how their local communities can help, and brainstorm how DRC can move toward being more environmentally conscious.

One of the recurring themes during the brainstorm sessions was the general instability brought on across the Reserve due to antagonistic groups like rogue militants and the illegal wildlife/poaching trade. It is of great concern to leaders to ensure these threats are removed for both the safety of communities and the health of the environment.

As you may already know, these threats recently became a reality for OCP and our partners in the ICCN. On the evening of September 17th, the patrol post at Adusa at the western entrance of the Reserve was ambushed by a group of armed men, resulting in the deaths of two eco-guards members. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of these guards, who risked their lives to protect the Reserve and the animals within. OCP and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve supported the costs of the funerals for these eco-guards to reduce the financial burden on their families.

Chimpanzees are often the target for bushmeat and the illegal wildlife trade by armed men in the Reserve. Entire troops of chimpanzees are killed for their meat and the young are illegally sold as pets in the markets for additional income. The presence of these groups within the forest can have dire consequences to the health of wildlife and people from destruction of forest and the poaching of bushmeat in order to establish camp.

As always, we are working hand-in-hand with ICCN to establish a safe place for both wildlife and communities in and around the Reserve. While it is always disheartening when we face violent acts and major setbacks, we know that with your help, we are proving protection where there would otherwise be none. 

Chimps Spotted by Camera Trap
Chimps Spotted by Camera Trap
Newly Trained ICCN Eco-Guards
Newly Trained ICCN Eco-Guards

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Jul 9, 2020

Sharing Sustainable Agroforestry Knowledge

Children help nursery staff with seedlings.
Children help nursery staff with seedlings.

The OCP Agroforestry program have made an incredible impact on the protection and sustainability of the environment since the program’s inception in 2001. We are happy to report that our initiatives continue to increase crop yields by up to 25% compared to traditional farming methods. And the major accomplishment of decreasing the time land needs to lay to fallow, (or be reusable for planting) to two years from the staggering 10 years it was before.

Many of the farmers around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve live in remote and difficult-to-reach areas. This provides one of the unique and more challenging tasks taken on by OCP - the spreading of knowledge about sustainable practices. The Agroforestry team tackles this through a number of resources. The first is by providing example gardens around the Reserve that attract farmers and people as they pass by on their daily errands and travels. The genuine interest of the people in how they can change their crop selection, crop rotation and planting schedules to improve crop production is making a broad impact across the region in reducing land degraded by slash-and-burn agricultural practices. The gentle encouragement of the agroforestry team recruits local people to not only join the program to increase their crop yields, but also shares the importance of protecting the ecosystem for the benefit of people and animals, including okapi.

Another method OCP uses is education programs. Since many of these farmers live remotely, radio broadcasts are an important way to reach them without having to make the challenging journey around the Reserve. These broadcasts not only talk about sustainable agroforestry, but the protection of resources and the damaging effects of illegal mining and poaching. In addition, our education programs are allowing children to participate in reforestation projects. Their participation gives children a sense of appreciation for nature, and a personal investment in the project.

Our agroforestry team has made the important identification of key sights for reforestation, like a field in the Bandisende area that was previously abandoned by poor farming practices. In order to regenerate these areas, the team collects fruit and nut tree seeds from the rainforest and then uses OCP nurseries to grow the trees. Once they are seedlings, they are replanted into the reforestation zones to regrow the Ituri Forest.

As always the nurseries have been hard at work distributing seedlings - 14,147 this quarter alone. Distributing tools and food seeds provides farmers the necessary resources to practice sustainable agroforestry.

We continue to be impressed and inspired by the hard work of the Agroforestry team. We appreciate your continued support of the project and our efforts to eliminate slash-and-burn agriculture from the Ituri Forest.

 

Learning sustainable agroforestry at the nursery.
Learning sustainable agroforestry at the nursery.

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Jul 9, 2020

Chimpanzees and COVID-19

Rescued Chimpanzee
Rescued Chimpanzee

Due to the threat of COVID-19, the new restrictions of the DRC government to limit the spread of the disease, there has been a reduction of ICCN ranger patrols around the Reserve, but they remain steadfast in working hard to remove snares and document wildlife sightings on the patrols they are able to conduct. We are happy to still see a good number of wildlife sightings reported, including 3 okapi and 6 chimpanzees.

As fewer people are spending time on the road, it is possible that poachers are feeling more confident in moving around the Reserve, and profiting from the pandemic restrictions. It is important that we stay vigilant with these movements, and do not allow poachers to travel around the Reserve. ICCN has had some success on this front, confiscating 2 chimpanzees from poachers this quarter that would have made it into the illegal wildlife trade.

Rangers are using the downtime caused by the virus to further their training in combating poaching, currently taking anti-poaching courses to improve their effectiveness.

The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is no stranger to fighting disease. In fact, the most recent Ebola epidemic in eastern DRC was declared over by the World Health Organization just two weeks ago. In addition, all the handwashing stations and temperature checkpoints remain in operation, now serving a dual purpose of COVID-19 prevention. With poaching a continuous threat and the addition of COVID-19 restricting movement within the Reserve, your support is appreciated now more than ever. Thank you to everyone who has and will contribute to protecting chimpanzees in the Ituri Forest.

Camera traps monitor wildlife across the Reserve.
Camera traps monitor wildlife across the Reserve.

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