Okapi Conservation Project educators focus on working with schools in communities that interface with forest resources and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Students are considered important message multipliers and future decision-makers. In order to make them aware of conservation issues, OCP educators organized a series of conferences on forest protection and management of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve for secondary school children in Isiro, Watsa and Bunia. All three communities are district headquarters for territories that encompass the Reserve.
This far ranging trip involved the participation of 17 people, traveling in a pickup and riding several motorbikes. Over 2400 kilometers were covered, sometimes over very difficult muddy tracks, to bring the program to 2206 students attending 33 schools. This is the fifth time OCP has organized such a challenging public awareness campaign, involving students, school leaders and local media.
The conference participants openly discussed the nature of the threats to the forest as well as the unique conservation value of okapi and the Reserve. As an example of how the educators reach the students in Isiro protected animal posters were explained and distributed to schools for zoology lessons and 20 soccer balls as well as soccer equipment were donated for an upcoming interschool tournament.
Given the interest of students in the conservation message, we feel that a good number of them will show an improved respect for the environment, share what they learned with their families and friends and have better attitude about accepting the restrictions on the use of natural resources allowed inside the Reserve.
During the trip OCP staff took the opportunity to meet with local government officials and host seminars. Nearly 100 officials participated in this activity alongside District Commissioners and Territory Administrators in Isiro, Watsa and Bunia. Conservation law brochures produced by OCP were handed out for their offices and staff. The OCP education team took advantage of the seminars to explain the reasons and procedures of closing mining camps, the importance of honoring the boundaries of the Reserve and the need to promote the conservation of nature as one of their defined roles as community leaders.
Closing Down Illegal Mines Protects Okapi Habitat
As Okapi Conservation Project agronomists and educators continue programs on ending “slash and burn farming,” ICCN guards and Congolese military actively pursue illegal mining that is devastating to the Reserve's habitat.
After a three month amnesty period declared in August of 2014 by Governor Saidi of Orientale Province, a special force of ICCN guards and Congolese military has been moving through the Reserve shutting down illegally operated gold mines. To date over 20 mining camps have been evacuated with an estimated 5,000 miners moving out of camps as a result of public awareness campaigns.
ICCN guards will undertake continued surveillance of the closed gold mines to prevent the re-establishment of the mining operations and allow for regeneration of the forest. Recent surveys show that wildlife quickly returns to areas around abandoned mines once the human disturbances are removed. Monthly reconnaissance trips during the next year by ICCN patrol units are planned to prevent the mines from being reoccupied.
Progress made by the ICCN and the Congolese army to clear out armed militia, poachers and now miners is truly a remarkable achievement given the lack of government resources to impose law and order in the region. The brave actions of all those involved, and the support of all partners and OCP staff to secure the okapi wildlife reserve with a minimum impact on local communities is truly commendable.
Okapi Conservation Project agronomists and educators organize regular meetings with farmers in remote villages to discuss sustainable agricultural practices. It is widely known that a slash and burn approach has long lasting negative impacts on soil fertility. Crops are more likely to fail due to wind damage, and unnatural crop associations were contributing to impoverished soil fertility in a short period of time. An OCP agronomist explains the benefit of crop rotation, adding nitrogen fixing plants and timing of plantings season as ways of improving crop production and increasing the length of time the soil remains fertile reducing the need to expand their farmland into the forest.
At a recent meeting, farmers voiced concerns about crop raiding by primates. They requested frequent and regular visits by ICCN rangers to help control crop raiding by wildlife and monitor the conversion of protected forest into fields which could quickly impact the limits of the delineated agriculture zones and compromise their ability to farm legally inside the Reserve. These forums are important avenues for productive dialogue between community members and OCP as we inform residents how they can live sustainably in this biologically diverse landscape and still provide for their families.
Through the Agrioforestry program, OCP was involved in the following activities during the third quarter of the year:
The Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) agroforestry team continues to expand their impact from the already implemented planting and education activities in communities in the north of the Reserve, now working with students from three schools in Mambasa planting much needed shade trees in their community. During these activities knowledge about the importance of trees, especially of those species which they were planting, was shared between the agronomists and the students. Along with needed trees for shade and wind buffering, the students planted native fruit trees.
In addition to the school programs, so far this year the agroforestry team has distributed 1,497 tree seedlings, 785 kg of rice seeds and 474 kg of peanut seeds and machetes and hoes to farmers in Bandisende, Epulu and Mambasa. From the experimental garden in Epulu 197 kg of beans and 540 kg of tomatoes were harvested and given to OWR personnel and to the citizens of Epulu to promote the nutritional benefits of planting these crops.
In the past few months the Okapi Conservation Project educators were, once again, busy around the Reserve. Thirty-five secondary and high schools held conservation sessions involving nearly 5,000 students. These were organized in an open forum consisting of interactive questions. During the sessions, students and educators discussed their knowledge of forests, and various threats to the native landscape including mining, slash and burn agriculture, poaching and bushmeat trade.
The role communities can play in mitigating forest loss was vigorously discussed and debated by students and community leaders. OCP educators outlined specific forest protection measures such as sustainable agriculture and tree planting in which the students can participate with their parents. The students were eager to resume sessions again, as there was so much to discuss. OCP educators will be travelling with more frequency in the coming months as security in the Reserve continues to improve.
Building an awareness of these important issues will help protect the wildlife in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which has one of the largest concentrations of biodiversity in the world. We are grateful to the many people around the world that support these efforts and we invite you to share this link with friends, family, and associates on social media.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.
Help raise money for this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page for this project.Start a Fundraiser