Preventing Bushmeat Poaching in Africa's Forests

by Wildlife Conservation Global
Poachers Arrested in the OWR
Poachers Arrested in the OWR

The holiday season is always a busy season for the ICCN rangers in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. There is a marked uptick in poaching events around the holidays as poachers hunting bushmeat and profits enter the forest during this time of year. The ICCN rangers respond in kind with an increase in patrol efforts, focusing on areas that are known to be frequented by poachers. By utilizing local knowledge and intelligence reports the ICCN rangers were able to focus their efforts where they would be most effective. In the month of December alone rangers performed a total of 51 patrols, more than 10% of the year’s total, in an effort to protect okapi and the other wildlife in the reserve.

The increased presence of the ICCN ranger patrols in the forest increases the likelihood of encountering poachers and apprehending them, while also serving to deter poachers from hunting in the first place. The tireless effort of the ICCN rangers removes poachers, snares and illegal firearms from the forest. These arrests and seizures protects the wildlife that lives in the forest.

Funding from donors like you help the ICCN monitor wildlife, remove snares, and enforce the laws in the OWR. Your support provides tools and equipment for rangers to complete their jobs in a demanding environment as well as provide access to health care to keep them on patrol. Thank you so much for your continued support!

Equipment Confiscated from the OWR
Equipment Confiscated from the OWR
Seized Bushmeat and Firearm
Seized Bushmeat and Firearm
Burning Bushmeat
Burning Bushmeat

The 1st of August marked the official closure of hunting in the forest zones of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (OWR). The leadership of ICCN issued a reminder to all the local communities residing in the OWR and distributed an official order to abide by the pre-established hunting schedule.

Later in the month, on the 22nd of August, ICCN rangers apprehended an individual in Salathe, located just 25 km from the Epulu Station on the road to Kisangani, with a large amount of smoked bushmeat.  The meat found on the individual was from a yellow-backed duiker, a protected species, 20 blue duikers and several monkeys. The meat they carried was destined for the market in Badengaido, and would have fetched approximately $400. The market in Badengaido is where the miners working the Muchacha gold mine shop for food. This incident is a poignant reminder to why closing down the various gold mines is so important when it comes to controlling the bushmeat trade in the Reserve. This individual was brought back to Epulu and the ICCN, to serve as an example for all of the gathered bystanders. Additionally, the confiscated bushmeat was burned to prevent it from being sold, and to reinforce that it is illegal to kill wildlife when the OWR regulations prohibit hunting.

Funding from donors like you help the ICCN monitor wildlife, remove snares, and enforce the laws in the OWR. Your support provides tools and equipment for rangers to complete their jobs in a demanding environment as well as provide access to health care to keep them on patrol. Thank you so much for your continued support!

Smoked Duiker Bushmeat
Smoked Duiker Bushmeat
Burning Bushmeat Discourages Poaching
Burning Bushmeat Discourages Poaching
ICCN Rangers close down gold mines while on patrol
ICCN Rangers close down gold mines while on patrol

On July 14, 2017, the Okapi Wildlife Reserve suffered a devastating attack resulting in four ICCN rangers losing their lives. The incident happened in Bapela, where three journalists were traveling to the unoccupied mine to collect footage for a documentary on the Reserve. Unknown assailants attacked the camp around 3:30 p.m. All three journalists escaped alive and unhurt, but four ICCN rangers lost their lives. The Bapela mine was closed in April of this year using customary chiefs that directed shamans to put a curse on the mining site (see previous report), and since that time, ICCN rangers have been posted at the mine to ensure it is not reoccupied by miners.

Throughout the years, we have found that there is a direct correlation between the number of miners in the Reserve and the amount of bushmeat consumed. Mining camps can be small or large and can last for a couple of weeks to a couple of months. These miners need to eat, so they set snares and traps in the forest to catch wildlife. The more miners that are evacuated and kept out of the Reserve decreases the amount of wildlife killed for food.

With the recent loss of four ICCN rangers, it will be harder to patrol the Reserve with our already low ICCN staff. Efforts are being made to increase the number of rangers in the Reserve, however, all rangers must complete a year of training before being placed on patrol. ICCN rangers play a vital role in reducing poachers, illegal miners and the need for bushmeat, and we continue to protect the wildlife and the forest to honor those lives lost.

While on patrol, rangers collect snares and arrest anyone participating in illegal activity. In the first six months of this year, rangers have already covered 7,550 kilometers while removing 1,760 nylon snares, arresting 76 poachers and evacuating over 580 miners. Without the ICCN rangers patrolling the forest regularly, miners and poachers would be prominent in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Supporters like you allow us to continue the hard work we do in reducing illegal activity while protecting the biodiversity of the Ituri Forest in the DRC. We thank you for your continued support!

ICCN Rangers on patrol
ICCN Rangers on patrol

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Location of the Bapela Mine
Location of the Bapela Mine

Mining continues to be a serious threat to the wildlife and integrity of the forest ecosystem in and around the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. There is a direct correlation between the number of mines and the amount of wildlife poaching, so the closure of illegal mines is necessary to help curb poaching. Progress has been made in closing many of the illegal gold mines, but a few larger mines continue to operate despite regular interventions by ICCN rangers and Congolese soldiers. During my visit to Epulu in March, it was agreed that ICCN will focus on closing the 2 large gold mines north of NR4 (East/West road through the Reserve, and the red line on the map) while the Congolese army will concentrate its forces to block access to the mines south of NR4.

Northeast of Epulu is a mine site called Bapela which is accessed by walking north through the forest from the village of Badisende. ICCN has made several attempts to evacuate the miners from Bapela, but once the rangers leave, the mine has been quickly reoccupied since it is easily accessed from the main road.

It was decided by the warden of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve that a mission to close the gold mine in Bapela by customary chiefs directing shamans to put a curse on those doing the illegal mining was seen as the best chance to keep the mine from being reoccupied and preserve the biodiversity in this part of the forest. The belief in the power of ancestral spirits and consultation with soothsayers is a respected cultural practice used to guide most individual choices in DRC. The mission was initiated by nine chiefs of local villages and also included elders and indigenous Mbuti pygmies accompanied by a Community Conservation team (OCP, WCS, and ICCN) which were escorted by ICCN rangers from the village of Badisende to the Bapela mine.

The delegation met with the miners at the Bapela mine and announced that the customary chiefs were closing the mine and advised the miners to leave as the traditional healers were putting a curse over the area. Those who decided not to leave would soon suffer an accident brought on by the curse. The delegation also warned the rangers who were assigned to secure the evacuated site that they should not facilitate access to the mine by anyone for evil would fall upon them if they allow long-lasting damage to the environment.

The miners fearing the effects of the curse decided to vacate the area and after they left with their belongings, members of the local population proceeded to fill in all the holes made by the miners. The commitment of the population to reinforce the message of their chiefs left the mine in a state that would make it difficult to be reopened. In this case, the respect for customary beliefs reinforced by community action was an effective detriment to destructive actions that have a negative effect on the quality of okapi habitat and reduced the killing of wildlife for food to feed the miners.

The closure of Bapela by the customary chiefs without violence was successful because it was done in the presence of all people who are involved in the protection of the forest and used traditional beliefs in the spirits of ancestors to protect the rainforest from exploitation and poaching. Letting communities close the Bapela mine based on spiritual views will hopefully provide the necessary time for plants and trees to recolonize this mining site providing a place where okapi can browse for years to come.

Walking into Bapela Mine
Walking into Bapela Mine
Preparing the Ceremony for Closing the Mine
Preparing the Ceremony for Closing the Mine
Local Citizens Filling in the Mine
Local Citizens Filling in the Mine

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Okapi feces while on patrol
Okapi feces while on patrol

The last quarter of 2016 saw 106 patrols by ICCN for a total of 321 patrols days with 34% of the Reserve being covered in those three months. The increase in coverage rate is explained by expanding patrols into new areas of the Reserve in the northeast and southeast sectors. After expanding into these new areas, seven people were arrested and 111 were evacuated. 

While also on patrol, 1,901 snares were dismantled and destroyed. ICCN did come across a single elephant that was poached with its tusks removed. 

The deterioration and lack of uniforms, backpacks, communication devices and cameras is making patrols increasingly difficult, so we are sourcing grants and other opportunities of funding to help with the cost of repairing and replacing equipment in order to increase the effectiveness of patrols.

None of what we do is possible without the generosity of supporters like you from around the world. It is because of you that we are able to help protect critical habitat allowing okapi and many other species to have a place to live. Thank you! 

Confiscated ivory and elephant meat
Confiscated ivory and elephant meat
Aerial view of mines
Aerial view of mines

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Organization Information

Wildlife Conservation Global

Location: Jacksonville, FL - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.okapiconservation.org
Project Leader:
John Lukas
Jacksonville, Florida United States
$13,824 raised of $45,000 goal
 
351 donations
$31,176 to go
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