Friday, September 08, 2017

Creature Feature: the Okapi

A complete specimen of the rare Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) which lives in the Ituri rain forest of the Congo Republic (DRC) was not obtained until 1901.  Many believed the animal to be mythical, but science determined it to be the closest living relative of the giraffe.  Although protected under Congolese law, it is threatened by habitat destruction, and is listed on the IUCN Red List.  Rough estimates are that about ten to fifteen thousand still live in the forest. In 2012 an attack on Epulu Station, a conservation headquarters, by Congolese rebels fourteen habituated okapis were killed [photo courtesy OCP]. {04.07.12} The Okapi Conservation Project manages a 13,700 sq. km reserve that is home not only to okapis, but forest elephants, chimpanzees and the Mbuti pygmy tribe.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site.

OCP values its dedicated ranger force as one of its most important accomplishments in its thirty years of existence.  Protection of the reserve continued unabated through six years of devastating civil war (1997-2993).  After the attack of 2012, OCP has the Congolese army as its partner to provide greater security and remove illegal development from the the reserve.  Okapi are sensitive to human activity. The can withstand low-level human encroachment, but intense activity causes them to disappear from the area.  It is the rangers' dedication and the financial support received from outside Congo that gives "the ghost of the forest" a chance to survive into the next century.