the park headquarters has been attacked and looted by bandits again, and this time 14 of the okapis there were killed. The okapi rehabilitation program was started by Karl Ruff, a wonderful Swiss man from Adelboden who I met in 2000 at Epulu shortly after the headquarters had been trashed by renegade unpaid soldiers. See Dispatch #2. The Ituri forest, with its okapis, pygmies, and forest elephants, one of the world’s rainforest gems, is really getting hammered.
** **NEWS RELEASE**
Park Headquarters Destroyed by Bandits
In Epulu, Democratic Republic of Congo
Attack on Okapi Wildlife Reserve leaves guards and villagers dead
and wildlife slaughtered
WCS staff working in the park safe and accounted for
Funds desperately needed to rebuild park facilities and resume conservation of wildlife
New York (June 29, 2012)—The Wildlife Conservation Society reports that all WCS staff members working in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been located in good health following a tragic attack by bandits that left seven dead including two park guards.
Since the attack, which took place in the village of Epulu on Sunday, June 24, the DRC national army (FARDC) and UN peacekeeping forces have reestablished control.
“Our first concern has been the safety of our staff,” said John Robinson, WCS Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science. “We are thankful to the U.S. and U.N. officials who have helped keep us informed as we have worked to account for our colleagues. But we are deeply grieved for the Congolese park service and the families of those who were tragically killed or harmed.”
Fourteen okapis, which were part of a captive breeding program of Gilman International Conservation in the reserve, were killed during the attack.
“The okapi were ambassadors for all wildlife in the forest,” said Richard Tshombe, WCS DRC Country Director. “The attacks and killings of the people and wildlife are senseless and brutal. We will work with all our partners to restore this important conservation project.”
The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is the most important place for the conservation of eastern chimpanzees, supporting about 4,500 individuals, along with world’s largest population of okapi and DRC’s largest remaining population of African forest elephants. It is also home to the largest remaining hunter-gatherer community in Africa, the Mbuti people.
WCS helped to create the reserve in the 1980s and has since helped DRC’s parks department, ICCN (Institut Congolaise pour la Conservation de Nature), to manage it with assistance from USAID-CARPE and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The reserve, including its wildlife and livelihoods of local people, are increasingly threatened by rampant illegal poaching, ivory trafficking, and gold mining.
WCS is providing emergency support to the affected park staff and local people and launching an emergency appeal for funds to rebuild the park headquarters and facilities.
To make a donation, go to: http://www.wcs.org/epulu