- Title: DR CONGO: Smaller relative of giraffe under threat in eastern DR Congo
- Date: 12th June 2008
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (French) VILLAGE CHIEF, CONGOTURU BARUTI, SAYING: "I have children but they are no longer in school. We have riches in the forest, what do I do when I am so poor? I have the riches in the forest, but what do I do?"
- Embargoed: 27th June 2008 13:00
- Topics: Environment / Natural World
- Reuters ID: LVAK87XRUL42SI8ZYIRYRG7YM6N
- Story Text: Conservationists in eastern DRC struggle with insecurity, human population growth, poaching and look for ways to protect the okapi which is a rare type of giraffe.
The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is located in the Ituri rainforest of the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The reserve encompasses about 14,000 square kilometers, which is about a fifth of the rainforest's area.
The game reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the Okapi, a shorter relative of the giraffe. Okapis look like a cross between giraffes, horses and zebras. They are described by conservationists as shy, reclusive creatures. There are only about 30,000 Okapis left in the wild. 5,000 of them can be found in this reserve.
The Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation with the support of the American NGO Gilman International Conservation and the Wildlife Conservation Society manages the reserve.
14 Okapis are in kept in enclosures here. They are the main attraction for visitors.
"It is a type of publicity, because when one someone can get so close to the Okapi, they won't quickly forget the experience," said Rosmarie Ruf the director of the Gilman International Conservation group's Okapi operation.
30,000 people live within the reserve's boundaries. Conservationists say the area is under threat from deforestation caused by slash and burn agriculture, illicit wood exploitation, gold mining and poaching for the sale of bush meat.
To help solve some of these problems, the reserve has created agricultural zones and distributes seeds to farmers to reduce the impact of deforestation.
However, people from the surrounding villages say they do not see the benefits of the conservation projects, inspite of the reserve's educational outreach programs. Many people here are frustrated by the restrictions placed on their traditional hunting practices.
"I have children but they are no longer in school. We have riches in the forest, what do I do when I am so poor? I have the riches in the forest, but what do I do?" said Congoturu Baruti, a village chief.
Infrastructure, the local economy, and security in the eastern region of DRC have been adversely affected by the country's civil war and fighting between various militias.
But in January this year, 20 rebel and militia groups signed a peace deal with Congo's government. Now over 100 Congolese and international visitors come here every month.
"We were always told in our geography courses 'Okapi, Okapi', but we've never seen it in real life, now I am very happy to see the Okapi in this park," said Ebongo Mololia, a Congolese law student.
The reserve, a biodiversity hotspot, is also home to approximately 4000 elephants, 2000 leopards, 13 primate species, three species of crocodiles and other animals, birds and insects.
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