The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and a non-governmental organization launched an emergency appeal yesterday to support the staff and rebuild the headquarters of a key wildlife reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which was recently attacked by poachers.
“Unless we can reverse this situation quickly, this will be a real setback for the conservation in Okapi Wildlife Reserve, home to the largest remaining population of forest elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” the Chief of UNESCO’s Special Projects Unit, Guy Debonnet, said in a news release. “We can’t let those poachers kill rangers and hunt wildlife with impunity.”
According to UNESCO, the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which is also a World Heritage Site, occupies about one-fifth of the DRC’s Ituri forest. It also contains threatened species of primates and birds, and about 5,000 of the estimated 30,000 okapi – a rare forest giraffe – surviving in the wild.
The Reserve’s headquarters, located in Epulu, a small village, came under attack on 24 June by poachers armed with AK-47 rifles and led by a notorious elephant poacher known as Morgan – seven people were killed, including two rangers, and buildings were torched and equipment destroyed. As well, 13 okapi were killed in the raid.
The emergency appeal, by UNESCO and Fauna and Flora International, hopes to raise $120,000 by 20 July, to help the families of the victims and repair the Reserve’s headquarters.
“Unless the facility can be restored very soon, these poachers will have met their objective: to move freely about the reserve in their search for elephant tusks,” UNESCO said.
It noted that funds from the campaign will be used to protect the Reserve’s elephants, whose population has been declining rapidly because of the ivory poaching, and to help re-establish the Reserve’s successful okapi breeding programme.
“Buildings will be rebuilt and equipment repaired or replaced. Perhaps most importantly, the families of those who were killed will be supported,” UNESCO added.