OKAPI WILDLIFE RESERVE

The wildlife reserve is situated in Ituri district, northeast of the Democratic republic of Congo; near the border of Central African Republic in the North; Sudan in the North East; and Uganda in the west. Lying within Ituri forest, the wildlife reserve covers about 14,000Km; which is approximately one fifth of the forest. Ituri forest covers a total of about 63,000Km² and derives its name from Ituri River. The reserve derives its name from the amazing dominant mammal species, the Okapi. The Despite its deer like appearance, the okapi is a unique animal that has legs similar to those of a Zebra, with black and white patches; abdomen similar to that of a horse; head and neck similar to that of a giraffe. The wildlife reserve’s existence dates back in 1987 when the Okapi conservation project (OCP) was founded by John Lukas. The formation of the project was aimed at preventing poaching in the Ituri forest. The act of poaching had caused a numerous decrease in the number of mammal species in the forest. OCP employed about 100 staff members and 110 government rangers, who operated under the orders of the Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature. In 1992, the Okapi Conservation project, in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Network, a United States Non-government Organization which helps in developing community based projects that help Wildlife and people from around the world; created the Okapi Wildlife reserve. The Okapi conservation Project supported the wildlife reserve by training and equipping Wildlife rangers with items that would help in the stopping of poaching in the Ituri forest. In 1996, the reserve was declared a United Nations World Heritage Site (UNESCO).In 2005, during the Congo war, fighting moved within the boundaries of the Reserve, causing its staff to flee.

While the native Mbuti and Bantu people traditionally respected the forest and its wildlife, immigrants into the area did not feel the same connection to the land. Instead, the immigrants carried out massive poaching and mining of Gold. On the 24thJune 2012, the headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve at Epulu conservation and research center was attacked and taken over by poachers who were in defiance to the fact that their activities of poaching and mining had been barred by the Reserves administration and rangers. They killed 6 guards and 13 okapi’s. The conservation center was burned down and the neighboring villages were looted and women raped.

 

However, later in August in the year, the Okapi Conservation project together with the Wildlife Conservation Network, mobilized Congolese army troops and guards from the Congolese Wildlife Authority who forced the poachers out of the forest and reinstated peace.The main threats to the reserve are deforestation, primarily caused by slashing and burning of agriculture; and commercial hunting for the sale of bush meat. Gold mining has also been a problem to the Reserve. However, projects such as finding alternatives to hunting bush meat such as raising tilapia and Cane Rats have been put in place to reduce poaching. The Conservation project of Okapi has also provided air surveillance and wildlife guard in response to stop illegal activities of mining and poaching.

Lying in Ituri forest, Okapi wildlife reserve has a wide diversity of eco system.  The reserve has a rainforest species such as trees, birds, mammals and others. The forest is characterized by tall hardwood canopy tree species such as ficus, Albizia, celtis, Musanga cecropoides and others. The trees of the forest range in size from small inches in diameter to gigantic hardwoods which reaching to heights of up to 170 ft. In parts where the high canopy is continuous, there is small elusive patches of sunlight that penetrate through to the forest’s ground. The darkness allows growth of shrubs and small trees that grow under such shaded conditions. The giant trees have buttressed roots which run down on the sides of the tree and extend great distances across the forest floor. This makes the ground a labyrinth of roots that grab the trees and sup nutrients from the shallow forest soil. The labyrinth of the roots makes walking in the forest challenging but adventurous. The soil in the forest is mainly Sandy clay and Sandy clay loam; ranging in color from reddish brown  to yellowish brown and white. The buzzing of bees, in the treetops in search of sweet nourishing nectar, is ever present. Lying a few degrees north of the equator, Ituri forest has an equatorial type of climate. The rainy season is in the months of March to June and September to November with annual rainfall of about 1900mm.During the months of October and November when the rainy season is at its peak, rivers such as Epulu, Ituri and Nepoko overflow their banks causing flooding of the forest. This makes walking through the forest and driving on roads difficult. The dry season which lasts from July to August and December to February has temperatures that range from 25 to 31°C.

Getting there

Attractions

Okapi

The okapi is the dominant species in the wildlife reserve. In the whole world, Okapi species is only found in the democratic republic of Congo in Ituri forest, Okapi wildlife reserve. The forest is a habitant to about 5,000 Okapi species. The okapi is a unique animal that has legs similar to those of a Zebra, with black and white patches; abdomen similar to that of a horse; head and neck similar to that of a giraffe. The species belongs to artiodactyla order and is closely related to the Giraffe. Okapi’s scientific name is Okapia Johnstoni. The name was first described by Ray Lankester, a British zoologist, in 1901. The scientific name was derived from the British governor to Uganda during the colonial period, Sir Harry Johnston; and the generic name Okapi was derived from a word in the Lese Karo language of Kinshasa, o’api. The Okapi and giraffe are the only members of the giraffidae family. The species is primarily diurnal but can be active a few hours in the night. They are herbivorous, feeding on tree leaves and buds, grass, ferns and fungi. Okapis inhabit only in areas with canopy forests at altitude that ranges from 500 to 1500mm. They are endemic to the tropical rainforests in the Democratic republic of Congo.

The species has a gestation period of 440 to 450 days, giving birth to usually a single calf.

Chimpanzees

Sometimes called chimps, the chimpanzees are an exclusive African species of extant great Ape. The species is classified in the primate’s order and Pan Genus, troglodytes. It shares the closest DNA with humans at 98%, unlike other great Apes like the gorilla and other monkeys which share about 95% DNA with humans. The species is omnivorous, eating a wide variety of foods which include fruits, nuts, seeds, insects and others. They prefer living in dense tropical rainforest; but can also be found in woodlands, bamboo forest, swamps and open savannah land.

Facts

  • Their hair is typically black and brown
  • Males and females differ in size and appearance. Adult Males weigh between 40 to 90Kg and grow up to 5ft. Adult females weigh between 30 to 79Kg and grow up to 3ft.
  • They have a life span of up to 70 years.
  • A group’s territory can range from 30 to 150 miles. The males usually patrol the boundaries to look out for intruders. Meeting with rival group results into serious injuries and sometimes death.
  • Alpha male protects the group and leads it to a new location or on a patrol.

Bambuti pygmies

The pygmies are hunter-gatherers and are one of the oldest indigenous people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bambuti are also called Mbuti and are the shortest group of people in Africa with an average height of about 4ft 6inc. The name Bambuti is a collective name for 3 groups of the Ituri pygmies. They include the ASua, Efe and Mbuti. The Sua (Mbuti) speak bila; Efe speak lese; and ASua speak Mangbetu. They live in small bands that vary in composition and size. They are generally formed into patrilineal groups of from 10 to 100 individuals. The tropical rainforest of Ituri provides the community their basic needs such as food, firewood, fresh water, clothing, herbs and other requirements. The Efe are the most widespread group which hunts small animals with bows and arrows. The Bambuti have no political system, chiefs or any council of elders; they settle dispute and problems by general discussion. Marriage among the Bambuti is arranged. Marriage is on a sister exchange basis. A man must arrange marriage of one of the females in his clan. He gives away the female to a man in a different clan; a clan of his prospective bride’s. Few Pygmies are polygamous, family bonds are strong and lasting. They show little concern about the afterlife; the dead are buried in or near their huts. Upon burying the deceased, the camp is abandoned.

They regard the forest as a sacred peaceful place to live; on a contrary, they sing to the forest in appreciation for the care and goodness they benefit from it. They don’t believe in evil spirits or sorcery from the forest. They however sing songs of rejoicing, devotion and praise the forest, an act they believe makes the forest happy. The male carry out hunting and women gather vegetable foods in the forest such as mushrooms.

Other Wildlife attractions

Ituri forest is home to about 4000 forest elephants, 2000 leopards, antelope, rodents, crocodiles, forest buffalo, water chevrotain, and many more mammal species. The reserve has over 300 species bird species; and is one of the most important sites for bird conservation in mainland Africa.

Activities

Nature Walks

Okapi wildlife reserve has a magnificent eco system characterized by a canopy rainforest that covers the ground from sunshine. The forest has ground covered with labyrinth roots. The labyrinth of the roots makes walking in the forest challenging but adventurous. The forest has numerous sounds, from buzzing bees to birds. The sounds give a soothing melody to that will relax your mind. While on the walk, you will be able to view a number of mammal species such as elephants, antelopes, the abundant Okapi and other species; Also, primate species such as chimpanzees and monkeys. You can also swim in the Epulu river to refresh.

Fishing

Some fish species take advantage of nature’s gifts. Species such as catfish, mormyrids and characids seek refuge by keeping close to plants such as the water hyacinth, which grows on the riverbanks. However, Plants and insects found in such habitats provide food for the fish species. Some fish species inhabit fallen trees and submerged logs from riparian forests. There can be fishing on the rivers of Epulu, Ituri and Nepoko; which intersect the Okapi wildlife reserve. Fish species like the tilapia can be caught in the rivers and there after roasted for eating. During the fishing activity, you can refresh by swimming or bathing in the rivers.

Okapi viewing

The animal species is abundant in the park with over 5,000 individuals present. View the harmless Okapi animals as they feed and loiter around in the forest. The species is primarily diurnal but can be active a few hours in the night. They are herbivorous, feeding on tree leaves and buds, grass, ferns and fungi. Okapis inhabit only in areas with canopy forests at altitude that ranges from 500 to 1500mm

Bambuti Community Encounter

The community is an amazing one. All the Bambuti people are short with an average height of about 4ft 6inch. The encounter will involve a community walk in the forest with a Bambuti local guide. You will be able to explore the forest more and discover some of its amazing secrets with guidance from the Bambuti guide. While penetrating through the forest with the Bambuti guide, you will gather fruits and vegetables, an activity done by Bambuti women. If time allows, you will be get engagement in the process of building a Bambuti house, guided by a local. Bambuti people build their houses out of strong sticks erected from the ground. The sticks are tied together with a vine, and then large leaves are used to construct the huts roof. Other activities will involve going out to the forest with the Bambuti people to hunt for bush meat using bow and arrows. You will also be entertained by the locals with traditional dancing and singing.

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