Six people and 14 rare okapi at a conservation center in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were brutally murdered June 24 by mai mai rebels. The killings occurred in retaliation against staff at the Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature for thwarting the rebels’ elephant poaching operations in the region. Two guards, the wife of one of the guards, and three civilians were among the dead.
The Institute is home to the Okapi Wildlife Reserve—a center devoted to conserving the rare okapi and helping improve the lives of local people. It supports programs for sustainable food and fuel, safe water, and education, and helps survey the area for illegal mining, poaching and logging activities that rob local people of their community resources. Some of the slain okapi had been living at the reserve for two decades.
The human death toll would have been much higher had the nearly 100 staff members and scientists not fled on foot to the nearest city 50 miles away, or escaped to hide in the jungle for two days. The atrocities did not end with the murders, however. Jeffrey Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare reports that “the poachers also looted and burned the local village of Epulu, raped the women, and burned down the conservation center which had been functioning as an education center and resource for local people for a quarter century.”
The Wildlife Conservation Network is collecting contributions for the emergency fund for the Okapi Conservation Project, which manages the okapi reserve. Contributions can be made to: http://www.WildNet.org/support (click on “okapi” on the “program designation” pull down menu).