Okapi (Photo: Kathy Newton)
Not as well-known as other large African mammals, the endangered okapi (also called forest giraffe) is found only in the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The DRC is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world and is the exclusive home to 1,500 species. The most prominent threat to the okapi and other species in the DRC is habitat loss due to illegal mining and logging that occurs on protected lands. The okapi is also threatened by poaching and the bushmeat trade (illegal hunting and sale of wildlife as meat). A lack of political stability in the DRC makes effective conservation action even more challenging.
The Zoo supports the efforts of the Okapi Conservation Project, a dedicated community of individuals working in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve inside the Ituri Forest. Established in 1992 and listed as a World Heritage Site in 1996, the Reserve is 1.5 times the area of Yellowstone National Park. It serves to protect its rare plants and animals as well as the lifestyle and culture of its indigenous people through wildlife protection, agroforestry and community assistance. Recent accomplishments include the initiation of a camera trap study and the elimination of more than 70 illegal poaching and mining camps.