Okapis – in danger of extinction
Zoo Berlin is one of the very few zoos in Europe that keeps exotic Okapis . The close relatives of the giraffe, with the chestnut to blackish brown fur colour and zebra-like striped upper thighs, are endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo – that is, they don't live anywhere else in the world in the wild. Their population was recently estimated to be only between 35,000 to 50,000 individuals – on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which makes the okapi therefore classified as critically endangered.
The reasons for the dramatic decline in the Okapi population are diverse: armed conflicts in areas of the planet torn apart by civil war, illegal logging and mining to extract gold and coltan, which enormously reduces the habitat as well as unending illegal hunting due the high demand for poached meat.
Zoo Berlin contributes to the Okapi Conservation Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
The working site of theOkapi Conservation Project, financially supported by Zoo Berlin, is located in the middle of the Okapi habitat. The conservation project, which was established in 1987, is committed to the conservation of the okapi as well as the ecosystem with its great biodiversity in the Ituri forest, a 175,000 km2 area in northeastern DRC. Approx 5,000 okapis live in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve on 13,700 km2 of this lowland rainforest, which was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. A research and conservation station has also been set up here, with the aim of protecting the okapis and their habitat, while the biological and cultural diversity of the Ituri forest should be preserved.
Improving nature conservation hand in hand with the local population
The inhabitants of the surrounding villages are involved with as many of the nature conservation measures as possible, in which they are taught and trained in the areas of, for example, ranger work – this creates new perspectives. Sanitary facilities such as schools, hospitals and fresh water supply systems were constructed with the locals learning the modern methods of agriculture that bring higher yields and are kinder to the environment. Alternative protein sources are proposed in the form of cane rat breeding to reduce the demand for poached meat ('bushmeat').
Back to basics – reconstruction of the conservation station after rebel attack
Rebel groups have unfortunately been rampaging through the region for many years now, the activities of which are funded through poaching. June 2012 saw an act of vengeance being taken by Mai Mai rebels on the okapi conservation station as well as the village of Epulu. Six people and all fourteen okapis were killed in the attack. The whole camp was destroyed, equipment and medicines were stolen and several people from the village were kidnapped, returning in part only after the passing of several months.
Despite this deep hit, the project and the local people decided to reconstruct the station to once again push for the conservation of the okapis. Zoo Berlin actively supports this project with financial contributions.