Okapi are beautiful, elusive animals in the giraffe family. They are well adapted to their dense forest environment, having excellent hearing, strong bodies for moving through the forest, and oily hair which acts as waterproofing. Their distinctive, striped rump markings function as camouflage in the light-soaked understory, helping them hide from leopards, their main predator. They move quietly and are almost impossible to observe in the wild. Check out this new, rare camera trap footage of a wild okapi at Okapi Wildlife Reserve:
October 18 marked the second annual World Okapi Day. Once again, GRACE educators and other staff led the local community in the festivities. GRACE’s focus is on Grauer’s gorillas, so why celebrate a forest giraffe?
Despite being very different animals, Grauer’s gorillas and okapi actually have a lot in common. Both are only found in remote parts of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), sometimes even in the same forests. Okapi are thought to live in the northwestern part of Tayna Nature Reserve, which is the reserve near GRACE that is home to around 300 Grauer’s gorillas. Because they live in areas that are difficult to access and study, both okapi and Grauer’s gorillas are not well known to the western world. Okapi were not even described scientifically until the early 20th century! Nevertheless, both animals are a source of pride for the Congolese people. In DRC, you will see okapi depicted on water bottles and stamps and gorillas on statues in hotels and along roads. Because both animals are well-known locally, they have an important role to play as conservation ambassadors and umbrella species. If we protect them, we protect all species that coexist in their habitats. Therefore, it is very important to celebrate okapi!
Around 2,000 people took part in the GRACE World Okapi Day festivities. GRACE staff set the tone by dressing in brown, black, and white to symbolize okapi colors. We also hosted a movie event for our staff and showed films about local wildlife. GRACE educators Sims Guy Mumbere and Gracianne Basyanirwa took to the airwaves at our local radio station, Radio Télévision Communautaire Tayna, to talk about the significance of World Okapi Day and about the importance of conserving Tayna Nature Reserve. Radio is a wonderful educational tool in Congo because it allows us to efficiently reach a large audience. Our radio station recently experienced power issues but thanks to our partners, Nashville Zoo, the radio now runs on solar power. We’re back on the air!
Educators also spent time with pupils at nearby Muyisa Primary School where they gave lessons about okapi and wildlife conservation. The children then had fun making okapi drawings.
Our education program always tries to link conservation messages with conservation actions. One popular action is planting fast-growing trees such as eucalyptus to help prevent erosion, a problem in our mountainous area, and also to provide an alternative to extracting trees from gorilla habitat for people’s fuel and building needs. In the past year, we have planted over 3,000 trees with our conservation clubs and local women’s groups. The men of the village wanted to pitch in as well, so our tree planting this time involved the women’s groups plus men both from the local football team and elders from the community. We planted 450 trees! We closed the day with a football match, since no celebration in Katoyo is complete without one! It was a great opportunity to deliver conservation messages to a large audience.
We are proud to celebrate okapi and will continue to work to conserve them along with Grauer’s gorillas, and all of DRC’s wildlife. To learn more about okapi, download this fact sheet (which also features a photo of GRACE gorilla Tumaini!) and visit the website of Okapi Conservation Project.
Below is a slideshow with more photos from GRACE’s 2018 celebration of World Okapi Day: