JACKSONVILLE, Fla., June 25, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Early in the morning on Sunday, Simba rebels (Mai Mai) attacked the Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) and headquarters for the Okapi Wildlife Reserve near the village of Epulu in the northeastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to the Okapi Conservation Project, at least five guards were killed, and destruction of buildings and looting has occurred. Fighting his way past the rebels, the reserve's Conservator Gishlain Somba escaped and walked through the night to Mambassa, where he is coordinating with the Congolese Army (FARDC) being deployed to the area, along with top rangers from Virunga National Park.
"We are gravely concerned about the fate of our 100 staff members and the 14 okapi at the breeding and research station," said John Lukas, Founder of the Okapi Conservation Project. "As soon as the area is safe, we will go and provide whatever help we can."
The Okapi is the flagship species for one of the most biologically diverse spots on Earth—the Democratic Republic of Congo's Ituri Rainforest. Today, there are approximately only 10,000 – 20,000 okapi in the wild.
To make a donation to help the local people, rebuild the conservation station and provide assistance to the ICCN to continue to protect the wildlife of the Ituri Forest, please visit http://www.okapiconservation.org/.
About the Okapi Conservation Project
Initiated in 1987, the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) is located within the Ituri Forest, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the most biologically diverse country in Africa. The objective of OCP is to conserve the okapi in the wild while preserving the cultural and biological dynamics of the ecosystem. This is supported by the OCP program areas of agro-forestry, conservation education, alternate livelihoods, and community assistance, coupled with direct support for the Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) to protect the wildlife and forest of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. In 1992 the Okapi Wildlife Reserve was created to provide shelter to the okapi in its native habitat and safeguard the incredible diversity of species found in the region. In 1996, it became a World Heritage Site and since 1997, the Okapi Wildlife Reserve has been listed as a World Heritage Site in danger.
SOURCE Okapi Conservation Project