Conserving okapi in DRC
The okapi, a close relative of the giraffe, is endemic to the tropical forests of central and north-eastern Democratic of Congo (DRC). It is listed as Near Threatened in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but due to a combination of its shy nature and the challenges of fieldwork in DRC, accurate and up to date information on okapi across much of its range is lacking. As a result, ZSL has been leading a collaborative effort to carry out the first range-wide conservation status review of this little-known but iconic species. This was completed in early 2013, and the status review served as the background document for the okapi conservation strategy development workshop described below.
ZSL's long history with okapi
ZSL's relationship with the okapi dates back to its original discovery. The type specimen, which originated from the Watalinga forest in the north of Virunga National Park, was scientifically described at a meeting of the Society in 1901.
In 2008 ZSL and the Congolese conservation authority, ICCN, returned to survey the Watalinga forest and reconfirmed the presence of okapi in the park, not officially recorded since 1959. In doing so, the team captured the first ever images of a wild okapi captured by camera traps attached at set intervals to trees and left for long periods to be automatically triggered by passing animals.
or take a look at our OKAPI BLOG
ZSL's study also investigated the threats faced by the Watalinga okapi population and concluded that its extinction was likely unless immediate conservation action was taken. This was as a result of the rehabilitation of a road cutting through the park, causing increased pressure from hunting for meat and skins and deforestation for charcoal and timber collection, as well as likely fragmenting the already small okapi population.
For more information, download our Okapi information sheet (1.3 MB) or our
report on the conservation status of okapi in Virunga National Park (1.8 MB).
ZSL also breeds captive okapi at ZSL London Zoo and is a member of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP).
Leading range-wide okapi conservation
Through this study and consultation with partners working across DRC, it became clear that okapi are rare and face tremendous threats to survival across much of their range. As a result, in 2010 ZSL launched a major new collaborative project to assess the status of okapi across its range and develop the first species conservation strategy.
The project aims to:
- Collate historic and current okapi survey data and carry out genetic analysis to understand the distribution, abundance and threats to okapi across its range
- Develop new tools for improved okapi monitoring
- Train staff from ICCN and other partner organisations in okapi monitoring methods and analysis, thus building capacity for future okapi management
- Carry out a reassessment of the species conservation status
- Develop an okapi conservation strategy through a participatory, multi-stakeholder process
- Support the implementation of the conservation strategy and continued monitoring of key okapi populations
Development of first-ever species-wide okapi conservation strategy
Following months of planning and preparation, a multi-stakeholder workshop to develop the first-ever species-wide conservation strategy for the okapi was held from 22-25 May in Kisangani, on the banks of the river Congo in central DRC.
The workshop was hosted by the Governor of DRC’s Orientale Province, which is in the centre of the okapi’s range, and organised by ZSL and the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group in partnership with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN). Around 40 fieldworkers, government representatives and community chiefs from across the range attended this collaborative, participatory workshop, some journeying by river or road for up to three days each way, demonstrating the importance of this initiative for Congo’s flagship species.
Workshop participants first reviewed and updated the okapi status review prepared by ZSL, and then agreed a vision, goal, objectives and activities necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the species. Once finalised, the new IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group will work to support ICCN and partners to raise awareness and support to implement this strategy.
The workshop highlighted that the elusive okapi, or forest giraffe, which is endemic to eastern and north-eastern DRC and an iconic species for the country, is faring worse than scientists previously thought, being threatened throughout its range by the presence of dangerous rebels, elephant poachers and illegal miners. The picture to the left shows an okapi murdered during an attack on the Epulu research centre in the Okapi Faunal Reserve (RFO). For updates on the ongoing recovery within the RFO visit our partners at the Okapi Conservation Project.
ZSL is leading this range-wide okapi project on behalf of ICCN, and relies on the efforts of multiple partners working across the entire okapi range and beyond, including Gilman International Conservation, the Okapi Conservation Project, Wildlife Conservation Society, Lukuru Foundation, Frankfurt Zoological Society and University of Cardiff. The project is generously funded by the UK government's Darwin Initiative, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mohammed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.
Support our work
We are currently seeking additional funds to support further okapi surveys and to develop and implement the okapi conservation action plan. If you would like to support this work, please Donate now