Tragedy at Epulu
June 28, 2012 6:05 PM   Subscribe

The Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a UN World Heritage Site, is home to approximately 5,000 of the estimated 30,000 okapi remaining in the wild. Last week, it was also home to a tragedy.

The Refuge encompasses one-fifth of the Ituri Rainforest, a pristine, "Pleistocene" environment that, in addition to the eponymous okapi,

"also provides refuge to the largest population of forest elephants still present in eastern DRC, estimated at 7,500 individuals, and it is important for the conservation of other forest species such as the bongo, the dwarf antelope, the water chevratain, the forest buffalo and the giant forest hog. It is also documented as one of the most important protected areas in Africa for the conservation of birds, with the presence of numerous emblematic species such as the Congo Peafowl, as well as numerous endemic species in eastern DRC."

It may be difficult to reach, "but you can arrange to go hunting with the Mbuti pygmies through the ICCN, the Congolese wildlife authority, at the Okapi Reserve Capture and Breeding station. You can also arrange trips to walk through the rain forest with a guide and visit the Okapis at the station."

Last Sunday, Mai Mai rebels -- previously blamed for attacks on aid convoys and gorilla hostage-taking -- made Epulu Station, headquarters of the Refuge and center of the community, their latest target. The Station was devastated.
posted by MimeticHaHa (39 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Oh god this is terrible.

. . . . . . .............
posted by winna at 6:14 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

[planet makes facepalm]
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:15 PM on June 28, 2012

horrific. just...gods. horrific.
posted by batmonkey at 6:21 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is awful..
posted by spiderskull at 6:25 PM on June 28, 2012

Mod note: Comment removed. Not okay to include fundraising links outside the original post or the post looks like a set-up for fundraising links. Feel free to contact us or go to MeTa if this is not clear.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:29 PM on June 28, 2012

At least one person is killed per week in disputes over environmental protection or land rights as the competition for natural resources globally becomes increasingly violent, according to a new report.
posted by stbalbach at 6:33 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Am I the only one who has never heard of okapi before?
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:34 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I read the article linked to water chevratain as referring to eleven-toed ungulates, but it turns out they are only even-toed ungulates. However many toes, they didn't deserve this.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:34 PM on June 28, 2012

according to a new report
posted by stbalbach at 6:35 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by rumposinc at 6:41 PM on June 28, 2012

posted by facetious at 6:46 PM on June 28, 2012


Stories like this make me slightly nauseous.
posted by MelanieL at 6:49 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by limeonaire at 7:04 PM on June 28, 2012

I spent some time there, as a tourist, in the early '90s, and was utterly enthralled. I wanted to stay forever, but the staff gently helped me understand that I had absolutely none of the skills they needed, and thus would be nothing but a drain on their slight resources. It was a beautiful place, full of people wanting nothing more than to do good. The locals, the outsiders...working together. Hideous to hear what a terrible, terrible thing has happened.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:10 PM on June 28, 2012 [12 favorites]

posted by Flood at 7:14 PM on June 28, 2012

Over the last 20 years, more than 150 rangers have been killed protecting Virunga National Park. (from the 'latest target' link)

The people who still take on this job... I just can't even imagine this. For this to happen for people who are just trying to do some good in such a hostile setting? And 13 of the okapi whose populations they were working to help preserve. There were only 14 at the station. Why would they kill the okapi? If nothing else they could have at least left them alone. I mean I read the article, I just. Can't understand.

I wish I could find any words to properly express what I guess is some kind of shock and grief and rage despite knowing literally nothing about any of this ten minutes ago.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:22 PM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night. Fuck. Conservation work, and basic research in the developing world, is frequently a dangerous business. I have so much respect for rangers who do this on a daily basis. I work in the Cote d'Ivoire and things have been increasingly hairy. Weighing the dangers as a researcher is scary to me, and then I think about my friends and colleagues and their families who live in these situations and have no real option to weigh against. If the situation where I work deteriorates, well, it'll be problematic for me to finish my dissertation. And it'll be "problematic" for my colleagues and their families to stay alive.

posted by ChuraChura at 7:48 PM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]

My guess it was for shock value, and a kind of "fuck it, nature is ours for the taking so here let's demonstrate it" sentiment. They know that conservation workers care deeply about the animals.

The last article says that it was a kind of revenge.
The attack on the Epulu Station was in retaliation for recent engagements by ICCN rangers that disrupted poaching and mining activities in the Southern part of the Reserve.
I just. Really can't fully fathom that, is all.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:57 PM on June 28, 2012

I just don't like humans at all.
posted by elizardbits at 8:04 PM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


For the animals.


For the people who are being killed by this war.
posted by univac at 8:05 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is chilling and very sad. Okapi have been one of my favorite animals for a long time, and I could spend an absurd amount of time just watching them at the zoo. They were thought by Europeans to be mythical creatures for quite some time, because no explorers had ever seen them and they sound kind of made up. "The African Unicorn."

They're very shy and solitary, and they live deep in the rain forest. They have velvety fur, oversized ears, and blue, prehensile tongues that are long enough to lick the back of their head. Although they look like half-zebras, they're actually the closest living relative of the giraffe. They live about 30 years in captivity, and their babies are pretty darn cute. They're herbivores who supplement their diet by eating clay from riverbanks.

The thought that people would kill so many of them in cold blood, and kill the people who work hard to care for them, makes my blood boil. Fuck those "rebels." They're the worst part of human kind.

If you follow the link to the Okapi Conservation Project website, there's information about how to donate to help them through this. I did.
posted by bookish at 8:06 PM on June 28, 2012 [10 favorites]

Kingsover uses the Okapi as a sort of literary device in The Poisonwood Bible, which is actually one of the better books written about this region.

From the Belgians on down, the whole Congo basin has been one giant man-made disaster after another. I wish somehow the people of that region could develop the political will to band together & stop this bullshit, & maybe the next time the CIA won't interfere.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:30 PM on June 28, 2012

Is this something worthy of a Reddit fundraiser? They just helped teach some bullies here a lesson. I think these bullies need to be taught a lesson, too.

They're attempting to silence the conservationists with their force and numbers. Can we hit back (by donating) with numbers of our own?

I know little about Reddit, or I'd be on this myself...
posted by hambone at 8:56 PM on June 28, 2012


I get the feeling those poacher militants would dig American conservative talk radio hosts.

Wow. Just ... wow.
posted by Alaska Jack at 9:25 PM on June 28, 2012

Rebels fight for something. These people aren't rebels, they're just murderers, rapists, thieves, and poachers.

What's wrong with people? What isn't wrong with people. They value things above lives, except of course for their own.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:43 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:45 PM on June 28, 2012

posted by gusandrews at 9:51 PM on June 28, 2012

God dammit! God dammit. Fuck. Fucking elephant poachers. I wonder what my PI will have to say about this, she does a lot of conservation work in that part of the world. With duikers and gorillas, much of it intended to help prevent and/or track poaching. I'm sure she'll have learned of this already by the time I see her tomorrow.

This is infuriating and depressing news. It's like when Dian Fossey was killed by gorilla poachers. It is wanton destruction and the murder of harmless people who want only to protect and understand the world around them. Fuck those people.

And yet, at the same time, I can't help but wonder at the motivation behind the Mai Mai rebels... what kind of world do you have to live in fir elephant poaching and illegal gold mining to become things to kill and die over? The whole thing is just so completely fucked.
posted by Scientist at 10:04 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I remember when the okapi was brought to the San Diego Zoo and I pestered my parents to go see it. Such a charming animal!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:04 PM on June 28, 2012

This makes me very sad. We actually have okapi at my local zoo. I think I should visit them sometime soon.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:15 PM on June 28, 2012

The thing is, the people who did this are on a whole different wavelength from us here with our computers. I'm not excusing them, but I've seen it, first-hand; to you and me, it's an adorable endangered species... to them, it's a pest that eats the fish or chickens or crops they need to feed their kids, or it's meat on the hoof, or, simply, YES, it pisses them off when rich white folks from America want to give money to help the -animal-, while their kids are hungry (or in this case, are dying in horrible wars.) I don't condone their actions... but love of animals isn't something everyone can afford. And that's a goddamn shame.
posted by The otter lady at 10:44 PM on June 28, 2012 [8 favorites]

I hear you, The otter lady, but I love animals precisely because they don't do shit like this. Whereas these monsters' kids will grow up just like them. If I could save either an okapi or a child, I know which one I would save and I don't think it would be a very popular decision. Maybe that makes me a horrible person but it's honestly how I feel.

This kind of shit gives me evil, evil thoughts about other human beings.

posted by désoeuvrée at 11:34 PM on June 28, 2012

twoleftfeet: "Am I the only one who has never heard of okapi before?"

When I was little the grown-ups made me do a big psychological exam (they thought I was retarded, but I was just deaf). One of the hundreds of animals I named for them as they were casting about for something I was keen on was the Okapi, which I described as a "cross between a zebra and a giraffe." They didn't believe me, but they looked it up. Thankfully whatever book they used had it, or I'd have been carted off to wherever it is they sent kids like me.
posted by klanawa at 12:39 AM on June 29, 2012

posted by TrinsicWS at 2:36 AM on June 29, 2012

Oh this is so terrible. Okapi are lovely creatures.

Not to mention the poor people also lost in this tragedy.
posted by gomichild at 3:20 AM on June 29, 2012

This makes me sad. And angry. I don't know who the Mai Mai rebels are but what they stand for, but I now hate them.

Am I the only one who has never heard of okapi before?

Fascinating creatures--look like zebra-horse hybrid. However, they ar actually more closely related to the giraffe. Nature is awesome.
posted by MrGuilt at 6:46 AM on June 29, 2012

>Am I the only one who has never heard of okapi before?

If not for Douglas Adams...
posted by mgrichmond at 7:14 AM on June 29, 2012

The Otter Lady, while that is a good point, I think it dramatically oversimplifies the Mai Mai and the situation in the DRC right now. This is part of what is basically a Central African civil war; the Mai-Mai are a loose conglomeration of guerilla groups, ex-military, mercenaries, etc. etc. They're not killing gorillas and okapis specifically because they can't afford to care about animals because they're too poor. They're killing gorillas and okapis, and rangers, because it's a PR move. When else do people hear about the war in East Kivu?

There *are* many places where human-wildlife conflicts are due to animals crop raiding, animals killing stock, and places where the need for protein is in direct conflict with conservation aims. These are serious issues that are being addressed both by Western conservation organizations and grassroots conservation organizations run by local populations. But to characterize the continued destruction of Congo - which we generally only hear about in context with killing gorillas, or okapis, or kind of generically - as a consequence of misguided conservation policies is only scratching the tiniest bit of the surface.

If you are interested in the broader sociopolitical context of the Congolese War, I suggest the excellent books In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo and Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of Congo and the Great War of Africa, and . There's more to it than people killing eachother over wildlife and gold.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:14 AM on June 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

It deals mostly with the 19th century, but anyone who's interested in how the DR got so fucked up in the first place might like to read King Leopold's Ghost.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:28 AM on June 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

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