Okapi National Park
Okapi National park is a World Heritage site located in the north east of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Ituri forest. Ituri forest is a large rainforest in the Ituri Province of Congo. There are about 26 provinces in Congo and Ituri is one of them with Bunia as the capital city. This forest derives its name from the Ituri River that flows all the way from the Aruwimi River pouring into Congo. This rainforest covers an area of 63,00 square kilometers with an average humidity of about 85% of the average temperature of 31 degrees C. Okapi wildlife reserve covers a fifth of this rain forest. This rain forest is also home to the Mbuti pygmies that are famously known for their hunting and gathering skills. They are usually found living in the equatorial rainforests of Africa. Pygmies are usually identified by their short height and short body features of about one and a half meters on average. Ituri rainforest also borders Uganda and South Sudan and is on the western side of Lake Albert.
Okapi Wildlife Reserve is the home to the Okapis about 5,000 okapis have been spotted in the reserve along with about 2,000 leopards, 4,000 elephants, chimpanzees, forest buffalos, and crocodiles that enjoy the several riverbanks of the rivers crossing through this reserve like the Ituri river, Epulu and Nepoko rivers. The Okapi Wildlife reserve also has about 300 bird species in its territories and is one of Africa’s recognized as important bird sites for conservation. This reserve was created in 1992 under the Okapi conservation project, a non-profit organization and was added on the list of World Heritage Sites in danger in 1997 mainly because of the deforestation in the area, and hunting of animals for bush meat. The Okapi conservation project supports the reserve in a way that they are responsible for the training and equipping of the rangers and guards of the reserve so as to serve the reserve and the neighboring communities of the reserve. This part of the country has also had its share of fights that have seen the staff of the forest flee and put the conservation efforts on hold as of 2005. Okapi National park not only has the country’s national animal but also has some great flora like the Mangongo tree whose leaves are usually used by the pygmies to build their homes.
The Ituri rainforest harbors the Okapi which is the national animal of Congo. The Okapis is also known as the forest giraffe/ zebra giraffe and the Congolese giraffe. The okapi is from the family of the Giraffidae along with the giraffe and are the only living ones of this family. The Okapi is a dark striped animal that has close resemblance with the giraffe but with markings similar to those of zebras. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the Okapis are categorized under the threatened/ endangered species. The Okapi is a 4.9 feet tall animal with an average weight of about 200 to 350 kgs and a body length of 8.2 feet. They are day animals but may be active in the night hours as well. They are also strictly herbivores that feed on leaves, tree barks, and shoots, fruits, grasses, and ferns. Okapi tends to stay in forests at high altitudes of 1600 to 4,900 feet. This is an endemic species of the Democratic Republic of Congo and can be seen in the Okapi National Park and the Maiko National park and also in the river basins of Rubi, Ubangi, and Lake Tele. It was also once spotted in the Virunga National Park in 2008.
Okapi national park is governed by the Congolese Institute for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) and is also where the Epulu Conservation and Research Centre that gives the harmed Okapis another chance at life and was founded in 1928 by an American anthropologist Patrick Putnam and also a lot of research is carried out at this facility. This facility obtained its name from the Epulu river of the Ituri forest.