The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, (UNESCO), is calling on international donors to help rebuild the Epulu Station in D.R. Congo as it launches an appeal in partnership with flora and Fauna International under the Rapid Response Facility.
UNESCO hopes to raise £80,000 by 20th July in order to get the rangers back in the field to protect the wildlife in the World Heritage Site of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
The appeal was launched as news that the death toll had increased to 7 following the attack on the station and local village. some reports are also putting the number of women raped by the attackers as high as 70.
The attack occurred on Sunday 24th June when up to 150 armed poachers and bandits, led by by the notorious elephant poacher known as Morgan, raided the government conservation headquarters, the adjoining okapi conservation centre and the local village.
Before D. R. Congo troops backed up by United Nations peacekeepers could bring the area back under control the attackers had looted and burnt buildings and equipment. It has also been announced that over 30 local people have been kidnapped by the Mai Mai Simba rebels in order to help the bandits carry the looted goods.
The troops and UN peacekeepers are now in pursuit of the poachers and bandits.
The attack was carried out in retaliation of the growing success of the rangers in tackling elephant poaching and illegal mining in the region.
UNESCO are concerned that the loss of buildings and equipment could hamper the protection of the many endemic and endangered species that is found in the forests.
“Unless we can reverse this situation quickly, this will be a real setback for the conservation in Okapi Wildlife Reserve, home to the largest remaining population of forest elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We can’t let those poachers kill rangers and hunt wildlife with impunity,” urged Guy Debonnet, of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.
“The Reserve is a World Heritage Site. Funds from the campaign will be used to protect its elephants, whose population has been declining rapidly because of the ivory poaching. They will also help to re-establish the Reserve’s successful okapi breeding programme, which has played a critical role in preserving the gene pool of this rare forest giraffe. 13 okapi were killed in the raid. Buildings will be rebuilt and equipment repaired or replaced. Perhaps most importantly, the families of those who were killed will be supported. “
The public are also able to support the appeal directly through the Rapid Response Facility web site.
Update 10th July: The UN peacekeepers have now left the area and the region is being secured by D R Congo government troops. Most of those kidnapped by the bandits have returned back to Epulu Station or back to the local village.
Staff are returning to the ICCN and Opaki Conservation Project. They are now assessing the damage, repairing accommodation and restocking essential supplies including medical stocks.
External sites: Rapid Response Facility – Epulu Station.