Cher and I just finished up 4 days in the Ituri forest flying over the Epulu Okapi Reserve. The ICCN and the Reserve are attempting to save certain areas of the forest so that they are not destroyed and all the animals gone forever. It is an uphill battle because humans are naturally greedy and selfish and would like to get everything they can for themselves. Maybe that sounds a bit harsh but…hey, it’s true!
It is good to be a part of this effort as this is a World Heritage Site, a one-of-a-kind place with literally one-of-a-kind animals and habitat.
So, we fly low over the forest looking for encroachment, deforestation, miners and poachers and then they send game scouts to those areas to deal with the situation. We saw a fresh elephant kill in one of the most beautiful places in the park. It is sad to see the loss of these amazing Forest Elephants that are under such pressure and I like being part of the effort to help save them.
There are also many happy things on the surveys. Mining has been reduced in many areas along the boundaries of the park, though there is still a ways to go to eradicate it.
The okapi are always interesting to see. They are only found in Congo and only in this area of the Ituri Forest. We also got to see the reserve’s new, young baby which was really fun.
These secretive animals are so rarely seen that to see babies is a real treat. Like Bushbuck, the mother will hide them away in a secluded, sheltered place, coming back to nurse after feeding on her own for hours. To see a baby Okapi out in the forest would be an incredibly lucky event, but the reserve has a good history of breeding between the captive animals which are kept here for research and this two month old baby is one of their success stories. After twenty-five years of working with them, Rosie Ruf, who should have a Doctorate degree in Okapi behavior, has discovered much about their habits and habitat. For instance, when a female becomes pregnant and while feeding her young she will increase her water intake by 5 times; from about 20-30 liters a day to 100 liters a day. And she has also learned that you can identify each individual Okapi by the shape of its droppings. Fascinating!
It is also interesting interacting with the Pygmies. I love the wealth of abilities and knowledge of the forest which they have passed down through generations and I try to learn as much as I can from them. Besides making all their bows, arrows and spears they also make catapults, sling shots, out of natural rubber that they find in the forest. I was too busy flying the survey to go with them and learn how it is done this time, but I arranged for next time and I am very excited about that. I have a “wrist-rocket” manufactured in the States using surgical rubber tubing but the Pygmies rubber from the forest actually shoots faster than that. Zaire, the chief of the Pygmies in this area, sat in the pilot’s seat of the Cessna 206 as we talked over who would teach me on my return. It was an unusual experience and the kind of cultural thing that I love. Cher and I are very blessed to spend time like this in the bush and we relish each opportunity.