Administration building for ICCN at the Epulu Station after being looted and burnt.
We were enjoying a lovely evening together at our All Congo MAF Family Conference at the Kenya coast when my cell rang and it was Rosie Ruf calling from the states. She was visiting the Gilman Foundation there which supports her work in Epulu with the Okapi. She asked if we had any news on Epulu. It had been attacked by Simba Mai Mai at around 0300 AM and she thought we might have heard something. I told her we were not in Bunia but would check with our sources. The news was not good. The village town of Epulu was still held by the attackers. There was no signal coming from the ICCN internet, which we are the provider for. Not a good sign. As information started coming in over the next few days it only got worse. A UN helicopter flew over and reported burning buildings and homes, bodies, and the bridge over the river had militia barricades. Villagers had fled into the forest along with rangers and their families as well as WCS workers. Many had not been heard from for days and were feared captured. Joel, a young American working with WCS whom I have flown in the past had called me the day before the attack sounding like he wanted something but just as I told him I was in Nairobi and going on to Malindi on the coast, we were cut off and now I was feeling like he had wanted an evacuation flight and I had not been there for him. He was among those unaccounted for.
It took some days before a response could take place and the militia left as the army came in. We got reports from other sources including pictures of the destruction and heard more accurate facts. 7 were confirmed dead around the station including 2 rangers and 1 of their wives. All the captive Okapi killed. Heavy looting of equipment and money that was obviously thought out in advance. Abductions and rapes. 15 women still missing. Cher asked me why people do these things. They are lawless, mean men who want what they want and don’t care who they hurt to get it. It seems there may be lulls in this kind of behavior, but it goes in cycles, over and over again, not just here but all over the world. We are having a bad run of it here right now.
I have put much up on the blog showing the beauty and peace of the Epulu ICCN station and the Okapi Reserve. To compare those pix in the photo/slideshow section and now is a sad sight. But maybe if it motivates you to action it is worth looking at.
One of the 14 Okapi from the captive breeding program at Epulu killed during the attack. One was only months old. They were ambassadors for the Okapi Reserve and it is a great loss.
Since writing this it is reported that another 9 people were killed by the same group along the Epulu/Mambasa road.