Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to a significant population of this endemic species. Now rampant gold mining, especially by the Chinese Kimia Mining, could spell the end for the protected area and endanger this rare species. This is the reason for a petition sent directly to the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Félix Tshisekedi and to Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde
Only 30,000 okapis are left on the planet and human encroachment is steadily eating away at their habitat. Five thousand of the remaining population live in Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a protected area of nearly 670,000 hectares of mostly pristine rainforest that is also the habitat of chimpanzees and numerous other rare or endangered animals, as well as 376 species of birds.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – a country with one of the highest levels of biodiversity on earth – has a unique responsibility to protect its forests, also in view of their role in fighting the climate crisis.
Unfortunately, its status as a World Heritage Site is not in itself enough to protect Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Rampant illegal gold mining is destroying forests, disturbing the natural habitat of numerous plant species and wildlife, polluting waters with toxic chemicals like mercury, and impacting the health of local communities and indigenous peoples (The Pygmies). The mines are attracting outsiders in search of a livelihood into the region and causing a rise in bush meat hunting.
In the center of the most recent case is Kimia Mining, a Chinese company based in Bunia, Ituri Province that obtained illegitimate permits from the ministry of mines and is operating at a semi-industrial level within the reserve.
According to a UN report, high-ranking officers of Congo’s army FARDC are involved in the illegal mining activities. Government officials turn a blind eye as a considerable amount of the gold is smuggled across the border to Uganda. Mining is tightly connected to conflict and violence in eastern DRC.
Given the political will, protecting DRC's nature would not be difficult: the mining activities violate environmental laws and the mining code that prohibits activities harmful to nature. Furthermore, the right and duty of every Congolese citizen to protect the environment is enshrined in Article 53 of the constitution.
The Okapi Wildlife Reserve of DRC was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. See: Okapi Wildlife Reserve. However, given the state of conservation of the site, the World Heritage Committee entered the okapi wildlife reserve on the 1997 List of World Heritage in Danger: State of Conservation. Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
Therefore, we call on President Tshisekedi and his government to enforce laws and stop mining activities in the okapi nature reserve and other protected areas.
Okapi National Park is not the only protected area in DRC threatened by resource extraction: in Virunga National Park, oil exploitation could destroy gorilla habitat, while gold mining is also a threat to Itombwe Nature Reserve.
Four out of five of DRC’s World Heritages Sites are listed as “in danger”; the fifth, Salonga National Park, has just had its “in danger” status lifted following the government's announcement to end plans for oil drilling.
Campaigns are underway for the conservation of Virunga and Itombwe by issuing petitions.
Please sign to stop illegal gold mining in the okapi wildlife reserve. Please help to stop illegal gold mining in Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Here you can read the whole letter and sign the petition.
Photo. The okapi (Okapia johnstoni) resembles a small giraffe with a short neck and stripes like a zebra (© meunierd/shutterstock.com)