July 22, 2012 Update:
Dear Friends of Naples Zoo,
As Director of Conservation, I am all too familiar with the challenges of saving endangered species in their native habitats. Friends within the Zoo community involved in conservation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have shared that Congolese rebels attacked the Institute in the Congo for Conservation of Nature headquarters (ICCN) and Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) base of operations in Epulu.
Rebels killed locals including 2 wildife rangers and one ranger's wife. In addition to murdering, looting and burning the conservation projects resources, the rebels also killed 13 okapi and injured another. These wondrous creatures are the only living relatives of giraffes. They were not even known to science until 1900. The early reports indicate the destruction is far worse than anyone could have imagined.
Government Congolese soldiers and UN troops were in pursuit of the rebels but the situation was complicated as dozens of hostages were taken from Epulu to carry the stolen property. Most hostages were released and walked back to Epulu. Heartbreakingly, 11 women are still being held, but no soldiers are in pursuit.
These rebels are not fighting for a political cause. They are elephant poachers and illegal miners. This attack on the ICCN was retaliation for recent efforts that disrupted their poaching and mining activities. The rebels want to reopen the mines and poach wildlife without interference. The OCP was also targeted because of their significant support of ICCN operations and personnel.
On a personal note, I have friends from Congo and Rwanda including a young woman who is a refugee from the civil war in the DRC who has been staying with my wife, daughter, and I for the last few months. This country has many profound difficulties. The individuals who work so hard to protect nature in these circumstances are dedicated beyond measure. Please consider making a donation so they can rebuild and continue.
Help is still needed: The Wildlife Conservation Network has offered to collect contributions for the emergency fund while the ICCN focuses efforts on rebuilding the Station and keeping programs operating that aid the local communities. Over $60,000 has been donated to date to help pay for immediate medical needs, food, and repair homes. Full evaluation is being done and interim plans put in place to see what all is needed.
Read more complete reports in the Okapi Conservation Projects updated news