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The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) started the okapi project (funded by the EU) two months ago in the Watalinga (or Semliki) forest of northern Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Luckily for our team, the northern sector of the park is the most accessible in terms of security and access to the park’s northern forest due to the rehabilitation of a road passing through it to connect with Uganda to the east.
The Watalinga forest is where okapis were ‘rediscovered’ in 2006, when WWF and then by WCS in 2007, recorded evidence of their presence during surveys – having not been documented in Virunga National Park for nearly 50 years. However, when we talked to local people, very few of them said they had seen them in the wild.
With Stuart, who is overseeing the okapi project, we trained the group of 9 Congolese wildlife authority (ICCN) rangers who are based at the two patrol posts in the Watalinga forest on how to use camera traps, and helped them to set up the camera trapping survey. We also carried out interviews with the communities around the park to find out what the local population thinks of the okapis, if they still exist and where, how many are left and if they are hunted for bushmeat.
Okapi are the shyest animals you can imagine – which is why after two weeks of work placing the cameras in the forest, we just saw droppings and other signs of their presence, but never actually saw them. So we are so happy that now we have managed to catch them on camera!
We used highly sophisticated camera traps to capture good quality colour images of these fascinating mammals, which are most closely related to giraffes, and only exist in DRC.
Have a look at the photo album slide show so far. These are the results of only two weeks of having the camera traps in place, so come back in a couple of weeks to see if there are new and even more exciting photos of okapis and other animals!