Okapi Faunal Reserve

The solitary okapi resembles a committee-designed animal if ever one did—reddish-brown-to black half-horse with striped zebra legs, half-giraffe with a tongue long enough to wash its ears (handy also for stripping leaves). About 5,000 of their world population of 30,000 live in Okapi Faunal Reserve and World Heritage Site, a 5,490-square-mile (14,220-km2) reserve created to protect them, which occupies over a fifth of the vast, rich Ituri forest laced with tributary streams and rivers in the Congo (Zaire) River basin in northeast DRC.

With them are forest elephants, tiny, tusked water chevrotains, bongos, burrowing aardvarks, water-adapted sitatunga antelopes, African golden cats, leopards, armored giant ground pangolins, giant forest or aquatic genets, giant forest hogs, and one of the highest number of little forest duiker antelopes in Africa, including blue, yellow-backed, white-bellied, and blackfronted. Among 13 primate species are owl-faced guenons and crested mangabeys.

Some 329-plus bird species include golden-naped and yellow-legged weavers found only here, lyre-tailed honeyguides, bare-cheeked trogons, sandy scops owls, Congo serpent eagles, joyful greenbuls, and spot-breasted and olive ibises.

This beautiful reserve is one of several impacted by spreading civil conflicts which have brought looting, poaching, and serious damage to facilities. The reserve formerly had good access along the trans-African highway. Based at Epulu are lodging, hiking trails, park staff, and tours of a breeding center set up in 1952 to supply okapis to zoos around the world. Institutional support and technical assistance have been provided to park management by WWF, WCS, and others.

NOTE: Visitors should be warned of a tourist scam in the Epulu area involving baby chimps, in which visitors are told the baby will be eaten unless they buy it. If tourists do, another baby is stolen (its mother killed) and sold to another tourist. So, hard as it is, don’t buy the chimp—just report to authorities.