The Okapi Faunal Reserve is a huge tract of moist semi-evergreen lowland forest, with swamp-forest and, along roads, secondary forest, in north-eastern DR Congo. Part of the large Ituri Forest, Okapi lies between approximately 1°N in the south, 28°E in the west, the Nepoko river in the north, and the Mambassa–Andudu road in the east. The Ituri and the Epulu are the main rivers. The terrain is gently undulating with some higher hills in the north. Dominant tree species include Cynometra alexandri, Julbernardia seretii and Gilbertiodendron dewevrei. There are areas in which G. dewevrei occurs as monodominant stands, but the other forest-types are noted for their richness. The site is one of the largest tracts of intact forest remaining on the rim of the Congo basin. The forest is important as the home of the hunter-gatherer Mbuti and Efé pygmies. They live in association with indigenous Bantu and Sudanic-speaking shifting cultivators. Human population densities in the region are low and people are mostly concentrated along the few existing roads. A major part of the forest is free of permanent settlements. Rainfall averages between 1,650 mm and 1,750 mm per year.
See Box and Tables 2 and 3 for key species. The rare Ploceus flavipes and P. aureonucha occur; the former is known only from the Ituri forest and all recent sightings are from the reserve, the latter has been recorded from one other site only. It is probable that Afropavo congensis occurs. The monodominant Gilbertiodendron forest appears to be important habitat for Zoothera thrushes, in which at least three species occur. In addition, three species of the Afrotropical Highlands biome have been recorded (see Table 3).
Non-bird biodiversity: The reserve contains the largest population in existence of the endemic Okapia johnstoni (LR/nt) (estimated at 3,900–6,350 animals in 1996) and one of the largest of forest elephant Loxodonta africana cyclotis (EN) (4,750–10,100 animals). Other mammals of global conservation concern include Hyemoschus aquaticus (DD), Osbornictis piscivora (DD) and Tragelaphus euryceros (LR/nt). Of particular interest is the presence of 13 species of primate, amongst which are Pan troglodytes (EN)(7,500–12,000 individuals), Cercopithecus hamlyni (LR/nt) and C. l’hoesti (LR/nt), which constitutes one of the richest assemblages recorded from any African forest. The site is also particularly rich in butterfly species.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The site was established as a reserve in 1992 and was named a World Heritage Site in 1996. The reserve is managed by ICCN, but due to lack of sufficient personnel, equipment and infrastructure, the capacity to manage the reserve effectively is extremely limited. In recent years, support has been provided by the World Wide Fund for Nature, Wildlife Conservation Society and Gilman International Conservation. The interest in, and protection of, the area dates from colonial times and is linked to the occurrence of Okapi. In the early 1950s, a government station was established at Epulu to capture Okapi, using indigenous capture techniques and employing local forest peoples. Moreover, a unique system of locally-controlled forest reserves was established to serve as Okapi capture zones. Although tradition has protected these reserves from agricultural incursions and excessive hunting, conditions are now changing, with growing numbers of immigrant farmers and prospectors descending on the area in search of land and gold. At least 10,000 people now live in the reserve (1.5 inhabitants/km²), including four villages with 500 to 1,700 inhabitants. Poaching has become heavy in the south of the site, with Elephant particularly targeted. The pygmies, who have traditionally exploited the forest in a sustainable manner, have become more dependent on trade with the increasing Bantu population and, in some cases, have been reported to hunt game for the Bantu for commercial exploitation. Due to logistical problems, significant portions of the reserve are rarely or never visited by ICCN guards.A research project has been based at Epulu since the early 1980s and has been supported since 1986 by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Besides conducting the first study of Okapi in the wild, this project has included long-term studies of natural and selectively-logged forest and research into the socio-economic impact of human migration. The captive Okapi in semi-natural enclosures at the station attract a certain number of tourists; however, tourism has declined dramatically because of the very bad state of the access road. With the recently built airstrip it is hoped that number of visitors will increase once stability returns to the region.
BirdLife International (2020) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Okapi Faunal Reserve. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 09/07/2020.