Illegal gold mining in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo national park is endangering the okapi, also known as zebra giraffe, Council for Environmental Defense through Legality and Traceability (CODELT) warned on Tuesday.
CODELT called for a stop to the “rapidly expanding” mining operation in the reserve, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. The endangered okapi is only found in this region of Congo.
Mining activities are supposed to be banned in the reserve in the northeast of Congo, but aerial photo evidence shows mining has continued, CODELT said.
CODELT and the Congolese Alert Network for the Environment and Human Rights (ACEDH) shared images they said were proof that miners were digging out swathes of jungle along the Ituri river.
“These miners are literally eating the reserve out of its wildlife by hunting these animals for food,” said geologist Gabriel Nenungo. “There is almost no wildlife left around the mine itself, and wildlife numbers are massively reduced around mining towns. There have even been cases of armed actors trafficking okapi skins and elephant ivory in and around the mines.”
“If the DRC government acts now, this unique World Heritage Site can stil be saved”, CODELT and ACEDH said in a statement. Fewer than 50,000 okapis are estimated to remain in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).