The endangered species list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has now grown to include Congo’s okapis. The okapi, the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of Congo is a zebra-like kin of the giraffe and in the bi-annual Red List update of the IUCN the mammal’s status was now moved to “Endangered”. Based on the Red List, this category is the third ominous behind “Critically Endangered” and “Extinct in the Wild”.
The okapis (Okapia johnstoni) oftentimes referred to as the forest giraffes can only be found in the rainforests of Congo. According to IUCN, the okapi population is continually decreasing since 1995 and that this trend will not ease up in the near future because the rate of decline is more than 50 percent over three generations (24 years) of the said mammals.
Switzerland-based Okapi specialist, Noelle Kumpel of IUCN said that what is hampering in the effective conservation efforts are the constant civil conflicts and widespread poverty in the area that is on-going for nearly two decades already. The conflict destroys the okapi habitat and people are hunting it for food. It is imperative that the government must tackle the conflict and poverty in order to secure the survival of the okapis in Congo, Kumpel added.
In a deadly incident last June 24, 2012, armed poachers carrying AK47 rifles attacked the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and killed seven people as well as killing all the 14 captive okapis in the premises. The poachers also burned buildings and destroyed equipment found inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site reserve. Aside from preserving the gene pool of the okapis, the reserve is also home to the forest elephants of Congo.
The migratory bird yellow-breasted bunting is also on the IUCN’s endangered species list moving from its previous “Vulnerable” status. The bird is migratory and breeds in north eastern Europe but spends winter in China, Southeast Asia and India. The yellow-breasted bunting breeds in grassy, open areas near water and lays around 5 eggs on the average in its nest. Its nests on the ground are mostly vulnerable to poachers who utilize nets to catch the birds.
Although the local government of Guandong, China has already made the yellow-breasted bunting part of the protected species and anyone caught selling the birds will be subject to heavy fines but this did not deter the birds’ continuous decline in numbers. In 2009, it was estimated that there are now less than 10,000 birds making flight in China.
The rapid decline of the birds’ number can be traced to peoples’ frequent trapping and selling them in the market as food. In Guangdong for example, the bird is a much sought after delicacy selling for about 50 yuan ($8.00) each. As a food, the bird is said to help improve sexual vitality and clean the body of toxins.
It is not all bad news in the IUCN’s Red List after all. Several animals have improved their category and moved up in the classification. One is the largest turtle in the world, the Leatherback turtle which moved from “Critically Endangered” to “Vulnerable”. This can be attributed to the successful conservation efforts in the Atlantic region. Two species of the albatross have also seen their population improving. The black-browed albatross moved from “Endangered” to “Near Threatened” while the black-footed albatross has moved from “Vulnerable” to “Near Threatened”. The improvement can be attributed to changes in the fishing practices that minimizes capturing the bird as a by-catch.
Based on IUCN there are seven categories on their listing: Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct.
Despite the okapis making the endangered species list, there are some species on the planet making a rebound in terms of their population count but nonetheless conservation efforts must still continue not only for the okapis but for the others identified in the Red List as well, the IUCN said.
By Roberto I. Belda