September 2012–U.N. Radio reports that Congo’s army has captured a militia leader and 16 of his combatants who, in June, raided the headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and Epulu Breeding and Research Station, situated in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

okapi (Wikimedia Commons)

The attackers, led by Paul Sadala, who goes by the alias Morgan, armed with AK-47 rifles, killed seven park staff and their family members. Others were taken hostage or are unaccounted for.

The Reserve infrastructure was completely destroyed and the 15 okapi of the station were all shot and killed, including some who had been “wildlife ambassadors” for 23 years. The Epulu station plays a central role in protecting the future of the okapi by serving as a reservoir for the infusion of new genetic stock into okapi populations in global conservation programs.

15 okapi and several rangers killed in raid on the Epulu Breeding and Research Station, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2012.

The group, made up of ivory traffickers and illegal miners, was apparently seeking revenge on the Institute in the Congo for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) in retaliation for ICCN rangers who had disrupted elephant poaching and illegal mining activities in the Southern part of the Reserve.

The reserve is home to about 5,000 okapi–a rare giraffe-like forest creature that is only found in Democratic Republic of Congo and is a threatened species–and significant populations of leopard, elephant, chimpanzee and crocodile. Its bird life makes it one of the most important sites for bird conservation in mainland Africa. The reserve is also the home of the nomadic Mbuti pygmies.