Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine: Giraffe in the Ituri Forest

The Okapi is a mammal with distinct striped markings that stands less than five feet tall. It is an herbivore that feeds on tree leaves, grasses and ferns that never developed the long neck of a savannah giraffe since all its’ food is low. Okapi are solitary animals whose dark bodies blend into the shadows and stripes break up an animal outline making it difficult for predators to see them. Major threats to this solitary forest creature include habitat loss due to logging, mining and hunting. Classified as endangered,  The Okapi Conservation Project was established in 1987 to protect the species. THE Okapi Wildlife Reserve is a World Heritage site that covers around 20 percent of the Ituri Rainforest. 

The Reserve de Faune à Okapisis the largest rainforest reserves in all of Central Africa. The reserve is located in the Ituri Forest of northeastern Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world, it creates the practical and ethical quandaries posed by doing conservation work among people who have so little and depend on the forest for so much.

The Ituri Forest, approximately 70,000 square km, has no clear boundaries, but refers to the area roughly outlined by the watershed of the Ituri River, one of the Congo’s many tributaries.  As part of the largest forest refuges remaining from the Pleistocene epoch, it is particularly noted for its high species endemism and diversity.

The Ituri holds over 13 different species of primates as well as an array of large terrestrial mammals including the forest elephant, forest buffalo, giant forest hog, and the okapi (Okapia johnstoni), a rainforest giraffe endemic to Congo and most abundant in the central Ituri.

The Ituri is also the home of a rich cultural array of forest dwelling peoples.  Various groups of foraging peoples, collectively known as the Mbuti, are very likely to have been the first people to live in the Ituri.  But for much longer than was once thought, they have been living in complex interdependent relationship with various Bantu and Nilotic farming peoples.  The relationship is based on a rich configuration of economic, political, social, and religious exchanges that goes beyond the purely material.  Besides exchanging meat and other forest products for cultivated starches grown in farmers’ gardens, the Mbuti may often play important and necessary roles in various ceremonies the farmers hold.


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