Protect the world’s last okapis from gold mining!

Okapis The okapi (Okapia johnstoni) resembles a small giraffe with a short neck and stripes like a zebra (© meunierd/shutterstock.com)

Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to a significant population of endangered okapis and chimpanzees. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, it was degraded to “in danger” status only one year later due to illegal activities. Now rampant gold mining could spell the end for the protected area.

Call to action

To: to the President and Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

“Put a stop to illegal gold mining in Okapi Wildlife Reserve!”

Read letter

Only 30,000 okapis are left on the planet and human encroachment is steadily eating away at their habitat. 5,000 of the remaining population live in Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a protected area of nearly 670,000 hectares of mostly pristine rainforest that is also the habitat of chimpanzees and numerous other rare or endangered animals, as well as 376 species of birds.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – a country with one of the highest levels of biodiversity on earth – has a unique responsibility to protect its forests, also in view of their role in fighting the climate crisis.

Unfortunately, its status as a World Heritage Site is not in itself enough to protect Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Rampant illegal gold mining is destroying forests, disturbing the natural habitat of numerous plant species and wildlife, polluting waters with toxic chemicals like mercury and impacting the health of local communities and indigenous peoples. The mines are attracting outsiders in search of a livelihood into the region and causing a rise in bushmeat hunting.

In the center of the most recent case is Kimia Mining, a Chinese company based in Bunia, Ituri, that obtained illegitimate permits from the ministry of mines and is operating at a semi-industrial level within the reserve.

According to a UN report, high-ranking officers of Congo’s army FARDC are involved in the illegal mining activities. Government officials turn a blind eye as a considerable amount of the gold is smuggled across the border to Uganda. Mining is tightly connected to conflict and violence in eastern DRC.

Given the political will, protecting DRC's nature would not be difficult: The mining activities violate environmental laws and the mining code that prohibits activities harmful to nature. Furthermore, the right and duty of every Congolese citizen to protect the environment is enshrined in Article 53 of the constitution.

We therefore call on President Tshisekedi and his government to enforce the existing laws and put an end to mining in Okapi Wildlife Reserve and other protected areas.

Back­ground

Okapi National Park is not the only protected area in DRC threatened by resource extraction: in Virunga National Park, oil exploitation could destroy gorilla habitat, while gold mining is also a threat to Itombwe Nature Reserve. Four out of five of DRC’s World Heritages Sites are listed as “in danger”; the fifth, Salonga National Park, has just had its “in danger” status lifted following the government's announcement to end plans for oil drilling.

Further information:

Afrik21, August 11, 2021: DRC: 205 NGOs campaign for Kimia Mining’s eviction from the Okapi  Wildlife Reserve

Greenpeace, August 12, 2021: Exploitation minière illégale en RDC: Greenpeace Afrique exige le retrait de l’autorisation d’exploitation de la compagnie chinoise Kimia Mining

Environews, August 9, 2021: Mines: Exploitation minière dans la Réserve de Faune à Okapi, des ONGs exigent le retrait de l’autorisation donnée à la société chinoise Kimia Mining

Reuters, June 22, 2021: Congo seizes gold worth $1.9 million in Okapi wildlife reserve

Reuters, April 11, 2020: Congo governor condemns rising insecurity at mines in gold province

FranceInfo, April 9, 2018: RDC - nouvelle vague d’arrestations de trafiquants chinois dans les mines d’or

Mining News January 10, 2017: UN urges probe of Congo officers involved in gold trafficking

ICI Radio Canada, January 9, 2017/June 18, 2019: Une enquête de l'ONU révèle l'implication de militaires congolais dans le trafic d’or

Journal Le Millénaire November 26, 2015?: CMC à Djugu, Kimia mining à Mambassa : ces chinois qui exploitent impunément l’or de l’Ituri

IPIS study: The complexity of resource governance in a context of state fragility: the case of Eastern DRC

Mongabay, June 2, 2021: Deforestation intensifies in northern DRC protected areas

Mongabay, June 18, 2021: Deforestation spikes in Virunga National Park, DRC

IUCN Red List: Okapi

UNESCO World Heritage Centre: Okapi Wildlife Reserve

NGO: Okapi Conservation Project

NGO: Impact (Canada)

Rainforest Rescue petitions:

Keep gold miners out of gorilla country! (gold mining in Itombwe)

No primate blood for oil! (oil drilling in Virunga)

Letter

To: to the President and Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Dear Mr. President,
dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Okapi Wildlife Reserve is one of your country's natural treasures and has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is currently listed as “World Heritage in Danger” due to illegal mining and other problems.

Now, gold mining on a near-industrial scale within Okapi Wildlife Reserve by a Chinese company, Kimia Mining, is an issue of utmost urgency.

Mining operations in any form cause incalculable damage to the ecosystems. Gold exploitation within Okapi Wildlife Reserve:

- destroys tropical forests that are essential to fight the climate crisis
- disturbs the natural habitat of many plant species and wildlife
- pollutes waters with mercury and other toxic substances and
- impacts the health of local communities and the Efe and Mbuti indigenous peoples.

Mining in Okapi Wildlife Reserve and other protected areas violates Congolese environmental legislation and the mining code. No mining or quarrying rights may be granted in a protected area nor may artisanal exploitation zones be established there. Any such right granted within the confines of such areas is void.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has committed itself to set aside more than 15% of its national territory as protected areas. To date, this quota has not yet been reached. The destruction of Okapi Wildlife Reserve would be a worrying step in the wrong direction. It would also cast doubts on DRC’s commitment to fight the climate crisis and to preserve biodiversity.

In support of 211 Congolese environmental and civil society organizations that published a statement on August 5th, we therefore kindly call on you to:

- withdraw the authorization given to the Chinese company Kimia Mining and cease issuing any mining authorizations on spaces intended for reserves and protected areas in DRC.

- prohibit any mining activity in Okapi Wildlife Reserve and surrounding areas.

- coordinate the participatory demarcation of protected area boundaries.

- seize gold from the mafia that is stealing DRC’s capital and heritage

It would be sad to see the Congolese justice system turn a blind eye to the destruction of one of your country's exceptional sites just after Salonga National Park was successfully removed from UNESCO's list of endangered World Heritage Sites.

Yours faithfully,


CC
To the Director General of ICCN in Kinshasa;
To the Diplomatic Delegation of the Republic of China;
To the Director of the BCN: National Central Bureau at Interpol Kinshasa

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