Operation Tango boosts elephant survival in the midst of civil strife in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
By virtue of its conservation importance and covering 13,726 km sq, the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the most biologically rich of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The reserve supports a significant population of okapi and forest elephant.
But a major upsurge in elephant poaching took place in 1996 and 1998. After rebel forces gained control, the presence of automatic weapons and high market price for ivory meant large-scale poaching became rife.
The elephant plight was brought to the attention of the conservation world in order to alert the international community to the ‘ecocide’ and to halt the destruction. The response was Operation Tango, an international capacity developed to operate where the Congolese wildlife authority had been unable to carry out its own mandate.
This joint operation between military and wildlife scouts was enabled through the long-term commitment of locally-focused, international conservation projects. With a declining government budget allocated to wildlife authorities, it benefited from donor support, including WCS, GIC, UN Foundation and MIKE-CITES.
Operation Tango yielded far better results than expected, and the relative lull in poaching gave time to build up further impetus for the reserve. The lessons from this operation show that international support, partners’ collaboration, and innovative, sustainable means of funding are necessary for the long-term future of the reserve.