Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meet Kenji Ishiwada

Kenji Ishiwada is a keeper at the Kanazawa Zoo in Japan and was an okapi keeper at Zoorasia in Yokohama, Japan when they first received okapi many years ago. Kenji and his family have visited White Oak Conservation Center many times, and continues to support the Okapi Conservation Project, through his Group of Okapi, of which he is honorary president. He has also written a book about the okapi and he continues to provide annual support for the Okapi Conservation Project as one of our dedicated long term friends. Kenji responded to our questions in a recent interview.

What is the name of your conservation organization?

I donate to Okapi project personally, so I do not belong to any main conservation organization. However, Yokohama Zoological Gardens “Zoorasia” which I worked for as a keeper helped me to raise donations.

What is your role or title, and who are the members? 

My current tile at work is a keeper in Kanazawa Zoological Gardens in Yokohama. However, there is a community called “Group of Okapi” (Group of Okapi is a group of people who love okapi and many other wildlife including the environment around it) and I have provided some okapi photos that I took to help them to create postcards. The Group of Okapi has also donated $500 in the past. I was given a title of honorary president of the group, but I actually do not do much work for the group.

We know that you create educational materials and have written an okapi book but what sorts of other projects does your conservation organization?

In addition to the activities above, I made Okapi postcards at my own expense about 10 years ago. The postcards were sold to many people including staff in Japanese zoos and that income let me donate $10.000 to the Okapi project. The next year, Yokohama Zoological Gardens “Zoorasia” gave me a permission to sell the postcards to the visitors of the zoo as a charity and donated all the expense which was eventually $2000. I was also going to donate if I had royalties from my book, but it has not sold very well.  

Is it difficult to get people in Japan interested in okapi? Are the okapi popular in Japanese zoos?

I believe that recognition of species okapi has been raised. In Yokohama, okapis are very popular animals. Since okapis Layla and Kianga came to Japan, the species has become more famous in Japan. Okapi are kept in only 2 institutions in Tokyo and Yokohama in our country. As Tokyo and Yokohama are closely located cities, I think more people will get interested in the animal if okapi were kept in different part of Japan.

By the way, Kanazawa Zoological Gardens which I currently work for is planning to have okapi either this year or next year. I will make a lot of efforts to let visitors to get interested in okapi, when they arrive.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bringing School Children to the Okapi Reserve

School conferences continue to grow as effective tools to share our conservation messages among the youth (Ituri Forest). More schools outside the Ituri landscape are growing interest to visit the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, after they hear about it from their colleagues. This year, the education program has organized many school visits. We have provided guided tours of the Reserve, the pygmy (forest people) camps and the herbarium to 4 secondary schools and 1 high school. The secondary schools are located in Beni, Oicha and Butembo, and the high school is located in Beni as well.

Their teachers confirm that all information they receive is necessary and adds to their geography and other natural science lessons.

However, these trips are initiated by students who have very limited budgets. With the support of our donors, GIC helps the youth in terms of accommodations, additional fuel for transport and eventually food.