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Presidential Dinner with John Lukas of the Okapi Conservation Project

The Okapi Conservation Project

For 30 years the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) has worked to protect the natural habitat of the endangered okapi and home of the indigenous Mbuti pygmies living in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. OCP focuses on developing an economic and educational foundation on which the Okapi Wildlife Reserve can operate. This is achieved through programs in wildlife protection, conservation education, sustainable agriculture, and community assistance.

OCP objectives:

  • •   Support and assist the efforts of the Congolese government to protect, manage, and secure the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

  • •   Develop and implement education programs that promote local understanding of, and appreciation for, okapi, their habitat, and the importance of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

  • •   Invest in capacity building of Congolese staff, ICCN guards, and communities around the Reserve to support the goal of steadfast stewardship of okapi conservation.

  • •   Assist local communities with developing sustainable ways to coexist with endangered wildlife, while still addressing their own aspirational needs.

The Okapi Conservation Project, based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) works to conserve the okapi living in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve is a 13,700-sq. km. area occupying one-fifth of the Ituri Forest located in northeastern DRC; is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of most bio-diverse sites in all of Africa and home to the largest populations of forest elephants, okapi and chimpanzees in DRC. Protecting the forest also allows a unique human culture to thrive, as the Reserve is also the home of indigenous Mbuti pygmies who have lived in the Ituri Forest for over 40,000 years.

The okapi (Okapia johnstoni), sometimes referred to as the “forest giraffe “has only been known to the western world only since 1901. The okapi is endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo and has been protected since 1933. Okapi were recently re-classified by IUCN and listed as “Endangered” on the Red List due to significant downward population trends over the last 15 years. The Okapi is a fully protected species under Congolese law and the species is the national symbol of conservation, appearing on the insignia of the Institute in Congo for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN).


Mr. Lukas graduated from St. Anselm’s College in 1971and received his Master’s Degree in vertebrate zoology from Northeastern University’s Graduate School of Biology in 1973. For 6 years, John was the resident curator for the New York Zoological Society’s Rare Animal Survival Center on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia. After getting to know paper magnate Howard Gilman during a safari to Africa in 1980, he became White Oak Plantation’s first director of conservation in 1982. For 30 years John led the development of White Oak Conservation Center into a base of conservation efforts for threatened and endangered species that are part of breeding, research, training and re-introduction programs involving biologists, researchers and students from around the world.

John’s holistic approach to wildlife conservation is espoused by his involvement in field conservation programs around the world. He is president and founder of the Okapi Conservation Project in the rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo which since 1987 works to protect the wild population of okapi through the support of wildlife rangers and assisting local communities to become better stewards of their natural resources. John serves as a member of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group. He is a founding member and the president of the International Rhino Foundation, which operates and funds in situ protection and research studies for all five species of rhinos. He is also a founding board member and vice-president of the Wildlife Conservation Network, which provides operating funds and technical support for entrepreneurial conservationists working with communities to conserve wildlife and habitat. John is a director of the Tusk Trust, an organization based in the US and UK that provides support to conservation projects in Africa. He serves on the Advisory Board of the Anna Mertz Rhino Trust which funds on the ground protection of rhinos in Africa and Asia. John is an advisor to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center which is rehabilitating orphaned endangered Grauer’s gorillas in DR Congo. He is chairman of the board of the South East Zoo Alliance for Conservation and Research. John serves on the Advisory Board of the Conservation Centers for Species Survival.

John is currently based at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and is working on developing new alliances for the benefit of wildlife and wild places. The zoo is supporting John’s involvement in managing and fundraising for the Okapi Conservation Project in DR Congo and his leadership roles with the International Rhino Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Network.

Date: Thursday, June 15

Time: 6:00 pm Reception, 7:00 pm Dinner, 8:00 pm Presentation

Location: Explorers Club Headquarters, 46 E 70th Street, New York, NY, 10021

Member Ticket Price: $70

Guest Ticket Price: $80

Reservation Notes:

Click here to purchase tickets online

Reservations are allotted on a first-come, first-serve basis, and payment must accompany reservation. As this is a catered event, there will be no cancellations allowed after Sunday, June 11.

To secure a reservation, you may also call us at 212.628.8383 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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