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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April, 2005, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Award for brave DR Congo botanist
Corneille Ewango
As a boy, Corneille Ewango helped his uncle poach elephants
A botanist who stayed in a nature reserve throughout the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo is to receive an award for his bravery.

Corneille Ewango stayed on after most other staff fled for their lives.

He helped discover new species of tree and protect the endangered okapi, or forest-giraffe, from rampaging gunmen.

"It's my contribution to advance science. Even if I die, I would be happy," he told the BBC before being given the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Forest

"I was afraid but I didn't have a choice," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Years of effort would have been destroyed by "soldiers who knew nothing of conservation", he said.

Okapi
The 14 okapi at the reserve zoo survived the war
At the height of the fighting, he hid in the forest for three months.

The winner of the 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa also managed to persuade the militia commanders to order their men to stop poaching elephants and primates.

And yet, as a young boy, he used to help his uncle poach elephants in the same forests.

"If no-one had taken care of the reserve nothing would have been left," said John Hart of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

In addition to the 14 okapi at the reserve zoo, Mr Ewango, 41, also managed to save the institution's computers, and data on 380,000 trees.

Havoc

The reserve was named a World Heritage Site in 1998 after it came under threat from illegal miners of gold and coltan - a mineral used to make mobile phones.

After five years of war, in which up to three million people died, a peace deal was signed in 2002.

However, ethnic militias continue to wreak havoc in the Ituri region near the Okapi reserve.

Mr Ewango is currently doing a master's degree programme in tropical botany at the US University of Missouri.

He plans to return to the reserve after graduating later this year.


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