The following statement is from all who knew and worked with Omari:

It is with deep sadness that we look back on the life of Omer Omari Ilambu, who died at his home after a brief illness on Sunday, 18th November 2018. Omari recently served as WCS Chief of Party for the USAID Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment (CARPE). Omari’s work spanned our projects in the DRC and Republic of Congo programs.

Omari was respected by the entire conservation community of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and all of the surrounding countries. He was known as “the baobab” by many of his African colleagues, because of his physical stature, his maturity, and his wisdom. Born in Kindu in 1959, then still a wildlife-rich area, he attended the University of Zaire, and graduated with a degree in Biology. He then worked in the national Congolese Institute for Conservation (ICCN, formerly IZCN) – the agency that runs the protected areas of the country, both as a researcher and as Head of Station in the Kundelungu National Park in the south of the country. His first fieldwork included work on cheetah distribution and on the Park’s ungulates.

In 1994, after three years with the ICCN, he was seconded to WCS’s Grauer’s Gorilla Project and worked with a large international field team that included Jefferson Hall, Amy Vedder, Lee White and Liz Williamson, with invaluable support from John Hart. For six years Omari was based in eastern DRC, as a team leader and coordinator of studies at two sites in his own country – the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and the Itombwe area, and also participated in a survey of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda, surveying Grauer’s gorillas, mountain gorillas, and other fauna.

From these years in the field, he obtained a Beinecke scholarship through WCS in 1999 to gain a Masters in Environmental Science at Yale University in USA.  The subject of his Masters was the impact of human conflict on Grauer’s gorilla conservation in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, using the data he had painstakingly collected. Omari went on to co-author six peer-reviewed papers from his fieldwork in eastern DRC in those years.

On his return home to DRC in 2001, he was first appointed as the WCS DRC Focal Point in Kinshasa, to liaise between WCS, ICCN, and other Government and civil society partners, as all WCS operations were in eastern DRC. He started to take a close interest in Salonga National Park in the center of the lowland rainforest of DRC. The CITES-MIKE (Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants) program – which aimed to quantify the abundance of elephants across a series of sites in Africa and Asia – had just started. Using his experience in the field and in organising multiple teams in this highly complex country, and again supported by John and Terese Hart and Steve Blake, Omari became the coordinator for the MIKE surveys across Salonga. It should be remembered that this is a national park the size of Belgium, without any roads and – at least then – virtually no communication network. The MIKE surveys were a hugely important starting point in the standardisation of wildlife inventories across the whole of Africa, and the data collated since then have been used for a bonobo book chapter in 2008, the IUCN Red List assessment of bonobos in the same year, and a rangewide bonobo paper in 2013, and a species-wide, WCS-led peer-reviewed assessment of forest elephants in 2013, on all of which Omari was co-author.

After the successful completion of the MIKE surveys in 2004, Omari was recruited for WWF’s Salonga project, where he remained between 2005-2011, firstly as Park Advisor, then Chief Technical Advisor, and finally Program Head and landscape Leader, before returning to Kinshasa to take up the post of WWF Senior Technical Advisor for Protected Areas, which allowed him to see most of the protected areas in DRC he had not yet worked in, and to gain experience in organising a wide ranging, multi-site program. This served him well, because in 2013 he returned to WCS in DRC, this time as Inventory and Monitoring coordinator, then as WCS Conservation Director, and finally, in 2016, the WCS Chief of Party for the USAID CARPE program, one of the largest regional biodiversity conservation programs that has been running across Central Africa since 2002. Omari’s role was to ensure that all the WCS CARPE projects in DRC and Congo were running efficiently and to liaise between USAID and WCS. 

Omari spent significant periods of time in other countries learning and practicing conservation (three years in the USA to gain a Masters degree at Yale, a year in Uganda, three months in Zambia), but always returned to his beloved DRC to better help the astonishing wildlife of his homeland. Throughout this long trajectory of increasing responsibility for conservation projects in the region, Omari was always incredibly humble and dignified, possessing a great humanity. His smile lit up his surroundings and everyone he came into contact with became a better person. He always pushed for young Africans to become conservationists, whether academically or as practitioners, to take the same road as he did to save the wildlife on his continent.

Omari is survived by his wife and four children, and by hundreds of conservationists who will never forget him. May the earth rest lightly upon you, Omari.