Okapi Information


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Physical Description

Upon observing the white and black stripes that cover their legs and backside, one might think that Okapis are related to the Zebra. However, this horse like mammal is a cousin of the Giraffe. While it does not have a Giraffe's long neck and legs, the Okapi does have several matching characteristics: long tongues, two toes (cloven hooved or Artiodactyls), fur-covered horns (present on males only), large eyes and ears, and they have the same walking gate as Giraffes (they simultaneously step with both the front and hind leg on the same side of the body.)

The Okapi has a deep reddish-brown, velvety fur, with the female's coat exhibiting more red. The thick fur protects an Okapi when it makes its way through the dense northeastern forests of The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Okapis, like Giraffes, even have fur over their horns. These horns are fused to the frontal bones of the skull (Pronghorns are the only Artifdactyls to shed their horns), and grow slowly over its lifetime.

It's midnight blue tongue is about a foot long, and is quite adept at harvesting leaves for dinner. An Okapi tongue is also used for grooming, and is long enough to clean its eyes and ears.

Okapis stand about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall at the shoulders, are about 8 feet long (2.5 m), and they weigh up to 550 pounds (250 kg).

Breeding & Social Order

Since Okapis are very shy and difficult to observe in nature, most of what we know about them comes from captive observation. A natural loner, the Okapi comes out of solitude only for breeding purposes.

Courtship begins with the Okapis circling, sniffing, and licking each other. The male Okapi asserts himself through neck extension, head tossing, and thrusting one leg forward. After mating concludes, the male and female no longer socialize. Female Okapis give birth to one calf after a 14 1/2 month gestation period. The calf imprints on the mother's stripe pattern, and uses these stripes to follow the mother.

Threats to Survival

Fortunately, the shy nature of Okapis has limited their exposure to people, and iimproved their chances for survival. Their home in the Ituri Forest is now a more protected area, but it's the only place in the world that Okapis live. As people continue to encroach on their habitat, and political problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) cause various instabilities, they become more vulnerable to extinction.

The natural enemy of Okapis are leopards and dozens of different parasitic worms.

Diet & Habitat

Okapis live in the northeastern rainforests of the DRC and prefer altitudes of 1600-3300 feet (500-1000 m). They have been witnessed, though, on Mt. Hoyo of the Upper Ituri Forest at 4760 feet (1450 m).

As herbivores (plant eaters), Okapis enjoy the new growth from trees and the underbrush. They also eat grass, fruit, shoots, and berries, and spend a majority of their time eating. Okapis are ruminants, which means they swallow their food without chewing it. They eventually regurgitate their partly-digested meal, which they chew and swallow for a final time.

Conservation Status

It has been estimated that there are between 10,000-25,000 Okapis in the wild, all relegated to forests in the DRC. Worldwide, there are about 100 Okapis in zoos, most of which have been obtained from captive breeding programs.

In 1992, the Okapi Wildlife Preserve was officially established in the Ituri Forest, which is home to one of the most diverse populations of mammals in the country. As a nationally protected species, export of Okapis is strictly controlled by the DRC. Furthermore, efforts are underway to make the Okapi a symbol of DRC rainforest conservation.

General Information

While previously known by the native Mbutti people, the western world did not become aware of Okapis until the turn of the 20th century. While in search of Dr. Livingston in Africa, Henry Stanley was told by the Mbutti pygmies of the existence of a horse like animal that they called o'api (the original derivation of the name Okapi). Word of the animal spread across England, and in 1899, P.L. Sclater set out to discover the Okapi. He never witnessed an Okapi, though, and concluded through interviews and skin examples that the Okapi was a forest Zebra. He assumed that the cloven hooved tracks shown to him by the pygmies were made by a different animal, since Zebras and Horses have only one toe. However, the cloven hooved Okapi was finally seen by explorer Sir Harry H. Johnston in 1901. This new physical observation (as well as examples of an Okapi skull) debunked the theory that the Okapi was a Zebra, and proved that Okapis are in fact forest Giraffes.

Photos by SkullsUnlimited.com
Family Resemblance: Giraffe Skull (left) & Okapi Skull (right)


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