Okapi (Okapia johnstoni; ) is a giraffid artiodactyl
mammal native to the Ituri Rainforest, located in the northeast
of the Democratic Republic of the
Congo, in central Africa.
Although the Okapi bears
striped markings reminiscent of the zebra
is most closely related to the giraffe
Unknown to Europeans until 1901, today there are approximately
10,000 - 20,000 in the wild and only 40 different worldwide
institutions display them.
name Okapia derives from the Lese Karo name o'api , while the
species' epithet (johnstoni) is in
recognition of the explorer Sir Harry
Johnston, who organized the expedition that first acquired an
okapi specimen for science from the Ituri
Forest in the Democratic Republic of the
The name "Okapi" is a portmanteau
a verb meaning to cut and
which is a noun referring to the design made on
arrows by wrapping the arrow with bark
so as to leave stripes when scorched by fire. The stripes on the
legs of the Okapi resemble these stripes on the arrow shafts.
legend says the okapi decorates itself
with these stripes, adding to the okapi's great camouflage.
Characteristics and behavior
Okapis have reddish dark backs, with striking horizontal white
stripes on the front and back legs
, making them
from a distance. These
markings are thought to help young follow their mothers through the
dense rain forest
; they also serve as
camouflage in the wild.
The body shape is similar to that of the giraffe, except that
okapis have much shorter necks. Both species have very long
(approx. 30 cm or 12 inch), flexible, blue tongues that they
use to strip leaves and buds from trees.
The tongue of the okapi is long enough for the animal to wash its
eyelids and clean its ears (inside and out): it is the only mammal
that can lick its own ears. Fourteen to eighteen inches
(36-46 cm) in length, the sticky tongue is pointed and bluish
gray in color like the giraffe's. Male okapis have short,
skin-covered horns called "ossicones
have large ears
, which help them detect their
predator, the leopard
Okapis are 1.9 to 2.5 m (8.1 ft) long and stand 1.5 to 2.0 m (6.5
ft) high at the shoulder. They have a 30 to 42 cm (12 to 17
in) long tail. Their weight ranges from 200 to 300 kg (440 to
660 lb).Okapis are primarily diurnal
although recent photo captures have challenged this long held
assumption. A photograph taken in the early hours of the
morning around 02:33 shows an okapi feeding in the Watalinga forest
in the north of the Virunga National Park in eastern DRC, thus providing evidence that they
don't only feed during the daytime.
Okapis are essentially
solitary, coming together only to breed, with the exception of
mother-offspring pairs. Breeding behaviors include sniffing,
circling and licking each other.
Okapis forage along fixed, well-trodden paths through the forest.
They have overlapping home ranges of several square kilometers and
typically occur at densities of about 0.6 animals per square
The home ranges of males are generally slightly larger than those
of females. They are not social animals and prefer to live in
large, secluded areas. This has led to problems with the okapi
population due to the shrinking size of the land they live on. This
lack of territory is caused by development and other social
reasons. However, okapis tolerate each other in the wild and may
even feed in small groups for short periods of time.
Okapis have several methods of communicating their territory,
including scent glands
on each foot that
leave behind a tar-like substance which signals their passage, as
well as urine marking. Males are protective of their territory, but
allow females to pass through their domain to forage.
Okapi young are not imprinted to their mothers. Several lactating
females will raise their calves together.
Two okapis grazing in the rainforest,
habitat recreated at the American Museum of Natural History, New
Okapis prefer altitudes of 500 to 1,000 m, but may venture above
1,000 m in the eastern montane rainforests
. Because there is a considerable
amount of rain in these forests, okapis have an oily, velvety coat
of fur that repels the water. They develop this coat early in
childhood also as a technique of camouflage.
The range of the okapi is limited by high montane
forests to the east, swamp forests below 500
m to the west, savannas of the Sahel
to the north, and open woodlands to the
south. Okapis are most common in the Wamba
Okapis are herbivores, eating tree leaves and buds, grass
, and fungi
. Many of the
plant species fed upon by the okapi are poisonous to humans.
Examination of okapi feces
has revealed that
from trees burnt by lightning
is consumed as well. Field observations
indicate that the okapi's mineral and salt requirements are filled
primarily by a sulfurous
, slightly salty,
reddish clay found near rivers and streams.
was known to the ancient
Egyptians; shortly after its discovery by Europeans, an ancient
carved image of the animal was discovered in Egypt.
years, Europeans in Africa had heard of an animal that they came to
call the 'African unicorn
In his travelogue of exploring the Congo, Henry Morton Stanley
mentioned a kind
that the natives called the 'Atti',
which scholars later identified as the okapi. Explorers may have
seen the fleeting view of the striped backside as the animal fled
through the bushes, leading to speculation that the okapi was some
sort of rainforest zebra.
When the British governor of Uganda
, discovered some
inhabitants of the Congo being abducted
by a German showman for exhibition in Europe, he rescued them and
promised to return them to their homes. The grateful pygmies fed
Johnston's curiosity about the animal mentioned in Stanley's book.
Johnston was puzzled by the okapi tracks the natives showed him;
while he had expected to be on the trail of some sort of
forest-dwelling horse, the tracks were of some cloven-hoofed
Though Johnston did not see an okapi himself, he did manage to
obtain pieces of striped skin and eventually a skull. From this
skull, the okapi was correctly classified as a relative of the
; in 1901, the species was formally
recognized as Okapia johnstoni
live specimen in Europe arrived in Antwerp in
1918. The first okapi to arrive in North America was at the Bronx Zoo, via Antwerp, in 1937. The first okapi born
in captivity was at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, which directs the Okapi Species
Survival Plan for the Association of Zoos and
are now reasonably common in zoos around North America
. Immediately following their discovery,
around the world attempted to obtain okapis
from the wild. These initial attempts were accompanied by a high
due to the rigors of
traveling thousands of miles by boat and by train. In more recent
years, shipment by airplane has proven more successful.
the okapi was unknown to the Western world until the 20th century,
it was possibly depicted 2,500 years ago on the facade of the
Apadana, at Persepolis, as a gift from the Ethiopian procession to the
The Okapi was adopted as an emblem by the now defunct International Society of
An okapi reaches for some leaves.
Although okapis are not classified as endangered, they are
threatened by habitat
. The world
population is estimated at 10,000–20,000. Conservation work in
the Congo includes the continuing study of okapi behaviour and
lifestyle, which led to the creation in 1992 of the Okapi Wildlife
The Congo Civil
threatened both the wildlife and the conservation workers
in the reserve.
There is an important captive breeding centre at Epulu
the heart of the reserve, which is managed jointly by the Congolese
Institute for Nature Conservation ( ICCN
) and Gillman International Conservation (
in turn receives support from other organisations including UNESCO,
the Frankfurt Zoological Society and WildlifeDirect
as well as from zoos around the world. The Wildlife Conservation
Society is also active in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
8, 2006, scientists reported that evidence of surviving okapis in
National Park had been discovered.
This had been the first
official okapi sighting in that park since 1959, after nearly half
a century. In September 2008, the Wildlife Conservation Society
reported that one of their camera traps snapped the first photo
ever taken of an okapi in Virunga National Park.