The okapi is an endangered mammal found only in the Ituri Rainforest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are brown with white stripes, which helps them blend in with their environment by mimicking the pattern of sunlight through trees. To protect from the rain, okapi fur is thick and oily. Males have short horns, covered except for the tip with skin, while females have little bumps. Another interesting feature of the okapi is their hooves, which secrete territorial markings. Males also mark their territory with urine.
Although it might be hard to tell by looking at an okapi, they are most closely related to giraffes; in fact they are there only living relative. Okapis look very different from giraffes though, standing only about 2.5 metres (about 8 feet). This is mainly because in the okapi’s home rainforest, branches hang down low and there are brush and other obstacles to dodge. In this environment it is more helpful to be small and more agile than a giraffe. Giraffes are similar to okapi in that they have a long dark prehensile
tongue used for stripping leaves off plants and have four stomaches to help digest their food.
That food consists mostly of plants: fruit, buds, leaves, twigs, etc., of which they can eat between 45-60 pounds per day. To supplement their diet, okapi will also eat river clay for minerals and salt and occasionally bat guano for nutrients.
Okapi are active during the day. They are considered elusive creatures because except for occasional times when they will gather in groups to eat, groom, or play and for mating and calf-rearing, okapi travel alone. Male okapi have a large home range that they guard from other males, although they allow females in to find food. Okapi can travel between 0.5-2.5 miles (0.8-4 kilometers) a day in search of food.
Female okapis have one calf per pregnancy. Okapi calves can walk 30 minutes after birth but can’t defecate until their a month old. This is an adaptation to prevent predators from sniffing them out. Mother okapi are take care of their young for six months, protecting them by stomping the ground to scare off threats. Okapi can live to 30 years old
Okapi grazing on plants. Image courtesy of San Diego Zoo of plants and animals
In addition to audible coughs bleats and whistles used often by calves and occasionally by adults, okapi communicate using many calls that are in such a low frequency humans can’t hear them. Scientists did not know this until recently when recorded okapi calls were put through a computer.
Okapi are naturally killed by leopards and in captivity may be killed by Monodontella giraffae, a parasitic nematode that hurts their bile ducts. However, the main threat to okapi is humans. Because of how elusive they are, it is hard to tell how many okapi are left, but it is thought that their population may have been cut in half in the last two decade. The IUCN lists the okapi as ‘endangered’.
Poachers kill okapis for their meat and skin, and in 2012 a poaching group killed 6 humans and 14 okapis at the Okapi Conservation Project, a reserve that supports more than 5,000 okapis.
Deforestation also hurts the okapi by damaging their habitat. Okapi can tolerate small changes in their environment but are vulnerable to large disturbances such as logging or human development.
Organizations try to help by trying to prevent poaching, create reserves, and pass wildlife conservation measures.
“Okapi, Facts and Photos.” Animals, National Geographic Society, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/facts/okapi.
“Okapi.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/animal/okapi.
“Okapi.” San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Animals and Plants, San Diego Zoo, animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/okapi.