Monday, October 4, 2010


Though they look quite zebra-ish, the Okapi (Okpaia johnstoni) is actually a member of the family Giraffidae. They are found exclusively in the Ituri Rainforest of the Democratic Republic of Congo. One fifth of this forest has been set aside as the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which is a World Heritage Site.

Okapi legs are striped in a pattern much like a zebra. These stripes can distinguish one Okapi from another, and, combined with the brown on the rest of their bodies, provide camouflage in a forested habitat. Okapi are so well camouflaged that scientists did not even know of their existence until 1900!

(Image Source)
Okapis share many features with giraffes, but are not nearly as tall because such heights would be detrimental in a thick forest. They have sloping bodies, with the front end being more elevated than the back, and reaching a shoulder height of around 5.5ft. Males also have giraffe-like knobs on their heads, which grow between the ages of one and five. Okapis also posses extremely long, black tongues that are prehensile and are used to grasp leaves. They are so long that they can groom their own faces with them.

Okapis are solitary animals, and males can become quite aggressive regarding their territory. Males and females  locate each other for breeding using their sense of smell, and the gestation period is a whopping 440 days. Young Okapis are able to walk 30 minutes after birth and have an rather interesting way of protecting themselves from predators. Calves will not defecate at all until they are six to eight weeks old. This prevents predators from being able to track them as easily. Mothers are extremely protective of their young, and will fight to defend them.

Okapis are listed as Near Threatened, and the global populations is estimated at between 35,000 and 50,000 individuals. Loss of habitat and hunting have affected their numbers. They are protected by Congolese law, and are a national symbol of the country.

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