Although it looks somewhat like
a cross between a horse and a zebra, the okapi is
actually a close cousin of the giraffe. The
relationship between okapi and giraffe is most
evidenced by both animals having a relatively
long neck, long head, and large set-back ears.
Like the giraffe, the okapi simultaneously
steps with the front and hind leg on the same
side of the body rather than moving alternate
legs on either side like other ungulates. Also
like the giraffe, the okapi has a very long
tongue, which it usesto gather food and for
The okapi's body is
chocolate-brown, with creamy white horizontal
stripes on the legs and hindquarters and white
stockings on the ankles. The cheeks, throat, and
chest are whitish-gray or tan. Male okapis have
rear-pointed, hair-covered horns that reach a
maximum 6 inches in length.
An okapi can be 6 feet from
ground to top of head and 8 feet long, with
females typically being slightly taller than
males. Maximum weight is about 550 pounds.
Distribution and Habitat
Wild okapis are only found in the tropical
forests of northeastern Zaire (Democratic
Republic of the Congo). They frequent river banks
and stream beds and may occasionally venture into
areas of secondary forest growth, at elevations
between 1,640 and 3,280 feet. Their numbers
appear to be fairly high and consistent, despite
their limited range, but they are threatened by
deforestation for agricultural purposes.
Habits and Behaviors
Okapis are believed to be
solitary and to have overlapping home ranges in
the wild. The home ranges of males are
generally slightly larger that those of females.
Although they are not social animals, they
tolerate each other in the wild and may even feed
in small groups for short periods of time.
Normally quiet and friendly, an
okapi can suddenly become aroused, butting and
kicking at whatever or whoever it perceives as a
The okapi is most active during
Okapi courtship and mating rituals are known
only from observations done in zoos. Partners
begin courtship by circling, sniffing, and
licking eachother. Eventually, the male asserts
his dominance by extending his neck, tossing his
head, and thrusting one leg forward. After
mating, the male and female part company.
One calf is born after a
gestation of 435-450 days, and can suckle and
stand after just 30 minutes. Young spend
the first day or two of life following the mother
around and exploring the environment. After this,
they find a suitable hiding spot and make a nest.
For the next two months, they spend 80% of their
time in this nest, nursing relatively
infrequently and never defecating. Weaning
occcurrs at about 6 months, although the
youngster may continue to suckle for more than a
year. Young males begin developing horns at one
year of age, and both males and females reach
adult size at about three years. Captive females
are sexually mature at about 1.5 years, captive
males at about 2 years. The okapi's lifespan is
about 30 years in captivity, but data from wild
populations is unavailable.
Okapis feed primarily on
the leaves, buds, and shoots of more than 100
different species of forest vegetation, many of
which are known to be poisonous to humans. Their
diet is supplemented with grasses, fruits, ferns,
and fungi. They are known to move
over well-defined paths in search of food.
The okapi was not recognized as a distinct
species by western scientists until 1900, when
Harry Johnston sent two pecies of
"zebra-like" skin to London. The
biggest danger to the okapi is lack of knowledge
about it outside of zoos. Little field research
has been done on the species due to its
inaccessible habitat and reclusive nature.
genus & species Okapia johnstoni
Animal Diversity Web http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Okapia_johnstoni/
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