Okapis live in the tropical rainforests in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These rare mammals, which resemble giraffes, feed on leaves, grasses, shoots, fruits, and ferns. They live up to 25 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Artiodactyla
Family - Giraffidae
Genus - Okapia
Species - O. johnstoni
Common Names - Okapi
Okapis share physical characteristics with giraffes, which are their closest relatives. They have long necks and tongues that allow them to reach leaves and other edible vegetation on trees. Their coloring helps them hide from predators. Okapis are mainly dark brown or reddish-brown with white stripes on their legs and flank and white or tan fur on their face, throat, and chest. Males also have short horns. Adults weigh between 450 and 600 pounds and are between five to six feet tall and up to seven feet long.
Okapis have a gestation period of around 458 days and give birth to one calf at a time. The calf is weaned when it’s around six months old and spends much of its time before then in a nest in order to hide from leopards and other predators. Female okapis reach reproductive maturity when they’re around 1 1/2 years old, while males reach this point at two years of age.
Adult okapis are solitary and only spend time together to mate. They do tolerate the presence of other okapis in general, even when feeding. They mark their territory by rubbing their neck on trees and communicate through vocalizations. When threatened, okapis kick in order to defend themselves or their young.
For many years, okapis were thought to be fictional creatures. They were first discovered in 1901 by an explorer named Sir Harry Johnston. Their elusive nature still makes it difficult to track them in their natural habitat. Their historical range also included parts of western Uganda, but they are no longer found in that country.
Okapis are listed as an Endangered species. Their numbers declined by 43 percent between 1995 and 2007 and by 47 percent from 2008 to 2012, based on surveys from the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. Exact population numbers have not been determined, but a rough estimate puts their numbers at around 2,500. Logging has led to significant habitat loss, and okapis also face threats from hunters and illegal armed groups that interfere with conservation efforts. The species is legally protected under Congolese law.