Okapi

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Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) Epulu, Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo.
© WWF-Canon / John E. NEWBY

Found in only one place in the world

The horse-like okapi (Okapia johnstoni), with its large ears and a relatively long neck, is also recognized by a long black tongue, used for plucking buds, leaves and branches from trees and shrubs.
Males have hairy horns that reach 15 cm, and which are fused to the frontal bones – these are absent in females. Females are sometimes red in colour and usually slightly taller than males, which are 1.5 m high on average and 2.5 m long.

Natural camouflage

The okapi has evolved a camouflage that allows it to blend in dense vegetation. It is a chocolate-brown colour, with white horizontal stripes on the legs and hindquarters and white “stockings” on the ankles. Its cheeks, throat and chest are whitish-grey or tan.

Restricted home

The only place where one can find an okapi is in the forests of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Their range is limited by high montane forests to the east, a swamp forest below 500 m to the west, savanna to the north and woodland to the south.

Within this area, they are found at altitudes of 1,000 m, sometimes above that in the eastern montane rainforests. They frequent river-banks and stream beds, but may occasionally venture into areas of secondary forest growth.

More than a year of gestation

A solitary animal, the okapi only joins other individuals for mating. Gestation lasts about 440 days and females retreat into dense forest vegetation to give birth. The newborn okapi spends about 80% of its time in a safe place during the first 2 months of life.

Young males start growing horns at 1 year of age and males and females reach adult size at about 3 years. The okapi's lifespan is about 30 years in captivity, but data from wild populations is unavailable.

Social life of the okapi

Okapis have overlapping home ranges of several square kilometres and typically occur at densities of about 0.6 individuals/km2. While okapis are solitary animals, they may be seen occasionally at a short distance from one another and sometimes even feed in groups.

When angry, okapis kick and throw their head back. Dominant animals hold their necks straight and heads higher than subordinates, and the placing of the neck and head on the ground is a sign of submission.

Okapis are only active during the day. They feed on leaves, buds and shoots of more than 100 different species of forest plants that are poisonous to humans as well as grasses, fruits, ferns and fungi. They also eat a type of clay that fulfils the animal’s mineral and salt requirements.

Threats to the okapi

Although the okapi occurs in patches in its range, deforestation continues to restrict the distribution of the species while poaching is reducing its population. More knowledge of this solitary and secretive species is necessary to develop adequate protection measures.

The okapi is classified as Lower risk/ Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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Palkovacs E. 2000. Okapia johnstoni (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed 08/11/05.

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