Okapi (Okapi johnstoni)  

Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family:    Giraffidae
Size:    Height: 5 feet (1.5 m)
Weight: 450 to 550 pounds (204 to 249 kg)
Diet: Shoots, leaves, grasses, seeds, flowers and fruit
Distribution: Northern, eastern, and central Zaire 
Young:  1 per year
Animal Predators:  Leopards
IUCN Status: Lower Risk, Near Threatened
Terms: No special terms
Lifespan: 30 years in captivity



·       An okapi’s tongue is 14 inches (36 cm) long.

·       Zoos only began to successfully obtain okapis after air travel was made available.

·       With their long neck and tongue, okapis can eat from branches 10 feet (3 m) above the ground. 

·       Okapis keep themselves very clean by licking their coats with their tongue.

·       When a captive okapi needs medicine, caregivers pour it on the okapi’s back—the okapi licks the medicine off immediately.



Okapis look like  large antelopes with longer ears than  donkeys’, striped hindquarters like those of zebras and a long tongue that of an anteater. As the closest relative to the giraffe, okapis have a long neck, although nowhere near as long as that of a giraffe. Their body is a warm brown with white stripes on the legs and hindquarters. Both the front and hind legs are white from the knee to the ankle. Females are slightly taller than males. Their long, black tongue enables them to pick leaves and other edibles from trees. Okapis walk with the fore and hind legs on one side moving forward at once, rather than using alternate legs.



Okapis are found only in the tropical rainforests of northern, central, and eastern Zaire, near the borders of Sudan and Uganda.  They have a home range of several square miles and will mark their territory by spraying urine, as well as by rubbing their neck  and hooves, the latter of which contains scent glands, on trees.


Feeding Habits

Okapis are grazers, and their dietary intake consists of fruit, some grasses, shoots, seeds, flowers and leaves.



Because of their elusiveness and the small number of okapis that exist in the wild, no research has been done on their reproduction or mating habits in the wild—all the knowledge available has come from studying captive okapis in zoos. Pregnancy lasts 14 months and females will head into the forest when it is time to give birth. Newborns weigh from 31 to 66 pounds (14 to 30 kg) and can stand and nurse within a few hours of birth. The young spend approximately 80 percent of the day resting in a nest while the mother grazes nearby, alert to any predators who may approach, ready to vigorously defend her baby from any danger. Weaning occurs from six to 12 months. Males begin to develop horns at one year. Both females and males reach adult size by three years of age. 



Although okapis are usually solitary animals, they are not aggressive towards other okapis. They feed near each other and may even gather in small groups to feed. Both adults and juveniles have been witnessed grooming each other and playing together. Okapis are nocturnal animals. 



In the 1860 book In Darkest Africa, author Henry Morton Stanley wrote about pygmies who told him of elusive animals that were similar to donkeys, and they called this animal “atti.” However, people were skeptical about this animal that, from descriptions, sounded like a cross between a donkey and a zebra, so in 1899, Sir Harry Johnston, Governor of Uganda, decided he wanted to see this animal for himself. He went to the Congo and questioned the locals about the animal. They knew immediately what he was talking about, and described the animal in further detail. Okapis became officially recognized in the early 20th century and zoos around the world all wanted to obtain okapis for display. Unfortunately, most of the captured okapis did not survive the long trips, dying en route. Although they were first thought to be members of the horse family, they are actually related to giraffes, with similar small horns appearing on the males, and tails and hindquarters closely resembling those of their taller relative. Recently extirpated from Uganda, okapis are now protected by law in Zaire.












Okapi Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US