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Enthralling Facts About the Okapi

Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
I have the head of a horse, legs of a zebra and the tongue of a giraffe. Who am I? Seek your answers here.
The okapi (plural ~ okapis) is one of the most beautiful animal species. Given the physical appearance of an Okapi, it is thought to be a relative genus of the giraffe, zebra and a horse. Let's take a closer look at these fascinating mammals.

Okapi Demystified

Okapis are commonly known as forest giraffes. Excavators have found carved images of okapis in Egypt, thus, concluding that these amazing animals were known to the ancient Egyptians. However, the okapi was discovered officially, only in the early 20th century.


Okapi is a mammal, categorized under the order Artiodactyla. Relative to giraffes, its family is Giraffidae. The genus name is Okapia, while species name is johnstoni in honor of its discoverer.


» An adult okapi measures about 6.5 feet in height and 8 feet in length.

» The head is uncannily similar to that of a horse whilst, the coat is a hue of a velvety, purplish-red and a rich dark brown, which doubles up as an ideal camouflage for survival in the wilderness.
The features that okapis share with the giraffe are the front and rear outline of the body. The long prehensile tongue also resembles that of a giraffe but is bluish-gray in color.
The neck, however, is shorter and thicker, comparatively. The creamy white and black stripes on the legs are prominent to those of the zebra. The tongue measures up to 14 inches (approximately), long enough for the okapi to animatedly lick its eyelids and groom its ears.

Habitat & Diet


The natural habitat of okapis are the dense and moist rainforests which are located at high altitudes, and they can commonly be found in Congo and certain parts of Sudan. Their biggest threats are leopards and poachers.

Food Habit

Okapis are herbivores, feeding on leaves, buds, grasses, flowers, fungi and fruit. An adult okapi can gorge on 40-65 pounds of food every day. Most of the plant species that are poisonous to us humans is food for the Okapis. They are most active in the evenings.


When a female okapi attains sexual maturity, it communicates certain vocal sounds to invite a male okapi for mating. After fertilization is over, the female okapi gestates for around 427-491 days and gives birth to a single calf. The courtship rituals of the okapis is a graceful affair and includes smelling, caressing and osculating. Newborns can weigh up to 30kg. A young okapi grows into an adult after 3 years of birth. A mother will instinctively guard her calf against predators.


As per the animal conversation data, the estimated population of okapis was nearly 40,000 in the first half of the 20th century. Today, the number has deteriorated to about 10,000 or slightly more. The main reasons for decreasing okapi population are:

» Disturbance in the habitat;

» Illegal mining for resources;

» Deforestation and hunting;

» Highly priced meat of okapi, making it a much sought after animal amongst the local people.


» In the 1900s, a British governor of Uganda, Sir Henry Johnston, an avid explorer and a passionate wildlife researcher, happened to rescue a couple of native pygmies who were abducted for an exhibit. These natives then returned him the favor by giving him a description about the Okapi. His research finally led to recognize the species, "Okapia johnstoni" as they are known today.
» The natives of Congo refer to this wild animal by the name 'Atti', which were later known to translate as "Okapis".

» Indigenous to the Ituri rainforest of Congo, it was identified globally for the first time in 1901.
» Unlike other herding animals, the okapi prefers to live a solitary existence.
» Born with upright ears, the okapi has a very keen sense of hearing.

» A scent gland is present in each of the feet, from which a gummy tar-like substance is leaked to the ground while walking. This represents the marking of a particular territory.
» Each day, the okapi can eat food that accounts to 10% of its weight.
» The male okapi can be differentiated from the female by its short horns, which are covered by fur.

» There are around 10,000-20,000 okapis in the wild today.
» The lifespan of an okapi in captivity is approximately 33 years.
If you get a chance to visit some of the bigger zoos or wildlife conservation centers, do not miss the chance of watching this unique animal.