The okapi ( /oʊˈkɑːpiː/), Okapia johnstoni, is a giraffid artiodactyl mammal native to the Ituri Rainforest, located in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Central Africa. Although the okapi bears striped markings reminiscent of zebras, it is most closely related to the giraffe.
The total population is estimated in the order of 10,000-35,000 animals, and numbers are stable in the large protected areas. However, the Okapi’s future is closely tied to attempts to develop and implement effective conservation and management of Okapi Faunal Reserve and Maiko National Park in DR Congo, as human populations, bushmeat hunting and economic development pressures expand in these regions. In the absence of these conservation measures, the species would probably quickly meet the thresholds for decline under criterion A4ce.
The Okapi is limited to closed, high canopy forests, occuring in a wide range of primary and older secondary forest types. It does not range out into gallery forests or into the forest islands on the savanna ecotone and it does not persist in the disturbed habitats surrounding larger forest settlements. Although they will use seasonally inundated areas when the substrate is still wet, they do not occur in truly inundated sites or extensive swamp forest (Hart in press).
The Okapi is an elusive herbivore that is found in a small pocket of tropical mountain forest in central Africa. Despite it's Deer-like appearance the Okapi is actually one of the last remaining ancestors of the Giraffe, which is the tallest animal on Earth.
The Okapi is a diurnal animal meaning that they are most active during the day when they spend the majority of their time roaming set paths through the forest in search of food. They are solitary animals with the exception of the time mothers spend with their calves but are known to tolerate other individuals and may occasionally feed together in small groups for a short period of time.
Although okapis have stripes like zebras, they are actually most closely related to giraffes. These large hoofed mammals were not known to science until 1901, probably because of their secretive lifestyle.
Habitat destruction has been the greatest threat to okapis. In 1992, the Democratic Republic of the Congo set aside a portion of its Ituri Forest as a preserve for these and other threatened wildlife. But the species is still in trouble, and is among those animals that winds up victim to the illegal trade in "bushmeat".
The okapi was known to the ancient Egyptians; shortly after its discovery by Europeans, an ancient carved image of the animal was discovered in Egypt. Although the okapi was unknown to the Western world until the 20th century, it was possibly depicted 2,500 years ago on the facade of the Apadana, at Persepolis, as a gift from the Ethiopian procession to the Achaemenid kingdom.
Okapis mostly travel by themselves, but they still have ways of communicating with others of their kind. A scent gland on each foot leaves behind a sticky, tar-like substance wherever they have walked, marking their territory and leaving their personal "perfume" behind!
During courtship, couple stands head to tail in a reverse parallel position, accompanied by circling and mutual sniffing of inguinal areas. Males and females flehmen, and males then go through a series of behaviors including head and neck stretches, head forward and upward positions, erect postures, nose lifting, and leg kicking. The receptive female responds by a head-low posture, often with the tail shunted aside.
In an environment thick with predators and alive with dense trees that make it impossible to see more than a few feet in any direction, okapi communicate using glands between their toes to leave trails of smell wherever they walk, and make sounds so low that humans cannot hear them. To us, life in the forest is a struggle, but with amazing features like an 18-inch muscular tongue that can grasp leaves, velvety brown fur that is so oily it sheds water like Rainex, and camouflage markings on their rump that look like a zebra, the okapi can disappear into the undergrowth and thrive.