Weird and Wonderful #2 - The Okapi

By Cameron | November 18, 2015

The Okapi

The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni), is a giraffid artiodactyl mammal native to 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 okapi and the giraffe are the only living members of the family Giraffidae. The okapi stands about 1.5 m (4.9 ft) tall at the shoulder and has an average body length of about 2.5 m (8.2 ft). Its weight ranges from 200 to 350 kg (440 to 770 lb). It has a long neck, and large, flexible ears. Its coat is a chocolate to reddish brown, much in contrast with the white horizontal stripes and rings on the legs and white ankles. Male okapis have short, hair-covered horns called ossicones, less than 15 cm (5.9 in) in length. Females possess hair whorls, and ossicones are absent.

One of the most distinctive features of both the Okapi and the Giraffe is their long prehensile tongue which can not only be used to grab onto leaves and branches but it also assists the animal when grooming. The tongue of the Okapi is in fact so long, that they are one of the few animals in the world that are said to be able to lick their own ear! Although they are quite rare and very secretive animals, there were sightings of the Okapi in these forests but these generally involved seeing the animal from behind and so the Okapi was known by many as a Forest Zebra. The Okapi was not classified as a distinct species until 1900 – 1901, when Harry Johnston sent two pieces of Zebra-like skin to London which was analysed and meant that a new species had been recorded.

Due to the fact that the Okapi inhabits such a secluded region of mountain rainforest, it actually has surprisingly few common predators particularly in comparison to similar species. The main predator of the Okapi is the Leopard, which is one of the world’s largest and most powerful felines and an animal that spends a lot of time resting in the trees. Unlike other predators which the Okapi’s acute hearing would sense moving through the undergrowth, the Leopard’s position above ground means that they are able to both survey the surrounding area for potential prey and are also able to ambush it from above. Other predators of the Okapi include the Serval and Human hunters in the area, but the biggest threat to the world’s Okapi population is habitat loss due to deforestation.

All said and done the Okapi is definitely one of the more wonderful animals in Africa.

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