Okapi at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Tad Motoyama

Scientific Name: Okapia johnstoni

The okapi (pronounced “oh-KAH-pea”) is the only known living relative of the giraffe.

Extra Special Communication

Although okapi have a well developed sense of smell, they rely mainly on hearing in the dense forest. They make sounds that are audible to humans, including a cough call, or “chuff,” and the young may bleat and whistle to their mother. In addition, okapi have vocalizations that are below the frequency range that humans can hear.  The low frequency, calls can travel long distances through the forest. They provide a way for okapi to converse without being heard by their potential enemies.

Okapi are listed as endangered as of 2015, per the IUCN Red List. Because of their secretive life in the dense forest, population assessments are difficult. It is estimated that there are only 10,000 to 20,000 okapis remaining in the wild. The leopard is a natural predator. The bushmeat trade now threatens all large forest animals.

The okapi is found in central Africa in a very limited habitat in the Ituri Forest, a thick tropical rain forest in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Okapi live near waterways between 1,650 and 3,300 feet altitude, but they avoid swamps.

Okapi are herbivorous and their diet in the wild consists of foliage (leaves, soft twigs, and shoots). In captivity, their diet may contain fresh produce (including carrots, apples, onions) as well as food pellets and alfalfa hay. Salt licks are used, as well.

Like the giraffe, the okapi’s body slopes down from the shoulders and the legs are long, allowing it to reach higher foliage when browsing. The 14-18 inch long, prehensile tongue helps to draw browse into their mouth and it can be used to groom their own eyes, ears and nostrils. Okapi have a four-chambered stomach and the ability to regurgitate their food (cud) and chew it in order to obtain more nutrition. About the size of a horse, an adult okapi stands over six feet at the head and weighs between 400-700 pounds. The female is slightly taller and heavier. The male has two skin-covered horns which develop between the first and third years. The coat is lustrous, oily and velvety and each okapi has a unique pattern of zebra-like stripes on the rump and upper parts of the legs. This coloration provides camouflage in the dappled light of the forest and may serve as a “follow me” pattern for the young.

The okapi is shy, secretive, and diurnal (active during the day). It is usually solitary and it follows a well-trodden network of trails. Unlike giraffe, okapi are never found in herds. Scent glands just above the hooves leave a scented trail through the forest. Dominant male okapi establish a home range and they mate with females who pass through their territory. Calves are born after 14-15 months of gestation, and are weaned in 6 months. Females are able to have offspring at approximately 2 years.

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