Okapi

Okapia johnstoni

Click to view a larger image. Click to view a larger image. mammal mammal

Okapi
Image: Tim Davis
Source: Corbis

Museum specimen featured in the Wild exhibition
Source: Museum Victoria

Type: mammal

Okapi Okapi
Image: Tim Davis
Source: Corbis

Conservation Status

Secure Vulnerable Endangered Extinct  ]

The major threat to this species is habitat loss from logging and human settlement. Okapis can coexist with humans in the forest, but they disappear in areas of active settlement or large disturbance. Although protected by law, they are still hunted for their meat and skins.

The Okapi Faunal Reserve and Maiko National Park support significant populations. Protecting these areas is most important to ensure long-term survival of the species.

WHAT THEY EAT

herbivore

Okapi are herbivores.

They eat leaves, grasses, fruits and fungi.

HOW BIG THEY ARE

Okapi relative size depiction as described below

Size relative to a woman and a African Elephant.

Weight:
210–250 kg
Length:
body 1.9–2 m,
tail 30–42 cm
Height:
1.5–1.7 m

Amazing Okapis

Okapis are large, solitary animals that browse using their long blue tongues. Their diet includes poisonous plants and fungi, and they eat charcoal from burned forest trees to counteract the poisons in their food. They have striped legs and velvety dark coats that are almost purple-black. The stripes are thought to help young Okapis follow their mothers through the dense forest, as well as providing camouflage.

Calves are born with very different proportions to the adults – they have thick legs, short necks and small heads. A young Okapi spends a number of months in an intensive ’nesting’ phase during which it lies in vegetation, drinks its mother’s milk and sleeps. After this phase it starts to eat solid food. Okapi mothers use very low-frequency sounds to communicate with their calves. This is infrasonic sound, below the range of human hearing, and is also used by elephants.

Okapis were not known to science until 1901, although they were very familiar to the people of central Africa before then. Because of their scarcity and shy, elusive behaviour, very little is known about their biology in the wild. It appears that males mark their territory with scent glands on their feet. Males have small fleshy horns, like giraffes.

Did You Know?

Okapis

  • look like horses or zebras, but are actually related to giraffes
  • are the only mammals that can lick the inside of their own ears
  • were first described by scientists in 1901

WHERE THEY LIVE

Okapi distribution map

Okapis are found in the Congo region of central Africa. They inhabit dense rainforest, often near streams and rivers.

OTHER ANIMALS

Other animals from the Afrotropic

Blue CraneSecretarybirdMandrillAfrican Wild Dog

Related Resources

Photograph of a yellow plastic Tyranasaurus Rex