The okapi (pronounced oh-kah-pee) is an unusual animal that looks like a mix between a zebra, a horse, and a giraffe. The okapi does have a longer neck than zebras and horses have, but is is not nearly as long as a giraffe’s neck. Males have small, hair-covered, rear-facing horns that can be seen in the picture below. Because they are so short, the horns can be hard to see. In the picture below, they are above and to the right of the eye. That picture also displays the okapi’s long tongue. This tongue, like a giraffe’s tongue, is prehensile, meaning it can be used to grab on to things – kind of like an elephant’s trunk or an opossum’s tail. This tongue can be up to eighteen inches (45 cm) long! Both male and female okapis have large ears that can be turned to get the best hearing of what is going on. Click here to see a short video about these animals.
These animals live in central Africa, and as you can see from the range map below, they only live in one country – the Democratic Republic of Congo (also called just Congo). At one point okapis were also found in Uganda (the country to the left of the top of Congo), but they are thought to be extinct there now.
Okapis are rather large, and from their nose to the base of their tail they can be up to 8.2 feet (2.5 m). Their tail can add an extra 16.5 inches (42 cm) to their length. From the ground to their shoulders, these animals can stand up to 5.4 feet (1.65 m) tall. Okapis can weigh a lot, tipping the scales at up to 770 pounds (350 kg). Females are only slightly taller than males, but they weigh up to 110 pounds (50 kg) more.
These mammals live in rain-forests near the equator. Okapis generally inhabit an altitude of between 1,640 feet and 3280 feet (500-1,000 m) above sea level. The reason these animals like rain-forests is that the thick foliage helps them to hide from predators.
Okapis are herbivores, meaning they eat plants instead of other animals. Their diet consists mainly of leaves, grasses, fruits, and fungi. These animals use their prehensile tongues to wrap around branches ad pull off the leaves to eat. Some of these foods are known to be poisonous. In order to fight off these toxins, okapis eat charcoal from burnt trees. The carbon in this charcoal works as a great antidote to the consumed toxins. Sometimes they also eat clay which gives them the salt and other minerals they need. Like cows, okapis will chew their food, swallow it, regurgitate it, and repeat this process several times.
Status and threats
These animals are classified as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List. The main threat to okapis is habitat loss to agriculture and human settlements. Illegal hunting is also sometimes a threat to these animals. There are an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 okapis in the wild, but this is a very rough guess as these animals are quit shy. Because of their shyness, okapis were not known to science until about 1901.
Okapis live in ranges that can be over one thousand acres. They mark their territories using two methods. First of all their urine shows that the range is taken, but their feet also have a special gland. This gland produces a sticky, tar-like substance with a distinctive smell. This smell lets other okapis know that the area is already home to another okapi. Despite marking their ranges, okapis are not extremely territorial, and will not fight for territory. In fact, their ranges frequently overlap. Although they are usually solitary, okapis sometimes feed in groups. If an okapi is angry, it will kick at the ground and throw its head back. Dominant individuals hold their heads higher than others, and when an individual places its head or neck on the ground it is showing submission.
Mating and young
Not much is known about mating in okapis due to how shy they are. What is known is only what has been observed in captivity. Partners begin courting by circling, licking, and sniffing each other. Eventually the male displays his dominance, and mounts the female for mating. The gestation period is very long, and lasts for up to 440 days! When she is ready to give birth, the female hides in vegetation to deliver her single child. Newborn okapis weigh from 30-66 pounds (14-30 kg).
Just thirty minutes after birth, the young are ready to stand. For the first few days, the young okapi will follow its mother until the mother is able to make a nest. For the next two months, the young will spend up to eighty percent of its time in this nest. If disturbed, the calf will lie in the nest completely still while the mother rushes to chase away an intruder. At six months of age, the young start to eat plants, but they may continue to drink their mother’s milk for another year. At about one year of age, the males start developing horns, and at the age of three, both males and females have reached their maximum size. In captivity, the okapi’s lifespan is about thirty years, but there is too little data to know their lifespan in the wild.
Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!
- Animals of the world. Tom Jackson, ISBN: 978-1780191089
- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
- Okapi – Raul654
- Okapi head – Yummifruitbat
- Okapi range map – Danny
- Mystery animal – Public domain