The mysterious forest zebra is the closest living relative of the giraffe

Eric Kilby

Okapis are not as tall as a giraffe, and their necks are much shorter, but their long-prehensile tongues, ruminating stomachs, and ossicones in males are just like their cousins!

The body is covered with dark reddish-brown velvety waterproof fur and a rump with ‘follow me’ stripes. This 300 kg (660 pounds) animal was unidentified until the 20th century – it was first discovered in Africa in 1901.

The Ituri forest of the D.R. Congo is home to Okapi. They prefer primary and older secondary forests with a high canopy. No data is available on their current population size due to personal insecurity and rebel militias throughout their habitat, and even sample sizes are inadequate for statistical analysis.

Recent numbers are believed to be low and declining; they are at risk.


Population est.
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
Official estimate
Extinct 1970s

Recent updates

March 2023: The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) announced plans to expand its okapi conservation efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including anti-poaching measures, habitat protection, and community outreach programs.

Feb  2022: The Okapi Wildlife Reserve, home to the endangered okapi species, is in danger of being lost forever due to human activity. Mining, deforestation, and poaching have all taken a toll on the reserve, and criminals have even killed several of the reserve’s forest guards since 2012. Okapi Conservation Project works with the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and communities to ensure the protection of the okapi and many other species that call this rainforest home.

Did you know?

  • Despite those zebra-like stripes, they are not related to zebra. Okapis are even-toed ungulates like a giraffe.
  • They do not like the spotlight and are very rarely seen, thanks to their fantastic camouflage.
  • They do not persist in disturbed habitats near large and active settlements.
  • They have impressively long tongues (~46 cm – 18 in) that can reach their ears.
  • Their eyesight is poor, but with an incredible hearing sense, they can listen to low-frequency calls and communication from another okapi, inaudible to predators.
  • On each foot, they have scent glands that leave a sticky tar-like substance to mark their territory.
  • To keep unwelcoming predators at bay, they can go without pooping for the first six to nine weeks of their life and can go up to 60 days before defecating!
  •  Okapis have been affected very badly by poaching for skins and bushmeat, deforestation, bycatch in snaring, accidents, and, most importantly, civil unrest and armed groups.

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Get to know me

Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No

Okapi on banknotes

Congo (RDC) 1000 Francs

Okapi – Congo (RDC) Centimes (1997)

Okapi – Congo (RDC) Centimes (1997)