Okapia – Okapi

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

A mysterious and elusive creature native to the dense rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo that stands as a testament to the rich biodiversity of Central Africa. While it shares a taxonomic family with the giraffe, the okapi exhibits unique characteristics distinguishing it from its taller relatives. The okapi was a late discovery to the Western world, with its existence only confirmed in 1901, earning it the title of “Africa’s last large mammal discovery.”

Unlike giraffes, okapis possess a much shorter neck. However, it is longer in proportion to their body than most mammals, allowing them to navigate and forage in the dense foliage of their rainforest habitat. One of the most striking features of the okapi is its long, prehensile tongue, extending up to 14 inches (35 centimeters), which they use with remarkable dexterity to strip leaves and buds from trees and bushes. This tongue is also adept at personal grooming, enabling okapis to clean their entire face and even their ears.

The okapi’s fur is another marvel of evolution. Its coat is a rich, velvety dark reddish-brown, providing effective camouflage in the dappled light of the forest understory. The distinctive white-and-black stripes on their rumps and legs, reminiscent of zebras, serve as a “follow me” signal in the dim forest, helping calves keep up with their mothers. These stripes also disrupt the animal’s outline, making it difficult for predators to detect them. Male okapis are characterized by the presence of ossicones, small, hair-covered horn-like structures on their heads, which are absent in females.

Conservation initiatives for the okapi include habitat protection, anti-poaching patrols, and community engagement programs to promote sustainable land use practices. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the D.R. Congo, plays a crucial role in these efforts, providing a sanctuary for okapis and other endangered species.