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An okapi at Disney's Animal Kingdom
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Giraffidae
Genus: Okapia
Lankester, 1901
Species: O. johnstoni
Binomial name
Okapia johnstoni
(P.L. Sclater, 1901)
Range map

The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni; pronounced /oʊˈkɑːpɪ/) is a giraffid artiodactyl mammal native to the Ituri Rainforest, located in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in central Africa. Although the okapi bears striped markings reminiscent of the zebra, it is most closely related to the giraffe. Unknown to Europeans until 1901, today there are approximately 10,000–20,000 in the wild and only 40 different worldwide institutions display them.[2]



The genus name Okapia derives from the Lese Karo name o'api[citation needed], while the species' epithet (johnstoni) is in recognition of the explorer Sir Harry Johnston, who organized the expedition that first acquired an okapi specimen for science from the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The name "Okapi" is a portmanteau of two Lese words, oka a verb meaning to cut and kpi which is a noun referring to the design made on Efé arrows by wrapping the arrow with bark so as to leave stripes when scorched by fire. The stripes on the legs of the Okapi resemble these stripes on the arrow shafts. Lese legend says the okapi decorates itself with these stripes, adding to the okapi's great camouflage.[citation needed]

Characteristics and behavior

Okapis have reddish dark backs, with striking horizontal white stripes on the front and back legs, making them resemble zebras from a distance. These markings are thought to help young follow their mothers through the dense rain forest; they also serve as camouflage in the wild.

The body shape is similar to that of the giraffe, except that okapis have much shorter necks. Both species have very long (approx. 30 cm or 12 inch), flexible, blue tongues that they use to strip leaves and buds from trees.

An okapi cleaning its muzzle with its tongue.

The tongue of the okapi is long enough for the animal to wash its eyelids and clean its ears (inside and out). Fourteen to eighteen inches (36-46 cm) in length, the sticky tongue is pointed and bluish gray in color like the giraffe's. Male okapis have short, skin-covered horns called "ossicones". They have large ears, which help them detect their predator, the leopard.

Okapis are 1.9 to 2.5 m (8.1 ft) long and stand 1.5 to 2.0 m (6.5 ft) high at the shoulder. They have a 30 to 42 cm (12 to 17 in) long tail. Their weight ranges from 200 to 300 kg (440 to 660 lb). Okapis are primarily diurnal, although recent photo captures have challenged this long held assumption. A photograph taken in the early hours of the morning around 02:33 shows an okapi feeding in the Watalinga forest in the north of the Virunga National Park in eastern DRC, thus providing evidence that they don't only feed during the daytime. Okapis are essentially solitary, coming together only to breed, with the exception of mother-offspring pairs. Breeding behaviors include sniffing, circling and licking each other.[3]

Okapis forage along fixed, well-trodden paths through the forest. They have overlapping home ranges of several square kilometres and typically occur at densities of about 0.6 animals per square kilometre. They are not social animals and prefer to live in large, secluded areas. This has led to problems with the okapi population due to the shrinking size of the land they live on. This lack of territory is caused by development and other social reasons. However, okapis tolerate each other in the wild and may even feed in small groups for short periods of time.[citation needed]

Okapis have several methods of communicating their territory, including scent glands on each foot that leave behind a tar-like substance which signals their passage, as well as urine marking. Males are protective of their territory, but allow females to pass through their domain to forage.

Okapi young are not imprinted to their mothers. Several lactating females will raise their calves together.[citation needed]


Two okapis grazing in the rainforest, habitat recreated at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City.

Okapis prefer altitudes of 500 to 1,000 m, but may venture above 1,000 m in the eastern montane rainforests. Because there is a considerable amount of rain in these forests, okapis have an oily, velvety coat of fur that repels the water. They develop this coat early in childhood also as a technique of camouflage.[4]

The range of the okapi is limited by high montane forests to the east, swamp forests below 500 m to the west, savannas of the Sahel/Sudan to the north, and open woodlands to the south. Okapis are most common in the Wamba and Epulu areas.


Okapis are herbivores, eating tree leaves and buds, grass, ferns, fruit, and fungi. Many of the plant species fed upon by the okapi are poisonous to humans.

Examination of okapi feces has revealed that the charcoal from trees burnt by lightning is consumed as well. Field observations indicate that the okapi's mineral and salt requirements are filled primarily by a sulfurous, slightly salty, reddish clay found near rivers and streams.


The okapi was known to the ancient Egyptians; shortly after its discovery by Europeans, an ancient carved image of the animal was discovered in Egypt.[5] For years, Europeans in Africa had heard of an animal that they came to call the 'African unicorn'.

An okapi at Bristol Zoo cleans itself

In his travelogue of exploring the Congo, Henry Morton Stanley mentioned a kind of donkey that the natives called the 'Atti', which scholars later identified as the okapi. Explorers may have seen the fleeting view of the striped backside as the animal fled through the bushes, leading to speculation that the okapi was some sort of rainforest zebra.

When the British governor of Uganda, Sir Harry Johnston, discovered some pygmy inhabitants of the Congo being abducted by a German showman for exhibition in Europe, he rescued them and promised to return them to their homes. The grateful pygmies fed Johnston's curiosity about the animal mentioned in Stanley's book. Johnston was puzzled by the okapi tracks the natives showed him; while he had expected to be on the trail of some sort of forest-dwelling horse, the tracks were of some cloven-hoofed beast.

Though Johnston did not see an okapi himself, he did manage to obtain pieces of striped skin and eventually a skull. From this skull, the okapi was correctly classified as a relative of the giraffe; in 1901, the species was formally recognized as Okapia johnstoni.[6]

Although the okapi was unknown to the Western world until the 20th century, it was possibly depicted 2,500 years ago on the facade of the Apadana, at Persepolis, as a gift from the Ethiopian procession to the Achaemenid kingdom.[7]

Okapi at Chester Zoo

The okapi is sometimes referred to as an example of a living fossil.[8]

The Okapi was adopted as an emblem by the now defunct International Society of Cryptozoology.

In captivity

As of 2010 there are about 160 specimens in zoos[9], making okapis in North American and European zoos reasonably common. Immediately following their discovery, zoos around the world attempted to obtain okapis from the wild. These initial attempts were accompanied by a high mortality rate due to the rigors and stress of traveling thousands of miles by boat and by train. In more recent years, shipment by airplane has proven more successful.

The first live specimen in Europe arrived in Antwerp in 1918. The first okapi to arrive in North America was at the Bronx Zoo, via Antwerp, in 1937. The first okapi born in captivity was at Zoo Basel, Switzerland in 1957. In North America, the first okapi was born at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois in 1959. Brookfield Zoo records 27 okapi births, followed by Zoo Basels 21 births.

The Brookfield Zoo directs the Okapi Species Survival Plan for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for the okapi is led by the Antwerp Zoo.

Wild status

An okapi reaches for some leaves.

Although okapis are not classified as endangered, they are threatened by habitat destruction and poaching. The world population is estimated at 10,000–20,000. Conservation work in the Congo includes the continuing study of okapi behaviour and lifestyle, which led to the creation in 1992 of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The Congo Civil War threatened both the wildlife and the conservation workers in the reserve.

There is an important captive breeding centre at Epulu, at the heart of the reserve, which is managed jointly by the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and Gillman International Conservation,[10] which in turn receives support from other organisations including UNESCO, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and WildlifeDirect[11] as well as from zoos around the world. The Wildlife Conservation Society is also active in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

On June 8, 2006, scientists reported that evidence of surviving okapis in Congo's Virunga National Park had been discovered. This had been the first official okapi sighting in that park since 1959, after nearly half a century.[12] In September 2008, the Wildlife Conservation Society reported that one of their camera traps snapped the first photo ever taken of an okapi in Virunga National Park.[13]

See also


  1. ^ IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2008). Okapia johnstoni. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 10 April 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of near threatened.
  2. ^ National Zoological Gardens of South Africa: National Zoo gets rare okapis.
  3. ^ Animal Diversity Web: Okapia johnstoni - okapi.
  4. ^ San Diego Zoo's Kid Territory: Critters: Okapi.
  5. ^ Okapi - between legend and science from Zoo-E News March 2007 Number 2
  6. ^ Walker's Mammals of the World. Ronald M Nowak. 6th Ed. 1999. p1085.
  7. ^ Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago; photo detail. The Oriental Institute identifies the subject as an Okapi with a question mark.
  8. ^,2170969
  9. ^ Basel
  10. ^ GIC
  11. ^
  12. ^ World Wild Life article
  13. ^ Photo Reveals Rare Okapi Survives Poaching Onslaught Newswise, Retrieved on September 10, 2008. Many mainstream media outlets incorrectly reported that it was the first time an Okapi had ever been photographed anywhere in the wild.

External links

News links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

OKAPI, the native name of an African ruminant mammal (Ocapia johnstoni), belonging to the Giraffidae, or giraffe-family, but distinguished from giraffes by its shorter limbs and neck, the absence of horns in the females, and its very remarkable type of colouring. Its affinity with the giraffes is, however, clearly revealed by the structure of the skull and teeth, more especially the bilobed crown to the incisor-like lower canine teeth. At the shoulder the okapi stands about 5 ft. In colour the sides of the face are puce, and the neck and most of the body purplish, but the buttocks and upper part of both fore and hind limbs are transversely barred with black and white, while their lower portion is mainly white with black fetlock-rings, and in the front pair a vertical black stripe on the anterior surface. Males have a pair of dagger-shaped horns on the forehead, the tips of which, in some cases at any rate, perforate the hairy skin with which the rest of the horns are covered. As in all forest-dwelling animals, the ears are large and capacious. The tail is shorter than in giraffes, and not tufted at the tip. The okapi, of which the first entire skin sent to Europe was received in England from Sir H. H. Johnston in the spring of 1901, is a native of the Semliki forest, in the district between Lakes Albert and Albert Edward. From certain differences in the striping of the legs, as well as from variation in skull-characters, the existence of more than a single species has been suggested; but further evidence is required before such a view can be definitely accepted.

Specimens in the museum at Tervueren near Brussels show that in fully adult males the horns are subtriangular and inclined somewhat backwards; each being capped with a small polished epiphysis, which projects through the skin investing the rest of the horn. As regards its general characters, the skull of the okapi appears to be intermediate between that of the giraffe on the one hand and that of the extinct Palaeotragus (or Samotherium) of the Lower Pliocene deposits of southern Europe on the other. It has, for instance, a greater development of air-cells in the diploe than in the latter, but much less than in the former. Again, in Palaeotragus the horns (present only in the male) are situated immediately over the eye-sockets, in Ocapia they are placed just behind the latter, while in Giraffa they are partly on the parietals. In general form, so far as can be judged from the disarticulated skeleton, the okapi was more like an antelope than a giraffe, the fore and hind cannon-bones, and consequently the entire limbs, being of approximately equal length. From this it seems probable that Palaeotragus and Ocapia indicate the ancestral type of the giraffe-line; while it has been further suggested that the apparently hornless Helladotherium of the Female Okapi.

Grecian Pliocene may occupy a somewhat similar position in regard to the horned Sivatherium of the Indian Siwaliks.

For these and other allied extinct genera see Pecora; for a full description of the okapi itself the reader should refer to an illustrated memoir by Sir E. Ray Lankester in the Transactions of the Zoological Society of London (xvi. 6, 1902), entitled "On Okapia, a New Genus of Giraffidae from Central Africa." Little is known with regard to the habits of the okapi. It appears, however, from the observations of Dr J. David, who spent some time in the Albert Edward district, that the creature dwells in the most dense parts of the primeval forest, where there is an undergrowth of solid-leaved, swamp-loving plants, such as arum, Donax and Phrynium, which, with orchids and climbing plants, form a thick and confused mass of vegetation. The leaves of these plants are blackish-green, and in the gloom of the forest, grow more or less horizontally, and are glistening with moisture. The effect of the light falling upon them is to produce along the midrib of each a number of short white streaks of light, which contrast most strongly with the shadows cast by the leaves themselves, and with the general twilight gloom of the forest. On the other hand, the thick layer of fallen leaves on the ground, and the bulk of the stems of the forest trees are bluish brown and russet, thus closely resembling the decaying leaves in an European forest after heavy rain; while the whole effect is precisely similar to that produced by the russet head and body and the striped thighs and limbs of the okapi. The long and mobile muzzle of the okapi appears to be adapted for feeding: on the low forest underwood and the swamp-vegetation. The small size of the horns of the males is probably also an adaptation to life in thick underwood. In Dr David's opinion an okapi in its native forest could not be seen at a distance of more than twenty or twenty-five paces. At distances greater than this it is impossible to see anything clearly in these equatorial forests, and it is very difficult to do so even at this short distance. This suggests that the colouring of the okapi is of purely protective type.

By the Arabianized emancipated slaves of the Albert Edward district the okapi is known as the kenge, o-a-pi being the Pigmies' name for the creature. Dr David adds that Junker may undoubtedly claim to be the discoverer of the okapi, for, as stated on p. 299 of the third volume of the original German edition of his Travels, he saw in 1878 or 1879 in the Nepo district a portion of the skin with the characteristic black and white stripes. Junker, by whom it was mistaken for a large water-chevrotain or zebra-antelope, states that to the natives of the Nepo district the okapi is known as the makape. (R. L.*)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also okapi


German Wikipedia has an article on:

Wikipedia de


Okapi n.

  1. okapi (mammal in tropical Africa)

Simple English

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Giraffidae
Subfamily: Okapiinae
Genus: Okapia
Lankester, 1901
Species: O. johnstoni
Binomial name
Okapia johnstoni
(P.L. Sclater, 1901)

The Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is an even-toed ungulate mammal from central Africa. With the Giraffe they form the family Giraffidae.



The okapi is has a reddish brown body, a whitish gray face, and white and black stripes on its legs. As It is closely related to the giraffes , the Okapi has a few features that link to a giraffes.


Okapis live in the rainforests of central Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They are mostly active during the day. Okapis eat mostly leaves and buds from trees, but also grass, ferns, fruit, and fungi.

Okapis usually live alone. After 420 to 450 days of pregnancy the mother gives birth to one baby okapi, which drinks milk for up to 6 months. Okapis become mature when they are 4-5 years old. In captivity Okapis can become 30 or more years old.

Other information

The Okapi was unknown and a mystery to western researchers for a long time. In the past, scientists thought that the Okapi was a mix between the giraffe and the zebra.

The International Society for Cryptozoology uses the Okapi as its symbol, because the Okapi was unknown for a long time.

Other websites

Look up Okapia in Wikispecies, a directory of species
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