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The forest giraffe of Zaire

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Giraffidae

Genus & Species: Okapia johnstoni


The okapi is the only living relative of the giraffe and was one of the last large mammals to be discovered in Africa. They are smaller than the giraffe, only being 5-5.6 ft tall at the shoulders. The females are usually larger than the males. The body length is 6.6-7 ft and the tail is 12-17 in. long. The tail ends in a tuft. Okapis weigh 462-550 lbs. 2-5 skin covered horns called ossicorns are located on the forehead. They are only small knobs on the females. The coat is a deep purplish, reddish, or blackish brown. The face is white with dark grey on the crown and forehead. The muzzle is brown. The legs are white with black stripes above the knees. A black line runs down the front of the forelegs. 11-19 white stripes are located on the haunches, and 3- 4 more white stripes are found on the upper part of the forelegs. The skin is thick and rubbery. The tongue is long and coloured blue-black and is used to clean its eyes, ears and nose. The neck is thick and the ears are large. The hooves are cloven. The body is stout and resembles a horse.

Okapis are usually silent, making only a soft cough during rut. The calves whistle, bleat, and cough. Okapis have a life span of 30 years.


Okapis are found in the thick undergrowth of the Ituri Forest in northeastern Zaire. They are usually found near a source of water. They are solitary creatures, only rarely traveling in small family groups and getting together with others only to mate.


Okapis feed on shoots, buds, ferns, fruits, grasses, leaves, and seeds. They get minerals by eating a sulfurous clay found along the riverbanks. They are ruminants like cows and giraffes.


Sexual maturity is reached at age 2 for females and even later for males. A mating pair of okapis stay together for 2-3 weeks. The female goes in heat for 40-50 days, and will go in heat again during pregnancy. The gestation period is 435-499 days, much the same as the giraffe. One calf is born between August and October. The calf weighs 35-44 lbs at birth. The mother does not lick the calf's bottom to get it to defecate, a rarity among ruminants; the calf may not defecate for up to 30 days after birth. The young have been known to nurse from two different females.

Okapis are particularly hard to breed in captivity, the first one being born in Septmeber of 1954 at Antwerp Zoo. It lived for only one day. Breeding programs have been successful in other areas.


The main enemy of the okapi is the leopard. They are also hunted by poachers and Wambutti pygmies who use their skins as tribal headbands. The females are very protective of their young and will do anything necessary to scare off a predator. Okapis are considered to be rare.


Okapis were unknown to science until 1901, when Sir Johnston traveled to the Ituri Forest to investigate rumors of a strange donkey-like animal with striped legs. He managed to obtain skins at a Belgian Fort and sent them to the Zoological Society of London. They examined the skins and announced the discovery of a new species of horse and named it Equus johnstoni. Later Johnston stumbled across the tracks of an okapi, but they were unlike any horse tracks as the hooves were cloven. Two skulls and a complete skin was then discovered, and it was found out that the okapi was actually a forest giraffe, not a horse at all.

The term okapi comes from the Wambutti word for it, o'api. It had been previously called the atti.


The okapi is related to the giraffe.


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