Restricted to the dense rainforests of Central Africa, the okapi (Okapia johnstoni) is a large even-toed ungulate which is closely related to the giraffe. Although the okapi and giraffe are very different in appearance and habitat, they both possess a long, flexible tongue, ossicones (horns covered in skin), and lobed canine teeth.
The okapi is around 1.5 metres tall and can weigh up to 350kg. They have a chocolate-brown coat with white stripes around their legs, giving them a zebra-like appearance. This unusual pattern acts as an effective camouflage technique in the dense forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to which it is uniquely endemic. As herbivores, they feed on various leaves, grasses, ferns, buds, fruits and fungi during daylight hours (okapis are diurnal).
The okapi only became known to the Western world in the early 20th century due to its rare and elusive nature. I find this mammal very intriguing as it seems to perfectly fill its own unique niche and has an impressive colouration. I also like their appropriate nickname – the forest giraffe.
The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists the okapi as an endangered species due to its low population and critically restricted range. They are threatened by logging, urbanisation, excessive hunting, and mining which have caused the okapi’s population to rapidly dwindle. Along with the giraffes, the okapi is one of the last members of the family Giraffidae so their conservation is vital. The Okapi Conservation Project was established in 1987 in order to protect this wondrous and elusive species. With a gestation period of 450 days (15 months), the conservation of the okapi will not be a quick nor easy process. In order to help the rare okapi, the D.R.C must make a cooperative effort with conservation organisations to reduce the damage caused to their forest habitat.