If you have been to the Democratic Republic of Congo, you have probably heard or seen the beautiful yet confusing animal known as the Okapi. If you haven’t, then the following are the amazing things you didn’t know about them
Scientifically known as Okapi Johnstoni, okapi are also referred as Zebra giraffes or the forest giraffes and are endemic to the dense lowland rainforests of northern, eastern and Central Democratic Republic of Congo (near Congo River). They occupy the forest canopies at elevations of 500 to 1500 meters (1600 to 4900 feet) above sea level, and can be found within the gallery forests, swamp forests and habitats disturbed by human settlement. Therefore, tourists have to visit them within Okapi Wildlife Reserve, Maiko forest/National Park (northwards to Ituri Forest), River basins of Rubi, Lake Tele and Ubangi River.
Much as these animals have striped markings that resemble those of zebras, they are unbelievably closely related to the giraffes. Surprisingly, these remarkable features are important for camouflage within the thick vegetation. Okapis can be easily distinguished from their close relatives (giraffe) by their smaller size but have more external similarities to the deer and bovid than the giraffes.
Besides the giraffes, the Okapi are the other surviving members of the Giraffidae family and belong to the okapi genus. Their shoulder height is approximately 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) tall while their average body length is approximately 2.5 meters (8.2 feet). Okapis are characterized by their long necks and large flexible ears as well as chocolate to reddish brown coats which are in contrast to the white horizontal stripes and rings on their legs and white ankles.
They have grayish-white chests, faces and throats, and inter-digital glands are found within all their four feet yet are slightly larger on the front feet than on the hind feet.
These mammals are primarily diurnal although are sometimes active for few hours in darkness. Another strange thing about them is that they are generally solitary and only come together or pair-up during breeding. They are listed in IUCN’s Red List as endangered species and are fully protected under the Congolese Law.
Their body weight ranges from 200 to 350 kilograms (440 to 770 pounds). Okapis exhibit sexual dimorphism with the females being 4.2 centimeters (1.7 inches) taller on average with slightly redder coats. Surprisingly, the male okapis have short and hair-covered bumps known as Ossicones that are less than 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) in length while the female have hair whorls while the Ossicones are not present.
Okapis are generally herbivores with their diet mainly comprising of tree buds and leaves, fruits, grasses, fungi and ferns. Regardless of their long existence, they were first discovered by western scientists at the beginning of the 20th century.
These animals have a number of adaptations to their exceptional habitat-tropical and these include the large number of rod cells within the retina to facilitate night vision as well as efficient olfactory system being present.
They are primarily diurnal yet active for few hours in darkness and are basically solitary but only come together during the breeding season. Males are always overprotective of their territories but allow females to pass through their domain to forage but the males also visit female home ranges during breeding time.
Female okapis reach sexual maturity as one and a half years whereas their male counterparts after two years. Their gestation period is from 440 to 450 days whereby a single calf is born weighing from 14 to 30 kilograms (31 to 66 pounds).