The Okapi: Ghosts of the Forest

The Okapi is a relative of the giraffe discovered in the 1900’s. It’s even called the forest giraffe, Congolese giraffe, and zebra giraffe.  Yet, it doesn’t have a long neck, so you wouldn’t think this.  There are only an estimated 5,000 living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is their only territory.  This limited range is one of the reasons it is considered endangered.

So, what is an Okapi?  They look like an antelope with a dark brown body, except for their forelegs and hind-quarters.  Those areas are striped like a zebra, which helps the Okapi blend into the jungle.  This camouflage is one of the reasons they weren’t discovered until the 1900’s and have the nickname ‘Ghost of the Forest’.  The stripes mimic the light shafts coming through the thick canopy.

I’m just going to throw out some Okapi facts though because they are very interesting creatures.  I got all this off the OKAPI CONSERVATION PROJECT SITE:

  • They are one of the oldest living mammals even though they were discovered a little more than 100 years ago.
  • They are solitary creatures.
  • Females are usually larger than males, but the males have tiny horns.
  • Okapi can eat toxic flora because they eat charcoal and clay, which absorb the toxins.
  • Their ears can move independently of each other.  This allows them to sense danger from multiple angles.
  • They have scent glands on the bottom of their feet to mark their territory.
  • Okapi have the same type of dark tongue and splay their legs to drink water like the giraffe.
  • They are the national and cultural animal of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It is fully protected by Congolese law.

Of course, they are still at risk.  Habitat loss caused by the logging industry and spread of human civilization is a big one.  Reserves have been made, but this is still an issue.  Illegal mining is another situation that threatens the Okapi.  They are poached for bushmeat and their skin, which is illegal, but always an issue.  There have been cases of poachers attacking conservation stations too.  This leads to another problem, which is the civil unrest of the area.  Territories where there are guerillas and fighting end up preventing conservation efforts.  So, the Okapi in these places are easy prey for poaching.  Some of these zones are simply too close to the reservations, which also blocks and hinders those wanting to help.

Finally, there are about 100 Okapi in zoos, which run breeding programs.  Antwerp Zoo in Belgium was the first zoo to get an Okapi in 1919 and had a successful program.  The Bronx Zoo was the first in the USA to get an Okapi in 1937.  They’ve had 13 calves between 1991 and 2011.  I’ve gotten to see those Okapi too and they are so cool.  Of course, the San Diego Zoo has bred 60 calves between 1962 and 2017, which is awesome.

So, let’s get to the pictures and videos.

Okapi from Bronx Zoo

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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22 Responses to The Okapi: Ghosts of the Forest

  1. ospreyshire says:

    Very informative post. I knew Okapis were native from the DRC and are part of the giraffe family, but I didn’t know about some of the other facts involved.


  2. They are beautiful, Charles. Thank you.


  3. Very cool choice today.


  4. V.M.Sang says:

    Interesting. They are fascinating creatures. Such a pity their habitat is under such threat.
    They are beautiful, and it’s therefore not surprising that people want their skins, but why can’t they look at them and see their beauty without coveting their hide?
    As to ‘being discovered’; I bet the natives of the area knew they were there.


    • Discovered usually means being found by outside groups who begin to study the creature. As for the poaching, it’s usually done for money. The poachers know there are those who would pay for the hide, so it’s seen as easy money.


  5. noelleg44 says:

    Such interesting-looking creatures – like a cross between a donkey, a zebra and a deer!


  6. Jennie says:

    Fascinating and quite beautiful.


  7. Pingback: The Okapi: Ghosts of the Forest – Urban Fishing Pole Lifestyle

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