Okapi (Okapia johnstoni)

Okapi mother and child (Photo credit: Kim Downey for the Saint Louis Zoo)
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Unlike what first appearances might indicate, the okapi is more related to the giraffe than to the zebra. In fact, they’re the only remaining members of the Giraffidae family.

The okapi is a diurnal solitary herbivore that feeds on tree leaves and buds, grasses, ferns, fruits, and fungi. In feeding, they use their long black tongue to pluck buds and leaves, it’s also useful in grooming.

Though they’re generally peaceful, the okapi can display aggression signs such as the Flehmen response, as in horses, it’s an expression in which they curl back their upper lips, displaying their teeth and inhale through the mouth for a few seconds.

Okapi at Disney's Animal Kingdom, 2005 (Image source: Raul654/Wikimedia Commons)

Okapi at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, 2005 (Image source: Raul654/Wikimedia Commons)

Their gestational period can last for 15 to 16 months; after which, a single calf is born via a birthing process that can take up to 4 hours. Newborns have false eyelashes that fall out as they grow, and they can stand on their own within only half an hour after birth. The youngest ones are kept hidden and nurse infrequently to reduce predation. They can start feeding from solid food sources once they reach about three months of age.

Baby Okapi (Image source: ZooBorns)

Baby Okapi (Image source: ZooBorns)

Under normal circumstances, the okapi’s average lifespan ranges from 20 to 30 years. They’re native to Central Africa and classified as an Endangered Species by The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. The biggest threats to their survival, besides the leopard as their natural predator, include habitat loss due to logging, mining, and human settlement establishments.

Additionally, illegal armed groups surrounding protected areas inhibit the proper conservation of okapis and their environment. In 2012, poachers attacked the headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve killing six guards, staff members, and 13 captive okapis.



Cover image credit: Kim Downey for the Saint Louis Zoo.


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