An Okapi adult grazing. Photograph by Derek Keats. (2009).
Solitary and shy, the Okapi, or Okapia johnstoni, is the only living relative of giraffes and has been nicknamed the “Forest Giraffe” because of it’s distinctive giraffe-like head. (San Diego Zoo, 2018) Although from behind, the Okapi almost looks like a relative of the Zebra, this is merely an adaptation that helps the Okapi blend in with it’s dense jungle environment to protect it from predation. The stripes function as a sort of camouflage for the species, helping disguise Okapi with the flickering sunlight in the forest. (San Diego Zoo, 2018)
The Okapi are distributed around a single forest called the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is where the Okapi Wildlife Reserve is located, occupying about 1/5 of the forest. (UNESCO, n.d.) The Okapi’s diet consists only of leaves, which are generally slow growing and thinly distributed but inedible to most other animals. They use their giraffe-like tongue to eat leaves off of the understory of the jungle with ease. (Hart, 2009)
So why are they endangered? Well, the Okapi have reached endangered status as they are threatened by various human activities including deforestation, poaching, and mining. Deforestation and illegal occupation of key habitats are the biggest threats to the Okapi. (IUCN, 2015) The southeastern Ituri Forest, the only place on Earth where the Okapi live in the wild, is one of the most threatened regions by human encroachment. as In 2013, one workshop performed by the Okapi Conservation Project found that the Okapi’s population has declined 50% in just the past 15 years. (IUCN, 2015)
This is a dangerous trend and if it continues will certainly lead to extinction of the species in the wild. The Okapi must be preserved before factors such as temperamental African politics, deforestation, or hunting bring the end of this unusual species.
Estimated Population of the Okapi is 25,000 individuals in the wild distributed across the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (San Diego Zoo, 2018)
To find out more or to donate to conserve the Okapi: