The okapi or “forest giraffe” was first described by scientists in 1901. Sir Harry Johnston’s watercolor rendition of the elusive animal, which was done before he ever saw one, proved to be quite accurate. Even today, the okapi largely remains a mystery to the outside world.
Inhabiting the tripical forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the okapi is one of many endemic vertebrate species, including the bonobo and the Congo peafowl, found nowhere else in the world. For all of its mystery, the okapi has become an ambassador for all the species which share the Ituri Forest.
About the size of a horse, the okapi stands over six feet at the head and five feet at the shoulder. Adult okapi weigh between five and seven hundred (500-700) pounds and may live to thirty (30) years of age in captivity.
The okapi’s tongue measures from fourteen to eighteen (14-18) inches long. They use their tongue to wrap around leaves and branches on which they feed, as well as to groom themselves and their calves. The distinguishing brown and white markings on the okapi’s rump and legs help to camouflage it in the forest. The stripes look like streaks of sunlight filtering through the trees.
Okapi calves are born with the same color patterns as the adults. To avoid leopards they will stay in one place on a “nest” for the first six to nine (6-9) weeks of their life; much longer than calves of other species are known to do.