8 fantastic facts about the okapi
Though the Okapi looks like a combination of a horse and zebra, this amazing animal is actually a closer relative to the Giraffe – and is completely unique in the animal kingdom, with a beautiful velvety pelt, stripy legs and incredibly long tongue. Residing in the rainforests of Africa, this beautiful animal is now endangered thanks to deforestation of the continent – but can be found in many conservation projects in zoos and parks.
Without further ado, let’s learn a little more about the fascinating okapi with these facts:
1. Okapis originate from Africa, in the Congo jungles
Rather than the open plains and savannahs where giraffes, zebras and lions live, okapis instead live in the jungles of northern, central and eastern Congo. They love damp and dense vegetation, making their rainforest habitat the perfect place for them to live, with all the plants and leaves they could ever want to eat.
2. Okapis have very long tongues like a Giraffe
Like its distant relative the giraffe, the okapi also has a very long tongue, that can stretch to a whole 18 inches in length – allowing it to clean both its eyes and its ears. Also like a giraffe, the okapi’s tongue is prehensile, meaning it can move on its own accord similarly to an elephant’s trunk. This lets the okapi strip leaves and buds from trees and bushes with ease. Its tongue is even purple like a giraffe’s.
3. Okapis are born stripy
Unlike many baby animals, okapis remain the same pattern throughout their lifetime, with okapi calves looking like mini-mes of their mums when they are born, apart from a small fringe of hair on their backs. The main body of the okapi is a dark, purple or red-brown that looks velvety, while their legs have lots of zebra-like black and white stripes, to help them hide in their jungle home.
4. Okapis are only a little shorter than a human
With a rough height of around 1.5 metres or 5 feet, okapis are not much smaller than humans in size – though much smaller than their giraffe cousins, they can reach a height of 6.5 feet. This size allows them to move through their jungle home easily, and females are bigger than males, weighing up to 770 pounds.
5. Okapis are shy, solitary creatures
Unlike their more outgoing cousins, okapis are very shy, and are patterned so they blend into their habitat in the jungles of Africa. In fact, okapis are so shy of people and so good at camouflaging themselves within the jungles of Congo that when Europeans came to Africa, they did not believe that the tales of the Okapi told to them by the Congo people were real – which earned them the nickname the ‘African Unicorn’.
6. Okapis are herbivores
The average okapi diet consists of a lot of leaves, buds and even fungi and fruits that they find on the forest floor. Like giraffes, they will pull down branches from trees and pull off the leaves with their strong tongue in order to get the best, most fresh food. But okapis don’t just eat greenery – they will also eat clay from riverbeds in order to get the healthy nutrients and minerals they need. A full-grown okapi can eat between 45-60 pounds of vegetation in one single day.
7. Okapis care for their babies in nests
For the first six to eight weeks of a baby okapi’s life, also known as a calf, it is cared for by its mother in a hidden nest, concealed by plants and undergrowth. This is to protect the calf from the only predator of the okapi – the leopard. Okapi calves also don’t defecate for the first eight weeks of their life, which is a clever defence mechanism as this smell could be detected by a leopard.
8. Okapis and giraffes evolved apart 16 million years ago
Before the current forms of the modern okapis and giraffes, the two species shared a common ancestor, known as Canthumeryx. This ancestor had a neck that was longer than an okapi’s, but shorter than a giraffe’s, and each species evolved in their own special way to adapt to their habitat from this ancestor, including the length of their necks and the different patterns on their coats.