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ANIMAL
OF THE WEEK
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Okapi

Scientific name: Okapia johnstoni


 

CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Artiodactyla
FAMILY: Giraffidae


FEEDING TYPE: Herbivore
STATISTICS: Weight: 400-700 lbs Height: over 5 ft at shoulders

DESCRIPTION:
Okapi have a chestnut-colored coat with zebra-like stripes on its legs and haunches, with the lower legs white. This striping pattern is unique to each animal. Okapi have a black, horse-like head with big ears, a long thin neck, and a black prehensile tongue. The face is whitish gray with a black muzzle. Okapi have blue-gray hooves that look similar to a giraffe’s. The hind feet are slightly smaller than the front. The tail is solid brown with a short black tuft of hair on the end. Males have two flesh-covered knobs on their heads.
Calves are blackish-brown at birth with shaggy white stripes and a short mane.

RANGE:
The Ituri Forest in Zaire

HABITAT:
Tropical forests

ADAPTATIONS:
The coloration of the okapi provides a very effective camouflage in its jungle home. The stripes appear to fade into the shadows as it walks through thick brush. It is also believed that the stripes may make it easier for a calf to recognize its mother. Its short hair is slightly oily to the touch. Brown pigment oil allows the skin to stay in good condition and may also help waterproof the animal in the damp forests.
The okapi has a small gland just above each hoof. It is masked by an infold of skin. The glands on the front legs are slightly larger than on the back legs. A waxy substance may be transmitted to the hoof through a small ridge along the hoof’s surface. The true purpose of the gland is unknown. Some believe that it may provide some type of olfactory communication by advertising the presence of these solitary animals. The waxy substance may also help keep hooves in good condition.

REPRODUCTION/GROWTH:
Okapi are generally diurnal and solitary, with the males and females only coming together to mate. Occasionally okapi can be found in pairs or in small family parties, but never in large herds. Okapi have one calf after a gestation period of 14 to15 months. Young are born from August to October, and the mothers retreat to the dense areas of the forest to give birth. The young nurse for six months, and become sexually mature after two years.

PREY/PREDATOR:
Prey to humans
Predators to none

DIET:
Wild: Leaves, shoots, buds

STATUS:
Okapi are not believed to be endangered, although accurate assessments of populations in the dense jungle are extremely difficult. Okapi are currently listed as Lower Risk, near threatened with IUCN.

SPECIAL NOTES:

  • Despite its coloration, there is no relation between the okapi and the zebra. Instead, the okapi’s closest living relative is the giraffe.
  • Although long hunted by the pygmies of Zaire, the okapi was one of the last large mammals to be discovered. Because of its reclusive nature and impassable habitat, it was not found until around 1900.
     

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Okapi. Brent Huffman. September 2003. h
  2. Lindsey, Green, and Bennett. The Okapi. University of Texas, Austin. 1999
  3. Nowak, Ronald M. Walker’s Mammals of the World Fifth Edition, Volume II. John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1991 pp 1401-1402
  4. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. June 2008

 

Published: October 2008

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