Okapi Anatomy and Appearance
Like it's distant and much larger ancestor, the Okapi has a long neck which not only helps it to reach leaves that are higher up, but also provides the Okapi with a tool to both defend itself and it's territory. The Okapi has a red-brown coloured coat of fur with horizontal, white striped markings that are found on their hind quarters and at the tops of their legs, and provide the Okapi with excellent camouflage in the dense jungle. They have white ankles with a dark spot above each hoof and very thick skin to help protect them from injury. The Okapi has a long head and dark muzzle with large set-back ears which enable the Okapi to detect approaching predators easily. The Okapi also has an impressively long tongue, which is not only black in colour but it is also prehensile meaning that it is able to grab hold of leaves from the branches above.
Okapi Distribution and Habitat
The Okapi is found in the dense tropical rainforests of north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The Okapi can also be found in areas where there is a slow-moving fresh water source, but the range of the Okapi is very much limited by natural barriers, with unsuitable habitats on all four sides trapping these animals into the 63,000 square kilometre Ituri Rainforest. Around a fifth of the rainforest is today made up of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which is a World Heritage Site.
Okapi Behaviour and Lifestyle
The Okapi is a diurnal animal meaning that they are most active during the day when they spend the majority of their time roaming set paths through the forest in search of food. They are solitary animals with the exception of the time mothers spend with their calves but are known to tolerate other individuals and may occasionally feed together in small groups for a short period of time.
Okapi Reproduction and Life Cycles
After a gestation period that can last for up to 16 months, the female Okapi retreats into the dense vegetation where she gives birth to a single calf. Like many hoofed-herbivores, the Okapi calf is usually able to stand within half an hour when mother and baby then begin starting to look for a good nest spot. They remain in their nest deep in the undergrowth for the majority of the next two months which not only helps the calf to develop more rapidly but also gives it vital protection from hungry predators. Although the female Okapi will protect and feed her vulnerable calf, the two are not thought to share the same close bond that occurs with numerous other hoofed mammals.
Okapi Diet and Prey
The Okapi is a herbivorous animal eating leaves, shoots and twigs that are drawn into their mouths using their long prehensile tongue along with fruits, berries and other plant parts. The Okapi will even eat fungi on occasion and is known to eat more than 100 different types of plant, many of which are poisonous to other animals and Humans. Along with consuming a vast variety of plant material, the Okapi is also known to eat a reddish clay that provides essential salt and minerals to it's plant-based diet.
Okapi Predators and Threats
Due to the fact that the Okapi inhabits such a secluded region of mountain rainforest, it actually has surprisingly few common predators particularly in comparison to similar species. The main predator of the Okapi is the Leopard, which is one of the world's largest and most powerful felines and an animal that spends a lot of time resting in the trees.
Okapi Conservation Status and Life Today
Although they are thought to be fairly common throughout their naturally isolated range, the Okapi has been listed by the IUCN as an animal that is Near Threatened from extinction in it's natural environment. Democratic Republic of Congo (formally Zaire) since 1933, and the IUCN last estimated that there were between 10,000 and 35,000 individuals left in the wild.