The okapi is related to giraffes. The okapi is a beautiful and unusual animal. With its white-and-black striped hindquarters and front legs, it looks like it must be related to zebras! But take a look at an okapi’s head, and you’ll notice a resemblance to giraffes. The okapi is indeed the only living relative of the giraffe. Like a giraffe, the okapi has very large, upright ears, which catch even slight sounds, helping the animal avoid trouble. The okapi also has a long, dark, prehensile tongue, just like a giraffe’s, to help it strip the buds and young leaves from the understory brush of its rain forest home.
Okapis are hard to find in the wild. Their natural habitat is the Ituri Forest, a dense rain forest in central Africa. Okapis are very wary, and their highly developed hearing alerts them to run when they hear humans in the distance. In fact, while natives of the Ituri Forest knew of okapis and would occasionally catch one in their pit traps, scientists did not know of the animal until 1900. The secretive nature of okapis and the difficulty most humans have of traveling in their habitat have made okapis hard to observe in the wild. Therefore, researchers can only estimate how many okapis live there. It is believed that there are currently about 25,000 okapis in the wild.
The okapi’s home is in the tropical rain forest in the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of the Cong. The okapis have zebra like stripes. These marking seem very bold to us and give the animal great camouflage when hiding in the partial sunlight that filters through its dense rain forest habitat. The stripes may also help a young okapi follow its mother through the dark forest, and they may help adults find each other, too. The okapi’s dark purplish or reddish brown fur is dense and feels like velvet. It’s also oily, so water slides right off, keeping the okapi dry on rainy days. Only the males have horns, which are covered by skin and are short and slant backwards so they won’t get tangled in forest branches.
The males try to keep other males out of their territories but allow females to travel through in search of food. Okapi have a great sense of smell to even smell human beings while they travel for the part by themselves with in their home ranges. They still have ways of communicating with others whose ranges overlap. Okapi leaves behind a foot sticky wherever they have walked to mark their territory.
Okapis are very shy animals. Their reddish brown-black coat camouflages them in the deep forest. In the thick trees and underbrush, okapis rely on their hearing to warn them of danger. Their huge ears pick up even the softest sounds coming from any direction. They listen for leopards, which hunt adult okapis, as well as smaller wild cats, which can attack a young calf.