The Okapi is a giraffid artiodactyl mammal native to the Ituri Rainforest, located in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in central Africa. Although the okapi bears striped markings reminiscent of the zebra, it is most closely related to the giraffe. Unknown to Europeans until 1901, today there are approximately 10,000–20,000 in the wild and only 40 different worldwide institutions display them.
Okapis have reddish dark backs, with striking horizontal white stripes on the front and back legs, making them resemble zebras from a distance. These markings are thought to help young follow their mothers through the dense rain forest; they also serve as camouflage in the wild.
The body shape is similar to that of the giraffe, except that okapis have much shorter necks. Both species have very long (approximately 30 centimetres (12 in), flexible, blue tongues that they use to strip leaves and buds from trees.
An okapi cleaning its muzzle with its tongue.The tongue of the okapi is long enough for the animal to wash its eyelids and clean its ears (inside and out). 35 to 46 centimetres (14 to 18 in) in length, the sticky tongue is pointed and bluish grey in colour like the giraffe’s. Male okapis have short, skin-covered horns called ossicones. They have large ears, which help them detect their predator, the leopard.
Okapis are 1.9 to 2.5 metres (6.2 to 8.2 ft) long and stand 1.5 to 2.0 metres (4.9 to 6.6 ft) high at the shoulder. They have a 30 to 42 centimetres (12 to 17 in) long tail. Their weight ranges from 200 to 300 kilograms (440 to 660 lb). Okapis are primarily diurnal, although recent photo captures have challenged this long held assumption. Okapis are essentially solitary, coming together only to breed, with the exception of mothers and offspring. Breeding behaviours include sniffing, circling and licking each other.
Okapis forage along fixed, well-trodden paths through the forest. They have overlapping home ranges of several square kilometres and typically occur at densities of about 0.6 animals per square kilometre (about 1.5 animals per square mile). They are not social animals and prefer to live in large, secluded areas. This has led to problems with the okapi population due to the shrinking size of the land they live on. This lack of territory is caused by development and other social reasons. However, okapis tolerate each other in the wild and may even feed in small groups for short periods of time.
Okapis have several methods of communicating their territory, including scent glands on each foot that produce a tar-like substance, as well as urine marking. Males are protective of their territory, but allow females to pass through their domain to forage.
Okapi young are not imprinted to their mothers. Several lactating females will raise their calves together.