A Few Fascinating Okapi Facts - An Unusual Animal Indeed
The okapi looks like it is part deer, and part zebra. It has a head, horns or knobs, and tongue that are strikingly similar to those of a giraffe. It has the ears of a mule, when viewed from the side, and the ears of a moose when viewed from the front. The okapi’s closest relative is, in fact, the giraffe.
Let’s take a look at a few interesting okapi facts:
A Solitary Animal
The okapi is a solitary animal, with each one staking out its own patch of turf, and more or less staying there as long as there is a sufficient supply of food. You usually won’t spot a herd of okapis no matter how hard you look, although a few individuals may group together temporarily, but they simply don’t congregate and move together in herds. The only times you are apt to come across more than a single okapi is when it is a mother with her youngster. Young okapis stay with their mother for not quite a year, and then seek their own patch of turf. A male and a female will sometimes be seen together, but only if the female is in estrous. The female also has to exhibit an interest in the male, something the females typically seem reluctant to do. Still, they shed their reluctance often enough to keep the okapi population as stable as the environment will permit.
Leaves, And Only Special Leaves
A glance at an okapi would suggest that its diet is much the same as that of a deer or a horse. The okapi is actually much choosier. It eats only leaves, and only the leaves of certain trees. Not only that, but the okapi will only eat mature leaves as long as it has a choice. While many herbivores love to eat tender green leaves and shoots, the okapi will pass them by every time when mature leaves are available. Since it tends to be somewhat picky about its diet, a single okapi usually needs a couple of square miles of forest to sustain it. Picky might not be the best word to describe the typical okapi diet, although it is in one sense accurate. In truth, the picky diet consists of well over 100 different types of leaves, so the okapi doesn’t have to spend a lot of time looking for a specific tree or shrub to feast on.
One would think that by having such a choosy diet, one consisting of only certain leaves, the okapi would have lots of competition for food. There are, however, good reasons why a given species of animal can survive, leading to one of the more peculiar okapi facts. The leaves the okapi eats are generally considered inedible by all of the other hoofed animals that are its neighbors. One of the few animals that will eat the same leaves the okapi eats is the elephant, but the elephant is not nearly so discriminating, and doesn’t single out the okapi’s favorite leaves. The elephant eats leaves, branches, bark, and whatever other kinds of vegetation if can get into its mouth.
The okapi, Okapia johnstoni, lives mostly in sub-Sahara Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in nearby Zaire. It is found in dense moist jungle, and it is always found where there is an ample supply of water nearby. Its main predator is the leopard. The okapi is large enough, often weighing over 500 pounds, to discourage other would-be predators. Also, a female will fight vigorously to protect her young. The life span of an okapi is thought to be about 30 years.
Just as a blind person touching the tip of an elephant’s trunk will not give an indication of the animal’s size, a piece of hide alone did not provide scientists with the facts about okapi needed to correctly classify the animal. The English explorer, Sir Johnston, first heard about the okapi from the famous African explorer, Stanley Livingston. Livingston described the okapi as “a donkey with the stripes of a zebra”. Johnston traveled to Africa to see the animal for himself. He sent back a part of an okapi hide to the Zoological Society of London. Upon examination of the hide, they gave the okapi the designation Equus johnstoni. They got the “johnstoni” part right. Later on, when given the opportunity to examine okapi hooves, the scientists determined that the okapi was not a member of the horse family, and the designation was changed to the present Okapia johnstoni. Later on, they referred to it for a time as a forest giraffe. This occurred after a detailed analysis of an okapi skull was able to be performed. Definitely not a horse, and close to, but not quite a giraffe, the okapi is a very unique and fascinating animal.