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Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Giraffidae
          Genus: Okapia

Okapia johnstoni



Okapia johnstoni [P. L. Sclater, 1901].  
Citation: Proc. Zool. Soc. Lond., 1901(1):50.
Type locality: Zaire, Semliki Forest, Mundala.

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 200-210 cm / 6.6-7 ft.
Shoulder Height: 150-170 cm / 5-5.6 ft.
Tail Length: 30-42 cm / 12-16.8 in.
Weight: 210-250 kg / 462-550 lb.

The velvet-like coat is generally dark chestnut-brown or purplish red in colour, with distinctive pattern of horizontal stripes, much like those of a zebra, on the upper legs.  The lower legs are white, with dark garters at the joints.  The vaguely horse-like head is generally lighter, with a black muzzle, and is supported by a thick neck.  The ears are large, and the black tongue is long and prehensile.  The body is sloped, with the forequarters much higher than the rear.  Males have two skin covered 'horns'  or knobs on the forehead which develop between one and five years of age.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 14-15 months.
Young per Birth: 1
Weaning: After 6 months.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 2 years, males later.
Life span: Over 30 years.

Young are born from August to October.  Expectant mothers retreat into dense forest to give birth, after which the newborn lies hidden for several days.  The young do not seem to imprint on their mothers, and have been observed nursing from two different females.

Ecology and Behavior

The okapi is active during the day, using fixed, well-trodden paths through the jungle.  To locate breeding partners, okapis use their well-developed sense of smell.  While usually silent, okapis may make a soft cough during the rut.  Young animals, on the other hand, have a wide repertoire of noises, including coughs, bleats, and whistles.  The number of these vocalizations increase when the mother and child are separate.  Mothers are very protective of their young, defending it vigorously.  Before fighting begins, the female sends out a threat by beating on the ground with her forelegs.  Estimated population densities range from 0.8-2.3 animals per square kilometer.  Okapis have individual home ranges of about 2.5-5 square kilometer, which they move through at the rate of about a kilometer per day as they forage.  The okapi finds the minerals its body needs by eating a sulfurous clay found along river banks..

Family group: Solitary, or in temporary small groups.
Diet: Leaves, grasses, fruit.
Main Predators: Leopard.


Dense, moist jungle near water throiughout the Ituri Forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Range Map (Redrawn from IEA, 1998)

Conservation Status

The okapi is not believed to be in danger, although accurate population assessments are difficult in the dense jungle.


The only known living relative of the giraffe, the okapi was first described to western science by P. L. Sclater in 1901.  Henry Stanley first penetrated the dense Ituri Forest of the Congo in 1890, exposing the existence of the okapi in his book "In Darkest Africa".  In his writings, he remarked of his surprise when the native Wambutti pygmies didn't marvel at his horses, saying that they sometimes caught a donkey-like animal in their pits, which they called o'api (misinterpreted by Stanley as atti).  Rumours of this strange, ass-like animal reached Sir Johnston, which spurred him to make a journey into the Congo in 1899.  After winning the confidence of the Wambutti, Johnston was able to learn more about the mysterious atti - including its real name.  After hearing its description - a dark brown animal resembling a donkey with striped legs - Johnston was sure that the o'api was a species of forest zebra still awaiting a scientific description.  Later that year, in the Belgian Fort at Mbeni, Johnston was able to obtain two headbands, made from the striped pieces of okapi skins, which he sent to the Zoological Society of London in 1900.  From these pieces of skin, an announcement of a new species - Equus? johnstoni - was made.  Back in the Congo, Johnston was shown a set of tracks by the natives which they insisted were made by an okapi.  However, as the tracks were cloven-hoofed, Johnston dismissed them as they did not fit his notion that the okapi was a member of the horse family.  Meanwhile Karl Eriksson, Commandant at Fort Mbeni, was able to secure a complete skin and two skulls, which he sent to Johnston.  Armed with these findings, Johnston wrote back to the Zoological Society of London, sending the priceless cargo along.  The skulls were the key to the puzzle, allowing scientists to determine that this new species was not a horse, but a forest giraffe.  Okapi is a corruption of the native name o'api.  Sir Harry H. Johnston (1858-1927), explorer and author, discovered the okapi while in the Colonial Administration of British Central Africa.

Literature Cited

Grzimek, B.  1990.  Okapis.  In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp. 262-265.

IEA (Institute of Applied Ecology) 1998.  Okapia johnstoni.  In African Mammals Databank - A Databank for the Conservation and Management of the African Mammals Vol 1 and 2.  Bruxelles: European Commission Directorate.  Available online at

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Shuker, K. 1993. The Lost Ark: new and rediscovered animals of the Twentieth Century. London: HarperCollinsPublishers.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

Additional Resources

East, R. [compiler]. 1999. African Antelope Database 1998. IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN.

Hart, J. A.  (1992).  Forage selection, forest availability, and use of space by Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) a rainforest giraffe in Zaire.  Ongules/Ungulates 91: 217-221

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