Like giraffes and Cabernet tasters, okapis have long purple tongues. These are useful for stripping delicious leaves off of trees and vines, and come in handy for cleaning ears, too. Adults are about six feet tall, with lovely faces and gorgeous velvet coats of dark chestnut or mahogany. Their fur is so thick and oily (to repel rain), that it will hold your handprint for a few moments after you touch it.
The stripes on the okapi’s forelegs and hindquarters are thought to camouflage it in the forest, and may also help a calf follow its mother through dense foliage. Historically, the okapi was known to the people with whom it shared the forest, but was undiscovered by scientists until 1900. European explorers were looking for this creature rumored to be a horned horse – maybe even a unicorn!
It is unclear how many okapis survive in the wild today. Some estimates say as many as 25,000. Although protected by law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the animal is threatened by the destructive forces of deforestation, illegal mining, poaching and civil unrest in that country.
We support the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, which was established in 1992 to help protect the habitat of the okapi and many other species, as well as local indigenous people, the Mbuti pygmies. The Reserve encompasses 13,700 square kilometers of the Ituri Forest in the northeastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the very heart of Africa. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 1996, the Reserve represents a global effort to preserve rare plant and animal life and a significant human culture.
Where to See an Okapi
In the United States, you can see okapis in these zoos:
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (Colorado Springs)
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Dallas Zoological Society
Fort Worth Zoo
Los Angeles Zoo
Maryland Zoo (Baltimore)
Henry Doorly Zoo (Omaha)
St. Louis Zoo
San Antonio Zoo
San Diego Zoo