Okapi distribution extends across parts of central, northern and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). North and east of the Congo River, Okapi range from Maiko Forest north to the Ituri Forest, then west through the Rubi, Tele and Ebola river basins, extending north towards the Ubangi River. Okapi have a much smaller range to the west and south of the Congo River, extending from the west bank of the Lomami River west to the upper Lomela and Tshuapa basins (Hart 2013). In the fairly recent past, Okapi occurred occasionally in the adjoining Semliki forest of western Uganda (Kingdon 1979).
The extent of occurrence (EOO) is 383,190 km2, but this includes unsuitable habitat such as degraded forest, swamp forest and urban areas. Excluding all these gives in an area of 244,405 km2 for the suitable or hypothesised range (Quinn et al. 2013). The area of occupancy (AOO) is 14,112 km2, based on a grid of 5.6 x 5.6 km, the size used by most reported surveys and 450 (3.5%) of 12,764 grid squares with confirmed presence Quinn et al. (2013). The AOO figure is, however, considered likely to be a substantial underestimate; surveys have been conducted in only 1,994 out of 12,764 grid squares so far.
Recorded presence is concentrated in and around protected areas, mainly reflecting survey effort. The remoteness and inaccessibility of much Okapi habitat make field work logistically difficult, and insecurity in DRC over the past two decades has further restricted survey activity. As a consequence, extensive parts of potential Okapi range are poorly studied. Furthermore, Okapi are secretive and their occurrence can easily go undetected, especially at low densities.
The known strongholds of the Okapi are the Ituri and Maiko Forests, the forests of the upper Lindi, Maiko and Tshopo basins and the Rubi-Tele region in Bas Uele (Hart 2013). There are confirmed recent (2013) records of Okapi in the Abumonbanzi Reserve in Gbadolite district of North Ubangi at the north-west end of the distribution.
Since 1980, expansion of human settlement, deforestation and forest degradation have eliminated important portions of Okapi range, in particular in the southern and eastern Ituri Forest where the species was at one time abundant (Hart 2013).
Okapis are found only in the tropical forests of northeastern Zaire. They prefer altitudes between 500 and 1,000 m, although they may venture above 1,000 m in the eastern montane rainforests. One sighting occurred at 1,450 m on Mt. Hoyo, in the upper Ituri. The range of the okapi is limited by high montane forests to the east, swamp forests below 500 m to the west, savannas of the Sahel/Soudan to the north, and open woodlands to the south. Okapis are most common in the Wamba and Epulu areas (Bodmer 1992).
Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )
The okapi has a form superficially resembling that of a horse. Average body length is 2.5 m, and average height at the shoulder is 1.5 m. The neck is relatively long in comparison to that of other ruminants, and the ears are large and flexible. The body is chocolate-brown, with creamy white horizontal stripes on the legs and hindquarters and white stockings on the ankles. The cheeks, throat, and chest are whitish-gray or tan (Bodmer 1992). The unique color pattern of the okapi allows it to disappear into the background of dense vegetation and rotting leaves where it lives (Grzimek 1990). Male okapis have hair-covered horns not exceeding 15 cm in length. The horns are fused to the frontal bones over the orbits and project rearward. Females may be slightly red in color, lack horns, and average 4.2 cm taller than males. Both males and females have interdigital glands on the front and hind feet (Bodmer 1992). The most giraffe-like feature of the okapi is the long black tongue which is used for plucking buds, leaves, and branches from trees and shrubs as well as for grooming (Kingdon 1979). In addition, the walking gait of the okapi closely resembles that of a giraffe. Both giraffe and okapi simultaneously step with the front and hind leg on the same side of the body rather than moving alternate legs on either side like other ungulates (Dagg, 1960).
Range mass: 200 to 300 kg.
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.
Habitat and Ecology
Okapis occur in the dense rainforests at middle elevations within their range. They frequent river banks and stream beds and may occasionally venture into areas of secondary forest growth (Bodmer 1992).
Terrestrial Biomes: rainforest
Okapis are diurnal and forage along fixed, well-trodden paths through the forest (Grzimek 1990). They feed primarily on the leaves, buds, and shoots of more than 100 different species of forest vegetation (Bodmer 1992). Many of the plant species fed upon by the okapi are known to be poisonous to humans. Additionally, okapis eat grasses, fruits, ferns, and fungi. Examination of okapi feces has revealed that the charcoal from trees burnt by lightning is consumed as well. Field observations indicate that the okapi's mineral and salt requirements are filled primarily by a sulfurous, slightly salty, reddish clay found near rivers and streams (Grzimek 1990).
Life History and Behavior
Status: captivity: 30.0 years.
Status: captivity: 15.0 years.
Status: captivity: 33.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
In the wild, okapis are solitary, coming together primarily for mating. Okapi courtship and mating rituals are known only from observations done in zoos. Partners begin courtship by circling, sniffing, and licking eachother. Eventually, the male asserts his dominance by extending his neck, tossing his head, and thrusting one leg foreward. This display is followed by mounting and copulation. After mating, the male and female part (Grzimek 1990). The gestatation period lasts about 440 days (Bodmer 1992), and females retreat into dense forest vegetation to give birth (Grzimek 1990). Newborn okapis weigh 14-30 kg at birth. They are precocial and may nurse after 21 minutes and stand after just 30 minutes. Young spend the first day or two of life following the mother around and exploring the environment. After this, they find a suitable hiding spot and make a nest. For the next two months, they spend 80% of their time in this nest. Hiding behavior appears to promote rapid growth and provides protection from predators. A disturbed calf lies motionless in its nest, and a female okapi will rush to aggressively defend her calf from danger. During the hiding stage, young nurse relatively infrequently and do not defecate. These strategies help keep them undetected by predators. Weaning occcurrs at about 6 months, although young may continue to suckle for more than a year. Young males begin developing horns at one year of age, and both males and females reach adult size at about three years. In captivity, the youngest female to breed was 1 year 7 months old, and the youngest male was 2 years 2 months old. The okapi's lifespan is about 30 years in captivity, but data from wild populations is unavailable (Bodmer 1992).
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous
Average birth mass: 16000 g.
Average gestation period: 458 days.
Average number of offspring: 1.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 790 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 578 days.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Okapia johnstoni
There is 1 barcode sequence available from BOLD and GenBank. Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species. See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen. Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Okapia johnstoni
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Okapi have been undergoing a decline since at least 1995 that is ongoing and projected to continue, in the face of severe, intensifying threats and lack of effective conservation action. The rate of decline is estimated to have exceeded 50% over three generations (24 years), between 1995 and 2013 and suspected to continue for the next few years given sustained pressures in its range. The estimate is based on figures from surveys in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (RÃ©serve de Faune Ã Okapis; RFO) showing a 43% decline 1995-2007 and a further 47% decline 2008-2012, in addition to reported declines or extirpations in other parts of the range and loss and degradation of habitat that is ongoing since 1980. This suggests the species also exceeds the 50% threshold for Endangered based on an estimated decline three generations into the past. The RFO has until recently been the best protected site and it is inferred that the rate of decline here is at least equalled in other parts of the range. The change in category between 2008 (Near Threatened) and present is non-genuine as the new information suggests that the current categorization of Endangered also should have applied in 2008.
The okapi was not recognized by western scientists until 1900, when Harry Johnston sent two pecies of "zebra-like" skin to London (Kingdon 1979). More recently, the okapi has been extirpated from Uganda and, since 1933, protected by law in Zaire. Despite its patchy distribution, the okapi is common in much of its current range and is therefore not listed as a threatened species by international agreement. However, habitat loss due to deforestation as well as poaching continue to restrict the range of the species and take their toll on the population. Another great danger to the okapi is lack of knowledge about it outside of zoos. Little field research has been done on the species due to its inaccessible habitat and reclusive nature (Bodmer 1992).
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened
A second set of figures for RFO is available from Law Enforcement Monitoring (LEM) patrol data (RFO/ICCN unpubl. data). These showed a 47% decrease in Okapi sign encounter rates between 2008 and 2012, and over 60% decline in direct observations. The methodology used does not allow confidence intervals to be calculated, but the patrol routes covered extensive distances ranging from 10,125 to 25,467 km annually.
In the Twabinga-Mundo region, anecdotal evidence suggests that Okapi are targeted for their skins and meat, and have undergone a drastic decline in numbers over the past two decades with local people reporting that Okapi is the most prized bushmeat available (Nixon 2010). Okapi had been present south of the town of Aketi and near the town of Buta but no signs were found on recent field surveys and locals said they had recently been hunted out by Bangalema nomadic hunters (Hicks 2010).
RFO was until recently the most effectively protected Okapi site with resident rangers and an active conservation programme and the overall rate of decline here is inferred to have been equalled or exceeded elsewhere.
According to Hart (2013) approximately one-third of the Okapiâs known distribution is likely to be at risk by major incursions during the first quarter of this century. Areas at high risk include the south-eastern Ituri Forest, the Kisangani area, Rubi-Tele, and the western and eastern limits of the species' range in the Ebola River basin and Virunga-Hoyo region respectively.
Hunting for meat and skins is also a threat and Okapi decline rapidly in areas where there is persistent use of snares. In some areas, Okapi are targeted for bushmeat whereas in others they are taken only incidentally (Hart 2013, Quinn et al. 2013).
The most prominent current threat to Okapi is the presence of illegal armed groups in and around key protected areas. These groups prevent effective conservation action, even surveys and monitoring in most sites, and engage in and facilitate elephant poaching, bushmeat hunting, illegal mining (gold, coltan and diamonds), illegal logging, charcoal production and agricultural encroachment. In a notorious incident in June 2012, armed rebels attacked the RFO HQ and killed seven people and all 14 captive Okapi.
The RFO (14,000 km2) and Maiko National Park (10,800 km2) support significant populations, but numbers in both sites have declined owing to the threats listed above. Strengthening protection of these two protected areas is the single most important means to ensure long-term survival of Okapi (East 1999, Hart 2013). A small population of Okapi still occurs in the Watalinga Forest (1,100 km2 ) in the northern sector of Virunga National Park, but currently receives no protection due to the presence of armed groups. They have also been recorded in Mt Hoyo Reserve (200 km2). Okapi occur in Rubi-Tele Hunting Reserve (ca. 9,000 km2) though its precise legal status is unclear, and in Abumombanzi Reserve. A proposed national park within the Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba landscape covering 9,500 km2 is undergoing the process of official gazettement (Quinn et al. 2013). A number of community reserves are located around Maiko National Park.
Many captive Okapi are held in international collections. In November 2011, representatives of the North American and European captive populations, including the Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) and the Okapi European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), met to discuss the role of the captive population in Okapi conservation and agreed to maintain a sustainable, cooperatively managed global ex situ Okapi population that contributes to a viable in situ population (Petric 2012). The zoo community is a major supporter of Okapi conservation work, in 2010 donating USD 225,000 to the Okapi Conservation Project, 33% of its budget (Gilman International Conservation 2010).
The Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) is the government agency responsible for protected area management but is under-staffed and under-funded. The Okapi Conservation Project was established in 1987 and works within the RFO to protect Okapi and their habitat, as well as the culture of the indigenous Mbuti pygmies. Project activities include capacity building, agroforestry and community support (Gilman International Conservation, 2010). Several international NGOs also work or have recently conducted Okapi-related work in DRC, including Fauna & Flora International, Frankfurt Zoological Society, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Lukuru Foundation, and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The first-ever species-wide Okapi conservation strategy is currently being finalized following its development at a workshop held in DRC in May 2013 that was organised by ZSL in partnership with ICCN (Quinn et al. 2013). In March 2013 a new IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group was established, with the aim of coordinating research and conservation on both giraffid species and supporting implementation of the Okapi conservation strategy.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Immediately following their discovery in 1900, zoos around the world attempted to obtain okapis from the wild. These initial attempts were accompanied by a high mortality rate due to the rigors of traveling thousands of miles by boat and by train. In more recent years, shipment by airplane has proven more successful. Today, many zoos keep and breed okapis, and many people visit these zoos each year to see them (Grzimek 1990).
The okapi // (Okapia johnstoni), also known as the forest giraffe or zebra giraffe, 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 zebras, it is most closely related to the giraffe. The okapi and the giraffe are the only living members of the family Giraffidae.
The animal was brought to prominent European attention by speculation on its existence found in popular press reports covering Henry Morton Stanley's journeys in 1887. Remains of a carcass were later sent to London by the English adventurer and colonial administrator Harry Johnston and became a media event in 1901. A 2013 study determined there are 10,000 okapis remaining in the wild, down from 40,000 a decade ago. The same year, the okapi was reclassified as an endangered species.
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The generic name Okapia derives from the Lese Karo name o'api, while the specific name (johnstoni) is in recognition of the British Governor of Uganda, Harry Johnston, who first acquired an okapi specimen for science from the Ituri Forest while repatriating a group of Pygmies to the Belgian Congo.
Characteristics and behavior
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 possibly help young follow their mothers through the dense rain forest and may also serve as camouflage.
The body shape is similar to that of the giraffe, except okapis have much shorter necks. Like the giraffe, the okapi has long legs and a robust body. Both species have very long (about 35-cm), flexible tongues used to strip leaves and buds from trees.
The okapi's tongue is also long enough for the animal to wash its eyelids and clean its ears (inside and out). This sticky tongue is pointed and bluish-grey in colour like that of the giraffe. Male okapis have short, skin-covered horns called ossicones. Their large ears help them detect their predator, the leopard.
Okapis are 1.9 to 2.5 m (6.2 to 8.2 ft) long (from the head to the base of the tail) and stand 1.5 to 2.0 m (4.9 to 6.6 ft) high at the shoulder. They have 30- to 42-cm-long tails. Their weight ranges from 200 to 350 kg (440 to 770 lb).
Okapis are primarily diurnal, although recent photo captures have challenged this long-held assumption. One photograph of an okapi feeding in the Watalinga Forest of Virunga National Park, was taken at half-past two in the early morning, thus demonstrating that they also feed at night. 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 kilometers and typically occur at densities of about 0.6 animals per km2 (about 1.5 animals per mi2). 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 their habitats. This lack of territory is caused by human land development and other limiting social factors.
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. The male is protective of his territory, but allows females to pass through the domain to forage.
A number of okapis in zoos exhibit monosomy, a condition in which one copy of a chromosome is missing. Some okapis have 46 chromosomes while others have 45. This type of monosomy is often referred to as Robertsonian fusion. Okapis with 45 or 46 chromosomes produce healthy viable offspring.
Okapis prefer altitudes of 500 to 1,000 m, but may venture above 1,000 m in the eastern montane rainforests. Because of a considerable amount of rain in these forests, okapis have oily, velvety fur coats that repel the water.
The okapi's range is limited by high montane forests to the east, swamps to the southeast, swamp forests below 500 m to the west, savannas of the Sahel/Sudan to the north, and open woodlands to the south. They are most commonly found in the Wamba and Epulu areas.
Examination of okapi feces has revealed they consume charcoal from trees burnt by lightning. Field observations indicate their mineral and salt requirements are filled primarily by a sulfurous, slightly salty, reddish clay found near rivers and streams.
Although the okapi was unknown to the Western world until the 20th century, it may have been depicted since the early fifth century BCE on the façade of the Apadana at Persepolis, a gift from the Ethiopian procession to the Achaemenid kingdom.
For years, Europeans in Africa had heard of an animal that they came to call the 'African unicorn'. In his travelogue of exploring the Congo, Henry Morton Stanley mentioned a kind of donkey that the natives called the atti, which scholars later identified as the okapi. Explorers may have seen the fleeting view of the striped backside as the animal fled through the bushes, leading to speculation that the okapi was some sort of rainforest zebra.
When the British governor of Uganda, Sir Harry Johnston, discovered some pygmy inhabitants of the Congo being abducted by a showman for exhibition, he rescued them and promised to return them to their homes. The grateful pygmies fed Johnston's curiosity about the animal mentioned in Stanley's book. Johnston was puzzled by the okapi tracks the natives showed him; while he had expected to be on the trail of some sort of forest-dwelling horse, the tracks were of a cloven-hoofed beast.
Though Johnston did not see an okapi himself, he did manage to obtain pieces of striped skin and eventually a skull. From this skull, the okapi was correctly classified as a relative of the giraffe; in 1901, the species was formally recognized as Okapia johnstoni.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (June 2014)|
The first okapi to arrive in Europe was in 1918 to Antwerp Zoo. In 1937, the first okapi arrived in North America to the Bronx Zoo. The first okapi birth in captivity occurred at the Stanleyville Zoo in the Belgian Congo on April 19, 1941.[better source needed] In 1928, the American anthropologist Patrick Putnam founded the capture station known as "Epulu" in the Belgian Congo, where okapis were captured for shipment to zoos. Today this is the Okapi Breeding and Research Station, located in Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As of 2014, 176 okapis live in zoos. The majority of them, 94, are in the United States. There is also 69 in Europe, seven in Japan, four in United Arab Emirates, and two in South Africa. The Brookfield Zoo directs the Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for the okapi is led by the Antwerp Zoo which also keeps the International Okapi Studbook. The zoos which participate in the Okapi SSP and EEP, as well as other zoos, are important sources of funding for the Okapi Conservation Project aimed at conserving the okapi in the wild.
Okapis are classified as endangered since 2013; they are endangered by habitat destruction and poaching. The world population is estimated at 10,000. Conservation work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the Okapi Conservation Project includes the continuing study of okapi behaviour and lifestyle, which led to the creation in 1992 of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. The Congo Civil War threatened both the wildlife and the conservation workers in the reserve.
An important captive-breeding centre at Epulu, at the heart of the reserve, is managed jointly by the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and Gilman International Conservation, which in turn receives support from other organisations including UNESCO, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and WildlifeDirect as well as from zoos around the world. The Wildlife Conservation Society is also active in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
On 8 June 2006, scientists reported evidence of surviving okapis in Congo's Virunga National Park. This had been the first official okapi sighting in that park since 1959, after nearly half a century. In September 2008, the Wildlife Conservation Society reported one of their camera traps in Virunga National Park had snapped the first photo ever taken of an okapi in the wild.
- IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group (2008). Okapia johnstoni. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 26 November 2013. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is endangered.
- Kingdon, et al (2013). Mammals of Africa. A&C Black, 2013. p. 96. ISBN 9781408189962.
- Shaw, Albert (1918). "The African okapi, a beast unknown to the zoos". The American review of reviews 57: 544.
- Hebert, Amanda (26 November 2013). "Okapi Added to IUCN’S Endangered Species List". Jacksonville, Florida: Okapi Conservation Project. Retrieved 3 June 2014.
- "San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes: Okapi". Sandiegozoo.org. Retrieved 13 July 2010.
- "Okapi". Zsl.org.
- "Okapi" from Bristol Zoo Gardens. Retrieved 24 September 2010.
- Burnie D and Wilson DE (Eds.), Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult (2005), ISBN 0789477645
- Animal Diversity Web: ''Okapia johnstoni'' – okapi. Animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. Retrieved on 2013-11-26.
- The Okapi Mysterious Animal of Congo-Zaire, Susan Lyndaker Lindsey, Mary Neel Green & Cynthia L. Bennett, University of Texas Press 1999
- San Diego Zoo's Animal Bytes: Okapi. Sandiegozoo.org (2011-09-04). Retrieved on 2013-11-26.
- The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Photographic Archives; photo detail. The Oriental Institute identifies the subject as an Okapi with a question mark.
- Nowak, Ronald M (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th ed. p. 1085.
- "Why Is the Okapi Called a Living Fossil". The Milwaukee Journal. 24 June 1954.
- The International Okapi Studbook[full citation needed]
- Okapi Studbook The Okapi, Management Site http://theokapi.org/welcome.aspx[full citation needed]
- The Okapi Management Website http://theokapi.org/welcome.aspx[full citation needed]
- The Okapi Conservation Project http://okapiconservation.org/about/partners/
- GIC. Giconline.org. Retrieved on 2013-11-26.
- "WildlifeDirect Saving Endangered Animals".
- Poston, Lee (8 June 2006) Rare Okapi Sighted in Eastern Congo Park. World Wild Life.
- Photo Reveals Rare Okapi Survives Poaching Onslaught, Newswise, 10 September 2008. Many mainstream media outlets incorrectly reported that it was the first time an okapi had ever been photographed anywhere in the wild.
- Wolfram Bell (Nov. 2009): "Okapis – geheimnisvolle Urwaldgiraffen. Entdeckungsgeschichte, Biologie, Haltung und Medizin einer seltenen Tierart." Schüling Verlag Münster, Germany. ISBN 978-3-86523-144-4.
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