Critter of the Week: Okapi



Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Giraffidae

Genus: Okapia

Species: O. johnstoni


The okapi can be found in the tropical forests of Central Africa. Okapis are so elusive that it wasn’t until the early 1900s that they were first discovered. Even though the okapi looks part zebra, it most closely resembles giraffes. In fact, it is the only other living species in the Giraffidae family besides the giraffe! These beautiful animals are about 5 feet tall and can weigh up to almost 800 pounds.



Like a giraffe, okapis have a bluish-gray tongue. This distinguished tongue is usually between 14 to 18 inches long! They use this long tongue to eat seeds, fruit, and more than 100 different types of plant leaves. They will stretch their necks, and then wrap their tongue around the branches to pull down the leaves. The okapi will also use it to groom themselves and their calves.



The okapi have scent glands on each foot. This allows them to mark their territory as this gland leaves behind a pungent, tar-like material. While females are able to pass through these barriers with no problems, males will become aggressive towards other males that wander into their territory.



One way you can tell male and female okapis apart is by their heads. Males have small skin-covered horns like a giraffe and females only have little bumps. The males use their horns mainly when competing for a female and will headbutt and charge other male okapis.



Okapis usually only give birth to one calf at a time. They are about 2.5 feet tall and weigh 35 pounds. Calves can walk 30 minutes after being born and triple in size after only two months! The mothers can call their young at a frequency that is below a human’s normal limits of hearing. This is useful to avoid predators and hunters.