The okapi is the only living relative of the giraffe. Although its neck is not nearly as long as that of the giraffe, the general shape of the okapi’s body is about the same. At birth the okapi is a dark reddish or blackish brown in color. As the okapi ages, its color becomes lighter. The face of the okapi is white with a dark gray on the top and forehead and blackish colored muzzle. Their legs are white and have black bands surrounding the fetlocks and fore-knees. There is a black striped running down the front of the animal’s front legs.
The top part of the okapi’s legs contains three or four white stripes. On the animal’s haunches are another eleven to nineteen white stripes. Okapi have thick, rubbery skin. They also have glands between their toes. Male okapi have short horns on their forehead that while young, are covered with skin and hair. At approximately two years of age, the horns develop. The female okapi have only small knobs where the male’s horns would be.
Full grown okapi stand up to 6ft 1in tall measuring from the top of their head, 5ft 5in measuring from their shoulder and 5ft at the rear. The female okapi is usually a little larger than the male. Average weight of a fully grown okapi is approximately 550 pounds.
The okapi can be found in clearings close to the river in the Congo rain forests. This animal moves over well defined paths and is believed to be a loner. Although usually friendly, the okapi can become quite aggressive, kicking and butting, at invaders.
Okapi feast primarily on young shoots and buds, grass, leaves, ferns and fruit. They pluck their food with their tongues, which are long and mobile. Their long necks are willowy, allowing them to turn their heads in order to lick every part of their body with their tongue.
The mating habits of this animal are strange. An okapi couple stays together for approximately two to three weeks, with the female in heat for 40 to 50 days. The okapi continues to come into heat even during pregnancy. The gestation period of this animal is about 435 to 449 days or 14 ½ to 15 months, close to that of a giraffes (420-468 days), and way longer than any other ruminant.
Habitat destruction and poaching both cause a threat to the okapi. Conservation work, which includes studying the okapi, resulted in the creation of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve of 1992. In this reserve, wildlife and conservation workers alike were threatened by the Congo Civil War.
In June of 2006, evidence of surviving okapis in Congo’s Virunga National Park was discovered and reported by scientists. No other official okapi sightings had been made in that park since 1959. In September of 2008, the first photo ever of the okapi in Virunga National Park was taken by one of the camera traps belonging to the Wildlife Conservation Society.