Only discovered in the 20th century, the unusual okapi has qualities that resemble the horse, giraffe and zebra. But in truth, the okapi is the only relative of the giraffe (Giraffidae), a family that branched off from antelope, deer and cattle (Artiodactyla) approximately 34 million years ago. Like the giraffe, okapis have enormous, upright ears and long prehensile tongues. Only male okapis have horns.
The okapi lives in a patchy range in the Democratic Republic of Congo, finding suitable habitat in high-canopy, closed primary or older secondary rainforests. But these mammals are hard to find in their fragmented distribution, and experts estimate that less than 35,000 okapis remain in the wild. Illegal “bush meat” poaching for trade, human populations and deforestation are the greatest threats to this animal species.
Under Congolese law, the okapi is a protected species and has become a national icon. It is currently listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and protected areas within the DR Congo (such as a portion of the Ituri Forest in central Africa) are helping to ensure the okapis’ long-term survival.
Did you know? An okapi’s ears are so long, they can clean their ears. And the okapi’s coat is so oily that if you were to pet it, your hand would leave a handprint impression on its velvety coat. Learn more interesting Did You Know? animal facts by following @natgeowild on Twitter or searching the hashtag #DYK.
Photo Credit: Jodi Kendall