Neither a giraffe nor a zebra, what’s it then?

Environment & Life

You surely don’t know this one but you can still give it a try… It looks like a zebra if you look at its black and white striped hindquarters and front legs and a giraffe if you notice its head. An extant relative of the latter, okapis are native to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that okapi remained unknown to western science. And we still do not everything about it, including the evolutionary purpose of its stripes. Initially, it was presumed that okapi was a diurnal (most active during day) but recent proofs including video footage have found it feeding during night hours. Classified endangered, it is estimated that they must be around 25000-odd in the African jungles.

Okapi’s ears are designed to pick up on the subtle sounds of the leopard, its primary natural predator. As they are wary of human presence and have secretive nature, it has been difficult to observe them closely in the wild. Though the stripes on its legs seem bold to us, it helps them camouflage when hiding in partial sunlight that filters through the dense rainforest habitat. Its dark purplish or reddish brown fur is dense, oily and repels water.

If an okapi is related to a giraffe, why isn’t it as tall, you may ask? That’s because the trees in a rainforest have branches hanging down as well as there are tree trunks and roots to dodge. With shorter legs and necks, it is easier for them to navigate their way to swerve around these obstacles. Okapi uses its long and purplish prehensile tongue to strip leaves from plants.

Male okapis average about 2.5 m (about 8 ft) long and stand about 1.5 m (about 5 ft) at the shoulder. Adult males typically weigh 200-300 kg. Adult females are slightly taller and weigh 25-50 kg more than adult males. The male has short horns that are completely covered by skin except at the tips. Most females do not possess horns though they often display knobby bumps in their place.

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