Saturday, April 7, 2012

Interesting Animals: Okapi

A male okapi (Okapia johnstoni), note the horns.
A hornless female okapi
The okapi is one of those animals that makes you wonder where it came from. It looks something like a cross between a zebra and a horse. However, it's in the Family Giraffidae with its closest relative, the giraffe. It you look closely, you can start to see the resemblance. Like a giraffe, this species has a prehensile tongue that is dark in color and two toes on each hoof. They also walk like giraffes, with a gait that is rarely seen otherwise. Most interesting is the structure of the horns. Like giraffes, okapis have horns that are highly unusual in the animal world. While most species have horns composed of a bone core and keratin sheath or antlers that are grown and shed regularly, these two species are unique. The permanent horns on the okapi and giraffe are hair-covered bone projections that sit one a different part of the skull compared to the more common horns Unlike the giraffe, these horns are only present in the male okapi.

Okapi live in the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Condo (formerly Zaire). Their unique appearance acts as effective camouflage in this habitat. In the wild, they are solitary creatures and only come in contact to mate. Outside of this, mothers are very protective of offspring and communicate with them using low frequency sounds in a similar range as elephants. Interestingly enough, the species was completely unknown to the Western world until 1990. Outside of zoos, it is still poorly studied mostly due to its elusive nature. They are currently Near Threatened.

Sources are Animal Diversity Web, IUCN Red List, ARKive, San Diego Zoo, and ADW again. Images are from Wikimedia Commons  under Creative Commons licenses: one, two.