Lifespan: Up to 30 years
Wild Diet: Mainly young shoots, buds, leaves, fruit, ferns and some grass
IUCN Status: Endangered
Habitat/Range: Dense rain forests and river basins of central, northern and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a small population south of the Congo River.
Characteristics: Okapis have a sleek, velvety appearance. They are the size of a large pony averaging 60 inches at the shoulder and weighing 500-600 lbs. Females tend to be larger than the males. Their dark brown to deep chestnut pelts can produce a purplish tinge in sunlight. A pattern of 11-19 irregularly marked white stripes on the upper part of the hind legs and onto the haunches, forms markings unique to each animal. On the upper part of forelegs are 3-4 thick, irregular, white stripes. Lower legs are white with black bands around fetlocks and fore knees with a black line down the front of the forelegs. They have a delicate, narrow-shaped head with a creamy white to gray face and throat, large dark eyes and enormous trumpet-like ears. Only males have small fur-covered "horns" called ossicones, which are 3-4 inches long, projecting backward and covered with skin except for the bony tips; females have very small knobs. Okapis have a prehensile tongue that is 14 inches long and blue-gray in color. They have a strong, muscular neck with a ridge of very short, stiff hair on top. Okapis have excellent hearing and a sharp sense of smell. They can even run up to speeds of 37 mph.
Behavior: Okapis are shy and secretive. They have acute senses of smell and hearing. Their color and markings blend very well with the deep forest shadows in their dense forest habitat. Okapis lead solitary lives and are generally silent except during mating season and the mother-calf relationship. They move along well-trodden paths to visit certain places for feeding, resting and depositing dung. Their prehensile tongue to grasps branches, strips off and pulls leaves into their mouths.
Reproduction: During breeding season, females wander through the forest plaintively trumpeting to attract males. After mating, the male and female go separate ways. After a gestation period of 14 1/2 - 15 months, a single precocial calf is born. Births in the wild generally occur from August to October during the time of heaviest rains.
Conservation: Wild okapi populations are estimated to be 10,000-35,000 animals and stable in the large protected areas. However, the Okapi's future is closely tied to attempts to develop and implement effective conservation and management of the species in parks and reserves. Human presence, bushmeat hunting and economic development is expanding in their native range and close monitoring and protection is required. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo supports the Okapi Conservation Project and helps protect 8,500 sq. mi. of land in the Ituri forest. The Projects community approach to conservation involves innovative education and food production programs to help both rainforest wildlife and local residents.