The Okapis Of Congo
Meet the okapi, an animal closely related to a zebra and a giraffe. The okapi bears stripes similar to those of zebras though it is most closely related to the giraffe.
The okapi is only found in the democratic republic of Congo in the north east region. Its scientific name is Okapia Johnstoni and together with the giraffe are the only living members of the Giraffidae.
The okapi is a beautiful unusual sensational animal that has long neck, and large, flexible upright ears that enable it catch slight sounds, helping the animal avoid trouble.
The hybrid has a height of about 1.5m and length 2.5 m length. It has a coat of chocolate to reddish brown, much in contrast with the white horizontal stripes and rings on the legs and white ankles.
The male okapis have short, hair-covered horns called ossicones, less than 15 cm (5.9 in) in length and it weighs 200 up to 300 kilograms.
Its stripes are similar to those of a zebra and all these body features serve as an effective camouflage in the dense vegetation.
Okapis are hard to find in the wild and are found in dense forests like the Ituri Forest in Congo.
Okapis live their lives as solitary animals and all come together to breed. The males usually migrate continuously while the females stay seated and are very much inactive. They are diurnal animals and are probably active for a few hours in the darkness.
The okapi is protective of its territory and only allows the females through to feed. During breeding, the males visit the female ranges.
They are calm animals though can kick and butt with its head to express aggression. Okapis are restricted to three sounds because of poorly developed vocal cords.
Bleating by the infants when in distress, moaning by females during courtship and chuffs as contact calls by both sexes. The leopard cart is the main predator threat of the okapis.
Okapis are mainly herbivores and feed on tree leaves and buds, grasses ferns and fruits. They are forest browsers eating 18 to 29 kilograms of leaves, twigs, and fruits each day and leaving a “pruning line” in the foliage.
Okapis have prehensile tongue to get food by pulling leaves from trees and into their mouth. The tongue is also an important grooming tool, helping to keep the velvety soft, short coat in tip-top shape.
Okapis have also been seen eating clay and burnt charcoal, probably for minerals. And just like giraffes, sheep, and goats, okapis are ruminants hence have four stomachs.
Female okapis become sexually mature at about the age of one and a half while males at 2 yrs. Okapis begin courtship by circling, licking and smelling each other.
After mounting and copulation, the gestation period is about 440 to 450 days after which a calf is born weighing 14-30 kg.
The udder of the female starts swelling for two months before discharges occur. The female eats the afterbirth and the can stand within 30 minutes of birth. The okapi can live up to 20 to 30 years.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) classifies the okapi as Endangered and it is fully protected under Congolese law.
Gazetted areas such as the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and Maiko National Park support huge populations. A small population occurs in the Virunga national park though in all areas they face threats of military insurgency e.g. in the Virunga area, habitat loss due to human settlement and lodging not forgetting hunting. Okapis can be experienced in a Congo gorilla safari in the Virunga’s.
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