One of the coolest okapi facts is that they are known as "forest zebras" because of the stripes on their back legs.
The okapi is the only living relative of the giraffe and together they are the last survivors of the once plentiful Giraffidae family. Naturally, the giraffe is one of the great wonders of Africa and the tallest animal on Earth, but the okapi is a shy and timid forest-dwelling creature and is only about the size of a small cow.
They have occicones, a long tongue, and "necking" habits like giraffes, but are largely solitary in the wild.
Okapis live in dense rainforests in the Congo region of central Africa, where they existed, undiscovered, until about 1890.
Originally thought to be a species of zebra, they were recognized as a unique species in 1901.
The okapi is dramatically smaller than the giraffe, at only about 5 feet tall at the shoulder, and 450 to 750 pounds. They have a velvety, chocolate brown coat with flashy, cream-colored stripes down the haunches.
Okapis have huge ears, and rely on excellent hearing in their heavily forested home, where their main predator is the leopard.
Okapis use their prehensile tongues to strip leaves and tender shoots from branches. They eat an enormous variety of fruits, twigs and leaves, sampling nearly 100 different plants throughout their rainforest home. The amazing tongue is about 14 inches long!
The okapi is only found in one country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the national symbol for the country, but due to the nations instability, the okapi population has plummeted to dangerous levels.
Only about 30,000 individuals exist in the wild, but they are very difficult to record and track due to their solitary lifestyle and the tricky conditions of the dense rainforest areas they call home. An okapi preserve was established for them by the government, but they are still hunted for their beautiful hides.
The okapi was once considered a bit of a mystical creature because so few were ever seen. They were called the African unicorn, and have also been referred to as the forest giraffe and the forest zebra.
The most distinctive feature of the okapi is the dramatic striped pattern of the rear legs and rump.
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