Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ABC Wednesday: O is for Okapi

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A pair of Okapis (Okapia johnstoni) at London Zoo. The male has horns, the female doesn't. Looking like a cross between a giraffe, an antelope and a zebra, okapis have lived in secret (as far as Europe and science was concerned) until 1887 - although it probably was known in Ancient Egypt. Here's a beautiful drawing British explorer Henry Johnston after whom the species is named made of a pair.

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They are related to giraffes and share several characteristics with them: the long, purple tongue, the horns of the males (called ossicones) and the long neck, at least in comparison to their overall size. Okapis are the size of a horse, about 150-170cm shoulder height. The stripes camouflage them in the dark rainforests of the Congo where they feed on leaves.

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Usually, they are solitary, but they will live together as pairs for a short time when the female is in heat. Males have a territory they will defend but will allow females to pass through it freely. If need be, they will tolerate other males - for example when there just isn't room for the males to have the space they would normally occupy. Habitat destruction is a great problem for okapis, even more so since they didn't have a wide range to begin with.

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Not much is known about okapis in the wild. There are only 154 individuals in captivity (as of 2011 and no more than 30,000 in the wild. Captive breeding has been successful and the mother will care for her calf for more than half a year. Scientist believe that they communicate using infrasound - sounds too low-pitched for humans to hear (elephants do that as well). With their big ears, okapis certainly hear very well. Along with giraffes, they are the only two surviving species of the once huge Giraffidae family.

See what else O stands for with ABC Wednesday

Sources and further reading:
Wikipedia
Brookfield Zoo
BBC
Okapi Conservation Project
Arkive

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