A very cute animal that you may think is a Zorse… but it’s not of course!
This adorable fellow looks kind of like a horse and kind of like a Zebra, but it is neither, nor is it a cross breed!
We all know lots of cute animals. Dogs, cats, and other common pets first come to mind because they are easily recognizable. Yet there are many other really adorable critters out there, and this one is truly unbelievable.
This handsome fellow is known as an Okapi, scientifically described as Okapia johnstoni, and is closely related to the giraffe. In fact, it and the giraffe are the only living members of the Giraffidae family. It is also known as the Forest Giraffe or Zebra Giraffe.
The Okapis have long legs and the robust body shape of the giraffe, but they are missing that long giraffe neck. They are good sized animals too, with adults reaching over 8′ (2.5 m) long from their head to the base of the tail. Adult males will also have short, skin covered horns known as occicones.
Just like the giraffe, one of the most distinguishing features of the Okapi is a very long, flexible tongue. Their tongue is over 13 1/3 inches (34 cm) long. It’s great for striping leaves and buds off of trees, but also comes in handy for wiping the eyelids off and cleaning out its big ears!
This animal species is actually more of a newcomer to the “known” animal world. It wasn’t recognized and described by the scientific community until 1901. Prior to that it was only heard of in a rather vague manner. An early Congo explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, had mentioned it as some kind of donkey and Europeans had also heard mention of it in earlier times. But it was elusive and they came to call it the “African unicorn.”
The Okapi is neither little, nor is it common, but it sure has a striking appearance!
At first look this fellow appears to have the equine traits of horses and zebras. The brilliant white stripes on its front and back legs make it look like it has some zebra in its design. But no, it is neither horse nor zebra, nor a cross of the two.
There is a Zorse of course, a man-made cross of a horse and zebra, but that is a totally different animal. And over a century ago there was also a curious subspecies of the Zebra that had striping only on its head. It was known as the Quagga Equus quagga quagga. This subspecies ranged in the southernmost plains of South Africa until the nineteenth century, but is now known to be extinct.
Unlike horses and zebras, and even giraffes, Okapis are not particularly sociable. They like to live alone in secluded areas. Each Okapi will range across several square miles, foraging along well trodden paths, and their ranges will often overlap. But that doesn’t make them social and males are protective of their territory. A bull will allow females to pass through his domain but these animals will only come together during breeding time.
The population of Okapis has dwindled as a result of habitat destruction and from poaching. A 2013 study estimates that there are about 10,000 living animals, down from 40,000 about a decade ago, and so they are now listed as endangered. The Democratic Republic of the Congo created the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in 1992, but unfortunately the Congo civil war has threatened both wildlife and the conservation workers in the reserve.
Clarice Brough is a team member at Animal-World and has contributed many articles and write-ups.