What is black and white and red down its back with a long blue tongue?
The mythical Okapis have reddish dark backs, with striking horizontal black stripes on the front and back legs, making them resemble zebras from a distance. These markings are thought to help young follow their mothers through the dense rain forest; they also serve as camouflage.
The body shape is similar to that of the giraffe, except that okapis have much shorter necks. Both species have very long (approx. 30 cm or 12 inch), flexible, blue tongues that they use to strip leaves and buds from trees.
An okapi is the only animal that can clean hits eye lids, mussel and ears inside and out with its tongue
The tongue of an okapi is long enough for the animal to wash its eyelids and clean its ears (inside and out): it is the only mammal that can lick its own ears. Male okapis have short, skin-covered horns called “ossicones”. They have large ears, which help them detect their predator, the leopard.
Okapis are 1.9 to 2.5 m (8.1 ft) long and stand 1.5 to 2.0 m (6.5 ft) high at the shoulder. They have a 30 to 42 cm (12 to 17 in) long tail. Their weight ranges from 200 to 270 kg (465 to 565 lb).
Usually solitary Okapis come together only to breed.
Okapis forage along fixed, well-trodden paths through the forest. They live alone or in mother-offspring pairs. They have overlapping home ranges of several square kilometers and typically occur at densities of about 0.6 animals per square kilometer.
The home turf the of males is larger than the females, but the males will allow the femals to eat on their home turf. Okapis do not get together in groups so with land dwindling around their home range they seem to have adjusted and tolerate each other in the wild and may even feed in small groups for short periods of time.
When Okapi want to mark their turf with their scent glands on each foot they leave behind a tar-like substance which signals their passage or they urinate to leave their marking
Okapis prefer altitudes of 500 to 1,000 m, but may venture above 1,000 m in the eastern montane rainforests. The range of the okapi is limited by high montain forests to the east, swamp forests below 500 m to the west, savannas of the Sahel/Sudan to the north, and open woodlands to the south. Okapis are most common in the Wamba and Epulu areas in the heartland of Africa.
Okapis like to eat tree leaves and buds, grass, ferns, fruit, and fungi many of these plant species are poisonous to humans. When okapi feces were analyzed scientists were surprised to see even charcoal from trees burnt by lightning were consumed as well. Field observations indicate that the okapi’s mineral and salt requirements are filled primarily by a sulfurous, slightly salty, reddish clay found near rivers and streams.
Although okapis are threatened by habitat destruction, poaching and wars. The Congo Civil War threatened both the wildlife and the conservation workers in the reserve.
There is an important captive breeding centre at Epulu, at the heart of the reserve, which is managed jointly by the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) and Gillman International Conservation (GIC), which in turn receives support from other organisations including UNESCO, the Frankfurt Zoological Society and WildlifeDirect as well as from zoos around the world. The Wildlife Conservation Society is also active in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
On June 8, 2006, scientists reported that evidence of surviving okapis in Congo’s Virunga National Park had been discovered. This had been the first official sighting since 1959, after nearly half a century.
In September 2008, the Wildlife Conservation Society reported that one of their camera traps snapped a photo of an okapi in Virunga National Park; this was the first time the Okapi had ever been photographed in the wild.