Monday, March 14, 2011


This remarkable creature is the closest living relative (not of the zebra, but) of the giraffe, and the structural relationship is quite clear in the head and lengthy purple tongue. But the okapi have a tongue long enough to clean their own eyelids and ears! And their coloration is quite different. They have a velvety chocolate/red and black coat with white flanks and legs encircled in slender, undulating black stripes, and what looks like white socks up to their knees printed with black skeletal structure images.

The word okapi is from the Lese (Central Sudanic), oka (to cut) + kpi, a kind of arrow design of the Efé (Mbuti Pygmies) from the myth that the okapi decorate their own hindquarters with the arrow. When seen in their natural habitat - the Ituri jungle of Central Africa - their outfit becomes perfect camouflage for blending into the sun dappled shadows of dense jungle vegetation. This photo of the okapi diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC is a beautiful illustration of how effective their unusual patterning is in breaking up their silhouette.

They are 2-2.5 metres long, 1.5 - 2 metres high at the shoulder and weigh 200-300 kg. They're timid, essentially solitary creatures who come together only to breed, with the exception of mothers and young. They prefer living in large, secluded areas wherein they can forage a herbivore diet of grass, ferns, fruits and fungi as well as charcoal (from trees burnt by lightning).

I'd never heard of or seen them before tonight.

Thank-You, j. for the lead via this.

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