Okapi – the half-zebra, half-giraffe animal
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Okapi – the half-zebra, half-giraffe animal

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Description
    The okapi is also known by the name of forest giraffe or zebra giraffe and represents a giraffid artiodactyls mammal that’s originally from Ituri Rainforest.

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Its appearance is closely similar to that of a horse. The average body length of an okapi is 2.5m, and at the shoulder it has a height of roughly 1.5-2.0m when standing. Unlike other artiodactyls mammals, the okapi has a long neck, and its ears are big and flexible. Its body is colored in chocolate-brown and its legs, and hindquarters are covered with white horizontal stripes, while on the ankle it wears white stockings.
    The okapi’s cheeks, throat and chest are whitish-gray colored, or bronze. This specific tone pattern of the okapi permits it to vanish into the background of dense flora in which it wanders. The horns of male okapis are covered with hair and they aren’t long more than 15 cm. Also, they are consolidated to the frontal bones on the orbits and stick out backwards. 

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As for female okapis, they are colored a bit red, don’t possess horns and they exceed the height of males by 4.2 cm.
    Males along with females possess interdigital glands located on their front and back feet. The best giraffe resemblance characteristic of the okapi consists in the long black tongue which has the role to pull off buds, leaves and tree branches, and also to groom. Furthermore, the okapi’s manner of walking it’s very similar to that of a giraffe.
Like giraffe, the okapi have a simultaneously pace, stepping with the front and back legs on the same part of their body instead of alternately placing their legs on either side as hoofed mammals do.
    Basically, okapis are diurnal, though recent updates on their behalf have contested this longtime supposition. An okapi in Virunga National Park, which is found in the Watalinga Forest, was spotted eating at 2:30 in the morning, so this fact tells us that they also feast during the night. Okapis are mainly characterized by solitude, gathering together just for breeding purpose, without including mothers and offspring.
Okapis pasture throughout fixed, tramped roads within the forest. They got covering home ranges of many square kilometers and mainly appear at densities of approximately 0.6 animals per km2, and roughly 1.5 animals per mi2. Okapis don’t have sociable features as animals, and choose to live in big, reclusive areas. Due to this, the okapi population deals with many difficulties as their habitats began to decrease in size.
Okapis have various ways of questing their territory, for instance like scent glands placed on every foot which make substance similar to tar, and also urine marking. The male okapi is defensive of his territory; however he gives females access into their district to forage.
    Some okapis in zoo captivity show monosomy, a condition that presents the lacking of one chromosome, more exactly there are okapis that possess 46 chromosomes, meanwhile others only have 45. This kind of monosomy is frequently known as Robertsonian fusion. Nonetheless, okapis holding 45 or 46 chromosomes develop healthy feasible offspring.
The okapi was dubbed as the “forest giraffe” or “forest zebra” due to the fact that people thought this creature was only a myth until 1901. Some reports of a creature resembling a horse in the Belgian Congo propelled Sir Harry Johnston, the British commissioner of Uganda at that time, to initiate a search after that creature.
He is mentioned in the scientific name of okapi which is “Okapia johnstoni”. Johnston recovered some okapi skins and a skull and handed them over to London to be analyzed.
    From then on, the okapi was categorized as a distinguish species. Until then, many people confused the okapi to a zebra.



Habitat
    Okapis are mainly spread in the tropical forests situated in the northeastern part of Zaire. They like living at altitudes from 500 to 1,000 m, though they may embark in areas surpassing 1,000 m, like in eastern mountainous rainforests. Okapis were spotted at an altitude of 1,450 m on Mt. Hoyo, which is located in the upper Ituri. 

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The ambit of the okapi is defined by highland forests towards east, swamp forests at less than 500 m towards west, savannas of the Sahel/Soudan towards north, and open timberlands towards south. Okapis are more widely distributed in the Wamba and Epulu regions.
    Okapis appear in the dense rainforests at a mediate altitude within their grasp. They often go to river banks and creek beds and sometimes they even embark into regions of alternate forest growth.



Diet
    Okapis feed only on plants, therefore they’re herbivorous animals. Their diet consists of leaves, shoots and twigs and they eat them by using their long prehensile tongue to pull them in their mouths. They eat also fruits, berries and other pieces from plants.
Sometimes, they will even feed on fungi and they’re known to consume over 100 various kinds of plant, lots of them being poisonous to humans and other animals. Besides eating a large variety of plants, the okapi also consumes reddish clay which supplies the necessary amount of salts and minerals for its diet comprised of plant material.  
    The okapi usually searches for food during daylight and moves softly along well-trodden paths that assure an easier manner to get away from predators, so it uses them on a regular basis.
Okapis that are attended at zoos, such as those located at the Philadelphia Zoo, have diets which are comprised of alfalfa hay, herbivore pellets, salt licks, fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are frequently offered by zookeepers when they train or work with okapis.
    The Chicago Zoological Society stated that okapis have to consume around 45 to 65 pounds of vegetation and plants every day.



Breeding
    In the wild, okapis are basically characterized by solitude, and they only gather together for mating. Their courtship behaviors and mating rituals have been observed in zoos. Partners start courtship by circling, whiffing, and licking one another.
At some point, the male okapi affirms his dominance by stretching and tossing his neck, and lunging one leg in front. This kind of behavior is afterwards accompanied by mounting and intercourse. After the male and female mate, they usually split.
    The gestation period typically takes place within 440 days, and females recede into heavy forest vegetation in order to give birth. Newborns okapis have 14-30 in weight at birth. Due to being precocial, they may breastfeed roughly 21 minutes and after that stand up for only 30 minutes.
Young okapis get through their first two days of life moving after their mother and researching the surroundings. Afterwards, they find a perfect hideaway that’s suited for them and build a nest there. For the most part of the following two months, they pass their time 80% in their nest.
This hiding conduct of theirs helps them to grow faster and assures them protection from predators. If a troubled calf is found motionless in its nest, the female okapi will hurry to sharply protect her calf from any threat. During the hiding period, young okapis do not breastfeed many times and don’t defecate.
    These types of strategies aid keeping them undiscovered when it comes to predators. Ablactating happens approximately at 6 months; though young okapis may carry on to suckle exceeding a year. Young males start developing horns when they become one year old, and along with females, they both attain adult size when they are three years.



Extinction
    Okapis are regarded as Lower Risk, almost threatened by the World Conservation Union, for short IUCN, and the Red List of Threatened Species. The okapi population is believed, though, to be stable these days.
Okapis have the ability to coexist with limited and low-level humans occupying the forest, but they vanish in regions with active settlement or commotion, and the major threat facing this species lies in habitat deprivation due to lumbering and human establishment that consists also in illegal occupation of protected zones.
    According to Hart (2013, Quinn et al. 2013) about a tierce of the okapi distribution is probably at risk due to big incursions during the first quarter of this last 100 years. Regions at high risk consist of the south-eastern Ituri Forest, the Kisangani zone, Rubi-Tele, and the Ebola River basin and Virunga-Hoyo area where western and eastern extents of the okapi range.
Moreover, hunting for flesh and skins of the okapi is also a threat and they diminish quickly in zones where there is a relentless usage of traps.  In some regions, okapis are targeted for bushmeat and in other parts they are obtained only by accident.
    The most outstanding threat at the current moment, which okapis are facing, consists in the existence of illegal armed groups of people throughout the protected areas.
These people stand in the way of an efficient conservation activity, including surveys and supervising in many sites, and they participate in and assist elephant hunting, bushmeat poaching, illegal mining (for gold, coltan and diamonds), illegal lumbering, charcoal production and agricultural invasion.
    Due to an infamous incident on June 2012, some rebels with guns attacked the RFO HQ and took seven people’s life and all okapis held in captivity, 14 in number.
The okapi is not part of the CITES Appendices and represents a specie that’s totally protected under the Congolese law.



Interesting facts
•  The okapi constitutes the national symbol of Congo and it shows on the Congolese franc notes. The okapi is also utilized as a logo for many reputable organizations, such as the Congolese Wildlife Authority and the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, for short ICCN.
•  The okapi is also called the “African unicorn”, even though this name is lesser known.
•  The okapi was dubbed as the “forest giraffe” or “forest zebra” due to the fact that people thought this creature was only a myth until 1901.
•  The okapi’s predators consist of leopards, servals and human hunters.
•  An okapi can live in captivity about 33 years.
•  Due to its upright ears, the okapi has the ability to hear very well.
•  The natives of Congo had the custom to call this wild animal “Atti”, which was later on translated as “okapis”.
•  Nowadays, there are approximately 10,000-20,000 okapis present in the wild.

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Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okapi
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Okapia_johnstoni/
http://a-z-animals.com/animals/okapi/
http://animals.pawnation.com/okapis-diet-7188.html
http://eol.org/pages/308387/details
http://www.care2.com/causes/5-fascinating-facts-about-the-now-endangered-okapi.html
http://thewondersofchordata.wikispaces.com/Okapi
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/okapi-facts.html
Pics :
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Okapia_johnstoni_-Marwell_Wildlife%2C_Hampshire%2C_England-8a.jpg
http://data.photos-animaux.com/wallpapers/592/F1600-591523.jpg
http://p6.storage.canalblog.com/65/35/621853/78178909_o.jpg
http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/ERI/temp/images_new/congo_0644_okapi.jpg

Published by Claudia Barbu

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