7 Things You Didn’t Know About the Okapi — Africa’s Oddest-Looking Animal

Imagine a giraffe and a zebra rolled in one and tah dah! You’ve got the Okapi, the oddest-looking fella to roam the tropical rain forest in the Congo. This under-rated creature deserves its chance in the spotlight since they are often overshadowed by fellow at-risk animals like elephants and rhinos. Get ready to fill your head with okapi information, here are 7 things you probably didn’t know about them.


Courtesy of Eric Kilby/Flickr.com

1. They’re dubbed the “Unicorn of Africa”

Although the Okapi lacks uni-horns, they’re considered the Unicorn of Africa due to its rare sighting in the wilderness. For a long time, people believed that the okapis were fables until around 1901, when British explorer Sir Henry Johnston hunted one down and was able to bring home the skin as evidence of their existence. Since then, the okapi’s fur went into high demand. The unusual pattern became a fashionable look for the wealthy.


Courtesy of Alan Eng/Flickr.com

2. They’re not endangered but they’re getting there

Thanks to over-hunting and deforestation, the okapi number dwindled over the years. When it was first discovered by the European in the early 1900s, it was believed up to 45,000 okapis were living in the wild. Today, it’s documented that only 10,000 of them are left.


Courtesy of Nigel Swales/Flickr.com

3. They’re territorial

Okapis do have something in common with cats, they like to mark their territory. Like cats, they will urinate on areas of land to cordon their property and ward off unwanted visitors.


Courtesy of Heather Paul/Flickr.com

4. They have extremely long tongues

While watching okapis in the wild, wait for it and soon you’ll notice a slithery long tongue like a blueish-gray serpent escaping from their mouths. Their tongues reach up to 14 inches and are so long that they can self-clean their eyes and ears with it. Jealous?


Courtesy of Matthew Bellemare/Flickr.com

5. They’re blind as a bat

Don’t feel so sorry for them, okapis get around just fine using their heightened sense of smell and hearing. This gives them an advantage of hearing their predators from a great distance (the leopards and of course, us humans). They also have infrasonic superpowers which allows them to feel vibrations through their calves. Okapis often stomp to communicate with other okapis.


Courtesy of Eric Kilby/Flickr.com

6. Pinch your nose, they have stinky feet!

If you ever are lucky enough to get near an okapi, you may notice something foul in the air. That’s their feet. Athlete’s feet have nothing on their stinky hooves that leave tar-like secretions.

Courtesy of Eric Kilby/Flickr.com

7. You can make a difference

Thanks to a team of passionate animal lovers, okapis stand a chance of surviving. The Okapi Conservation Project works hard to protect the lovable striped creatures by combating illegal hunting, raising awareness and funds. You can visit their website and donate to their cause at www.okapiconservation.org. 

For a fantastic interview with the Okapi Conservation, read our article: Protecting the Okapi – The Congo’s Most Beloved Creature – One Tree at a Time


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