Okapia johnstoni
Population size
30-50 Thou
Life Span
20-33 yrs
60 km/h
200-350 kg
1.5 m
2.5 m

The okapi was not discovered until 1901. Okapia johnstoni, its taxonomic name, honors its native Central African name, as well as the man who ‘discovered’ it, the British explorer Sir Harry Johnston, naturalist and colonial administrator. Native pygmies in Central Africa had known about this animal, which they thought of as a type of horse, for generations, and this was the description of it they gave to Sir Henry Morton Stanley (the man who found Dr Livingtone, reportedly with the words, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’). The okapi is, in fact, a forest-dwelling relative of the giraffe.


Okapis live throughout the central, eastern and northern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as east and north of the Congo River. They range from the Maiko Forest north to the Ituri Forest, and through the river basin areas of the Rubi, Ebola and Lake Tele to the west and further north to the Ubangi River. Smaller populations occur south and west of the Congo River. In the Epulu and Wamba areas they are also common. They are extinct in Uganda. These animals live in forests, both rain and dry, and in forest in sub-tropical and tropical latitudes.

Okapi habitat map



Habits and Lifestyle

Okapis are diurnal, being most active in the daytime, spending most of their time travelling along set paths within the forest foraging. They are solitary except for mothers with calves but will tolerate other individuals, occasionally feeding together for short periods of time in small groups. They have overlapping home ranges, males tending to have larger territories than females, which an individual will mark with both urine and rubbing its neck on trees. The males use their necks also to fight one another both to settle disputes about territory and when competing for access to females in the breeding season. They communicate using quiet "chuff" noises and in the forest they strongly rely on their hearing, as they do not have good eyesight.

Diet and Nutrition

Okapis are mainly herbivores, they eat the leaves, shoots and buds of over 100 species of forest vegetation. They also eat grasses, ferns, fruits, and fungi.

Mating Habits

16 months
1 calf
6 months

Okapis are solitary in the wild, primarily coming together for mating, which indicates a polygynous mating system (one male mating with multiple females). Young are born from August through October. After gestation of up to 16 months, a mother retreats into dense vegetation to give birth to a single offspring. Usually the calf can stand within 30 minutes and the mother and her baby begin looking for a good nest place. They stay in the nest for two months, affording the necessary protection from hungry predators. The calf is usually weaned at about the age of 6 months but may suckle from its mother for over a year. The youngest female in captivity to breed was the age of 1 year and 7 months, and the youngest male, 2 years 2 months.


Population threats

Deforestation and loss of habitat to agriculture and human settlements are threats for the okapi. They are also poached for meat and their unique pelts.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List resource, the total population size of the okapi is around 35,000-50,000 individuals. According to the UNESCO resource, the total population size is 30,000 individuals. Currently okapis are classified as endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Being herbivores, narbaleks may have a role in the structuring of plant communities. They may also affect predator populations, as items of prey. They may also affect predator populations (leopards and jaguars), as items of prey.

Cool Facts

  • The okapi is an animal known to ancient Egyptians. Soon after being discovered by Europeans, an ancient carved okapi image was found in Egypt. Europeans in Africa had for years heard about an animal that they called ‘the African unicorn’.
  • An okapi's tongue measures 18 inches long and is able to reach its eyes and ears with it, being one of a few mammals that is able to lick its own ears.
  • Being very elusive and shy, okapis were not discovered until 1901.
  • Okapi are pacers like giraffes, simultaneously stepping with the front and back legs on the same side instead of moving alternate legs like other ungulates.
  • Newborns do not defecate before four to eight weeks old. This helps keep them undetected by their predator’s sharp sense of smell while still small and weak.


1. Okapi Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okapi
2. Okapi on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15188/0

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