Okapi


Scientific Name: Okapia johnstoni

IUCN Status: Endangered

Quick Facts: Like their relative the giraffe, okapi have a prehensile tongue that strips leaves from branches.  Prehensile refers to any body part used for grasping or holding- tail, tongue, lip, feet, etc.

Learn More: Visit the Okapi Conservation Project to learn about conservation efforts in the Ituri Forest

The okapi is perhaps the most unique large mammal in the world.  First described by western scientists in 1902, the okapi is a species of forest giraffe which lives in the rainforests found only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa.  Feeding on a large variety of plants the okapi are specialized leaf eaters that lead solitary lives in the lowland rainforests.  Reports of the fantastic okapi reached the zoo world and the first live okapi was brought to the Antwerp Zoo in 1918.

In 1987, the Okapi Conservation Project was initiated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire).  The main objective of the Project is the protection the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a World Heritage Site consisting of 13,700 sq. km. of rainforest and harboring significant wildlife populations including okapi, elephants, primates, and birds.  Heralding a new era in cooperative conservation, zoos holding okapi in the US, Europe, and Japan work with the Okapi Conservation Project and provide critically important annual support for the protection of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

White Oak has developed a significant captive breeding program for the okapi.  Dedicated facilities and trained staff provide excellent care in which the okapi thrive.  Specific research projects have been developed to learn more about the species’ unique biology and captive requirements and to allow us to provide optimal health, husbandry, and nutrition for the okapi.  White Oak also imported okapi from the Okapi Project in Africa, which have reproduced well in the climate and okapi management facilities here. These animals have contributed greatly to the growing captive okapi population, and serve as ambassadors and help generate support for the important wild okapi population and rainforest habitats and diversity in Africa.